Nine Lives

soul mates

Her left eye doesn’t close all the way anymore, stuck in the instant before a wink, and her tongue slips out past the tiny front teeth that never fully developed and hangs from her petite mouth.  There is a patch of white fur missing from her back and as of most recently one ear remains parallel with the ground at all times.  Her sweet face is a mish-mash of teasing expressions that when put together are no laughing matter.  

I am describing my angel, JB Cat.  She has been with us since the beginning, rescued from a cat jail in Small Town, Indiana.  She came as a complete package with ear mites, worms and an extreme stranger danger anxiety that kept her curled up and hissing in a ball for the first three months. 

When she finally uncurled and moved out from underneath of the bed, we were still naïve enough to try and keep houseplants and a cat at the same time.  JB quickly assessed the situation, found the plants to be enemies, and set out to destroy them with various plots such as knocking them over and pulling them from the dirt.  Once free from the houseplant threat, JB settled in for a very long stay.

Over the past decade, she moved with us from apartment to apartment, always packed up in a carrier with the last load of most important belongings, and then finally to a house where she caught her first spricket (a beastly combination of a spider and a cricket). 

She terrorized every family member who ever stayed with us for the first few years, sneaking into their room and watching them sleep either from their pillow or chest.  On the day before our wedding, she went missing and almost caused a complete mental breakdown and then casually emerged from the recesses of the sofa when we came back to pick up our bags for the honeymoon.  Of the three times she escaped, she was always found mewing from under a pile of leaves, frozen by the overstimulation of nature and unfamiliarity of the world.  

Most days, she spends her time sleeping on top of furniture and waiting for food.  She rarely complains and purrs when pet.  JB Cat has personality, history, opinions and plans.  After being together for so long, she has a human family, and although, she isn’t liked by all, she is loved (perhaps only by me?).  Its hard to imagine life without her hiding from friends, stalking family in the night, or purring on my chest in the evening.  Yet, it seems that it’s an approaching reality, one that grows closer with each new ailment from which she never quite recovers.  While she is still living and wheezing on the couch behind me, her lifeforce grows dimmer and my sadness grows greater.

This world was never made for one as beautiful as you, JB Cat.  

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The Benefits of Strep Throat

Image result for cup of tea

“Something is off,” I said in a rasp.

It was still dark outside, an early morning in the Midwest, as I prepared for the day. Two cats lounged in front of me, licking at their fur and stretching.  They were thoroughly unconcerned with the trials of their human-keeper.

I tried to swallow and felt razor blades cutting into my throat which was slightly more concerning than the sound of my voice.   Gingerly, I reached up to touch the affected area and discovered a golf ball sized gland just under my jaw and felt certain that it was not there last night.

One feline stopped grooming just long enough to acknowledge my ailing presence and meowed with a rather mean expression that seemed to say, “Just make sure we get our kibble.”

The two bullies left the room and their mistress for a pursuit of a higher calling, kicking litter out of their boxes.

Flushed with fever, I fanned my face. I had to get to work; there was the already overdue report that was only halfway done, clients in need of bus tickets, referrals, supportive listening, and my new coworker with a history of forgetting to return to work after lunch breaks who required constant supervision.  There was so much to do and such little time.  I couldn’t waste a single minute before Christmas, New Year’s, and the time off in between.  Could everything wait, I wondered with my soon-to-be-boiling-from-fever- brain?

“Yo, this some B.S. right here,” I could hear my coworker’s most used line as I felt the massive lump on my neck and tried to swallow again, as though the last time was an anomaly. The lump and pain were both still in place. After a quick inspection of the back of my throat in the mirror, white spots were added to the list of issues that led to a trip to Urgent Care where I was diagnosed with strep throat and kept from work for at least a day.

How dare they take me off work? I raged for about a minute and then accepted my quarantine orders. I read, napped, dutifully took my medicine and provided kibble to the gang of cats that rove through our tiny house and remembered the importance of taking care of me.

Sometimes it takes getting physically stopped in one’s tracks, rendered unable to eat or drink, and restricted from work to actually stop for a break and realize that if you give everything away, there’s nothing left for you or those who love you at home. I took the day and my antibiotics and returned to work rested and ready for the final push before the holidays.

I slowed down and re-prioritized, de-stressed, drank more tea than booze (until 12/31/16) and started saying no to unnecessary responsibilities.  And that’s how strep throat saved me in a painful and contagious sort of way from self-destructing over the holidays and with any luck in 2017.

A job well done

Guest
cat at w

“Do you need anything else?” I asked sweetly of our visitor.

I had just dropped off a towel, washcloth, and still boxed bar of soap. The sheets were clean and there was a working ceiling fan. Just shy of a little piece of chocolate on the pillow and the offer of a happy ending, the set-up was pretty luxurious for being free.

A cat sat on either side of me as I stood facing the man, their white whiskers twitched with mischief as they silently watched.

“No, thanks for everything. I should be fine for the night.”

A sly smile tugged at the side of my mouth knowing the terrors of the dark that he had yet to face. It was unlikely that he would “fine” by morning.  No matter, I bid him goodnight and shut the door.

It was not long after all of the lights were off and everyone was tucked into bed that the cats went to work. They started out as they do every night, with a song of their people, meowing back and forth between one another and sometimes all at once.  Occasionally, they harmonized but mostly tried to outdo each other with creative riffs and scats.

Once satisfied with the beautiful music that they created, they left to greet the newcomer. They knocked politely on the door with a soft paw and then more forcefully with both paws.  Perhaps they feared that he hadn’t heard their knocking as they started mewing demands to be allowed entry in addition to banging at the door.

I believe they stand on their hind legs to gain more leverage in their pummeling of doors.   This goes unconfirmed since I have only been on the receiving end of the knocks, on the side of the door to which they desperately wanted without really knowing why.

Like most of us, the cats are pushed and pulled by a current of life towards unknown destinies without any understanding other than this simple truth, there is no other way.

The next morning, our visitor appeared with dark circles under his eyes and his bags were already packed and waiting by the door.

“Leaving so soon?”

“Turns out I have things to take care of back home that just can’t wait.”

We waved goodbye from the door, while the cats supervised the departure from the window with pink noses pressed to the glass, most pleased with their night of work.

Jibber-Jabber Cat

Connected
wc

While I’m writing, my precious cat, Jibber-Jabber, insists on draping herself over my shoulder or stretching out across my lap.  It doesn’t matter if I’m actively using a pen, she simply rolls and knocks it out of my hand and covers the pad of paper with her furry, white body.  Once she’s in place, she reaches her paw out to encourage a quick tummy rub.  Not too much or too long, she lovingly bites my arm to let me know when she’s had enough.  She purrs to show her satisfaction at achieving ultimate control.    

Clearly, she’s the boss of couch time and Sunday mornings in our house which makes her quite happy.  It’s hard to get anything done with Jibber-Jabber always lounging about and waiting for her opportunity to snuggle.  She left for a minute, likely to get a drink of water.  She’s always thirsty these days.   

She’s already on her way back  so I better write fast.

Jibber-Jabber and I have come a long way from the time she took up residency in our home.  I remember walking into our shabby one room apartment after class when an emaciated, greasy white flash streaked past me. It ran at top cheetah speed across the room and dove under the couch.  

I screamed, “What is that?”

Huge yellow eyes stared out at me from the safety of the couch.

“That is our new cat, babe.  She’s a Siamese.  Isn’t she great?  The pet store lady said she is practically still a kitten, a little shy but very special,” my life-partner then/husband now responded.

Jibber-Jabber remained under the bed or burrowed into the couch for the next month, coming out only for food and water.  I questioned how great she was after discovering she had ear mites, worms, and fleas and a thing for biting feet as they walked past her hiding spots. 

After six months, she started to gain weight and confidence and we realized she was not a Siamese cat.  She grew into a massive housecat, average in every way aside from her insatiable appetite.  After nine years, we knew for certain she was not shy, just riddled with unbearable anxiety.   While the pet store lady might have been wrong about the cat’s age and temperament, but she was right about one thing.

My once-little, now old and yellow-toothed Jibber-Jabber is special, really special, so I let her stay on my shoulder or in my lap and write around her.

Breakfast Favorite

robin

“Whoa! Watch where you’re going!”

A bird flew from a bush with a great commotion of flapping and feathers. It landed on a branch on top of a pile of sticks a few steps away from the bush from which it burst and glares. The little bird redefined the cliché’ if looks could kill as it continued to stare at the intruder with beady, black eyes.

“Must be something good in there, eh little bird?” the intruder purred with a throaty voice and crept closer to the bush.

Sure enough, a nest was tucked into a low crook in the scrub bush. It was loving sewn together by beak and claw, made of twigs, trash, mud, and a piece of string. The nest was dangerously low, just low enough for a little peek by any curious, four-legged passerby.

“Eggs! There’s four blue eggs in there!”

The still-warm orbs nestled together in the center of the nest, siblings through the shell.

And through the next life.

The cat reached up with one furry, violent paw and whacked the nest down to the ground already littered with fading mulch and dead leaves. Speckled blue eggs rolled out over the debris in zig-zag paths. Each egg was neatly stopped by the pink, waiting tongue of the cat that loves scrambled eggs.

Suffer the Fools

yellow

The presenter wobbled across the room on tiny, child sized feet. Her ankles tipped towards the ground. With each step, she fell clumsily forward. A man wheeled in a chair into the middle of the circle. The woman gave a grateful nod and dropped onto the seat. Her legs dangled above the ground with her tiny feet swinging back and forth. Yet, she still continued with her presentation.

Her courage, confidence, and humility were inspirational. Public speaking makes my palms sweat just to think about it. My heart raced as I recalled my last experience with it, I forgot to breathe and passed out. It was the second time, after which, I stopped being asked to do the dreaded presentations. The presenter showed no signs of nervousness or fear, her wobbling was not about to slow her down or change her direction. She was in complete control of the situation.

The woman was as fierce and determined as the original Wobbles, a pet from childhood. I desperately wanted to share the similarity with her. Her struggles were familiar and different at the same time. Unique in being a human and similar in the struggle of a physical disability. I stopped myself from moving forward with my insight in class, opting for sharing in the virtual world.

Wobbles, an orange kitten, born just as slimy and weak as its siblings, never developed a sense of balance. He wibbled and wobbled back and forth through the grass and the garden, growing at the same rate at the other non-wobbling kittens. By the time Wobbles was fully grown, he was a beautiful, yellow Tom and his brothers and sisters had either been given away or met with an untimely demise.

The old neighbor man was over dropping off a bag of peppers from his garden and happened to watch the cat wobble up to the porch and start grooming himself. Wobbles fell over but continued his work on his side. A dirty job has to be done one way or another.

The old man shook his head, “I’ll put him out of his misery, if you like.”

What misery? I wondered in silence, it was still a time when children were to be seen and not heard.

My mother politely declined with a thanks-but-no-thanks and the old man left down the road with a backwards glance over his shoulder at the cat. Destiny would have her way with both the cat and the man, but not for years to come.

Wobbles grew into the best small rodent catcher in the area. Presents of his hunts were always left on the front porch rug: mice, rats, rabbits and an occasional mole. Sometimes he would be there proudly purring and grooming himself, but usually he was back on the prowl, wobbling down game.  He was in no misery and it was not for a stranger to decide.

Misery or happiness, fear or courage? They are all choices that start within ourselves. Do what makes you happy and walk away from those who would take your joy. Life is too short to suffer the fools.

Dirty Toes

roachs
A roach crawled over my toes and I swallowed a scream.

Sure, I was breaking dress code by wearing sandals, but it was 90 degrees in the middle of the summer. I was in a shanty house without air conditioning, feeling sweaty remorse only at not breaking more of the dress code with shorts. Who would care out of the cataract clouded, hard of hearing, mostly demented people I met?

The air reeked of stale cat urine and hung heavy in place even with the window cracked open. Knicknacks lined the wall on a narrow shelf. There appeared to be a number of clowns and small dust covered dolls jumbled together in no particular order. If the knickknack shelf was representative of this lady’s paperwork situation, it was going to be a long afternoon and I was already hungry for lunch.

I wondered if my blood sugar level was dropping or if the heat was affecting my brain when a black cat crept into the room. It eyed me suspiciously before ducking behind the tv to use the area as an extension of her litter box. She emerged with a guilty look that explained the wretched smell of cat pee that was definitely intensifying.

When I looked up, a roach froze on the wall.  It could sense me watching it, wishing for it to die or disappear. Another fat roach scuttled towards my computer bag; the bag sat gaping open on the floor beckoning all creepy, crawly things to enter. I felt a fresh scream forming in my throat.

A woman in cut-off jean shorts and flip flops stood between me and the bag.  Her dirty toes were firmly planted, she wasn’t moving.  What do I do with it once I close it? I will just have to open it again to get out a pen or to add a small dust covered doll to my pile of purloined knickknacks.

A phone chimed from inside of her back pocket. She pulled it out and flipped it open with her thumb.

“Hey yea, I’m busy now,” she said into the mobile device but continued to speak with the caller.

She turned away from me and cupped her mouth to divert and muffle the sound of her voice from the rest of the room. This cupping technique may have worked better if she also lowered her voice to a whisper, a detail she neglected as she started to negotiate some type of illicit drug deal.

I turned to her allegedly stone deaf mother who sat next to me on the couch and gave her an encouraging smile. I tried to communicate my patience and acceptance of the environment. The bugs, the smells, the man who just walked in with a weedeater muttering to himself, none of it bothered me that much.

See how Zen I am with all of this?

The woman returned my smile with a mouthful of pink gums.  Oh she’s healthy, I thought remembering an article I read at the dentist’s office about gum health. Wait, I stopped myself in mid-thought. Was that something I read at the vet’s office?

Her eyes were sea-foam green with brown flecks that turned gold as she shouted, “I hate when people talk behind my back.”

“Me too, me too,” I said in surprised agreement.

Her daughter warned me that communication would be pointless, “She can’t hear a thing. She used to be sharp but now she can’t even remember her name.”

I wanted to prove her daughter wrong. With the evidence of her health gums and now starting a conversation, things were looking good for the old lady.

“What?” the toothless old woman asked and after a second forgot what she asked and settled back into the cushion of the crusty couch and commenced to stare straight ahead at her narrow shelf of clowns and dolls.

Nevermind that plan to redeem her competency.  She was happy here.  This life in a hot, dirty, infested house made sense to her.

I refocused my attentions and wiggled my toes, remember the little piggies that were accosted by a roach earlier?

I was suddenly overcome with gratitude for their freedom and for my freedom to leave this house. If I pass out first, the roaches will eat my face or that man with a weedeater might come back for me. I resolved to stay conscious until we could finish our business. In the meantime, I might as well enjoy the experience.

We continued sit in a demented and hypoglycemic bliss and I thought of a Kurt Vonnegut quote that goes something along the line, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cockroach

http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/repair/roaches-in-house1.htm

http://www.avclub.com/article/15-things-kurt-vonnegut-said-better-than-anyone-el-1858

The Cat’s Meow

tear

Tears squeezed out from one eye.

Big, round, wet drops slid down the woman’s left cheek.
She called out in anguish and rubbed the crying eye.

The other eye remained dry, unconcerned with the activities of its sister.

My heart squeezed tight. I was responsible for this lopsided show of emotion.
Her pain had grown too great; it sought escape through the easiest portal, the left eye.

Then I realized, she wasn’t crying. Something was in her eye.

Almost certainly, the irritant’s source sat next to the woman, lazily looking around the room with crusty eyes. The cat yawned and blinked. It was big and lumpy, like an old pillow with cheap stuffing.

She patted its misshapen little head, not minding the lumps of matted, greasy fur.

“Just like mama, you’re old and fat.”

She forgot to mention hairy.

The woman laughed and lost her breath. Instantly, her face grew grim. She waited for the oxygen flowing into her nostrils to saturate her blood again.

Just like the respiratory therapist told her, she huffed and puffed and damn near blew the house down.

cat

Sleeping In

The woman scanned through her calendar. 

Perfect, she thought.  The appointment lines were blank, a clean white for the afternoon. She breathed a sigh of relief; there was nowhere to be and no one to see. 

She began to wonder who would notice if she disappeared for the remainder of the day.  There was so much of the world to explore beyond the heavy doors of Employer X.   She caught herself in a day-dream of a place without time, oh to be able to wake up naturally and lounge about God’s-green-earth at will.  She imagined kicking her shoes off to feel the grass under her feet and to squeeze warm mud between her toes. She ran along and followed a bee as it buzzed between flowers and rested under a willow tree to read a book for the afternoon.

Wake up, she told herself, staring back at the computer screen.  She was back in the climate controlled office, sitting in the middle of a maze of cubicles.   There was no breeze, no birds, and no life.  Plants had just been banned for being too distracting.         

That’s it, she decided.  I’m leaving, I can’t do this anymore.  

Not willing to waste any more energy trapped within the dingy blue walls of her cubicle, the woman grabbed her purse and casually walked out, through the door, and down the stairs.  Play it cool, she told herself, forcing herself not to sprint.  There was only one more door to make it through and she was free. 

“Yoo-hoo, Jules,” a voice shouted behind her. 

She felt her heart fall out of its place and into the pit of her stomach.  She knew that whinny voice.

“You forgot to sign out, Jules.  I was right behind you, silly.  I tried to get your attention but you just headed right down the stairs.”

The woman gritted her teeth; she hated to be called Jules. 

“Don’t worry, I signed out for you.  I guessed you were headed to lunch for the next sixty minutes.” 

“Hi there, Shelly,” Julies ground her teeth.  “That was really thoughtful of you. Thanks so much.  I’ll be sure to get you back sometime.”

“No prob,” Shelly said with a flip of her blonde hair.

They pushed through the doors together and stepped out into the world.  Sunlight streamed down onto Julie’s face and shoulders.  She took a deep breath of the air, it smelled fresh and warm.  

“Oh, I need my sunglasses.  It’s too bright out here,” Shellly complained.  She put her thin hand up against the blue sky to block the sun as she dug around in her oversized purse.

“This world was not meant for one as fair as you, Shelly.  You are better off staying inside, don’t you think?” Julie asked.  

Shelly pursed her lips, “Jules, why do you say things like that?”

Suddenly, a shadow loomed over the women.  It came so quickly, they hardly had time to react.   Shelly began to sneeze, again and again.  

“My allergies are going out of control…..” Shelly’s voice rose as she looked up.

Julie followed Shelly’s eyes above them and took a step back for a better view.

“Oh my God!” Julie shouted. 

It was a giant orange cat, bigger than tiger or lion.  The feline was on the same scale as a small Godzilla or King-Kong.  Where this creature had come from was a mystery as long as its whiskers and sharp as its teeth.   It stared down on the women, small and motionless, interested in what they might do next.  A purr began deep in the monster’s hairy throat.  It realized these were playthings, snacks, mere diversions in the very busy life of a hugely overgrown cat.    

Shelly sneezed and began to creep backwards, towards the heavy door.    

The cat got down low and began to switch its massive tail back and forth.

“Stop it, Shelly.  Just stay still,” Julie whispered out of the side of her mouth.

“NO!” Julie shouted as Shelly bolted.

Julie jumped out the way just as the cat pounced on her co-worker.   The cat grabbed Shelly gently in its mouth, gave her a playful shake.  A perfect mane of blonde hair bounced with each step as the cat carried the screaming Shelly off behind the building.

Julie stared in shock and wondered what just happened.  She noticed the birds chirping again and felt the sun on her face.  She glanced down at her wrist to note the time, and her watch was gone.   She rummaged through her purse to check her phone, it too was missing.   Strange, she felt different, lost.  Something had changed.  Suddenly, she realized, it had happened.  She was there.  She made it to the place without time. 

She laughed and thought, Finally, I get to sleep in on a Wednesday.

Changes

 

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“You again?” the woman asked in delighted surprise.

The small brown cat reappeared at the window.  She had been missing for a week; her dish untouched and her box left empty.

The cat raised a solitary paw to the glass and opened her mouth, silently mewing a plea for food. 

“Hold on,” the woman said.

She held out her hand like a crossing guard to stop the cat from running off for another week, “Steady, steady, don’t go anywhere now.”        

Crazy cat, the woman thought to herself, where has she been this whole time?  The woman pulled herself up from a wooden rocking chair, tossed the old blanket from her lap to the side, and walked towards the kitchen.

The woman looked back and the cat was watching her, and hopping from side to side in excitement about the possibility of an easy dinner.

With a bowl of kibble in one hand, the woman stepped into a pair of rubber Crocs and slid open the glass door.  A blast of cold air rushed in around her, it smelled clean and hard.  Snow covered the ground beyond the patio and the piled on top of the wooden railing.  It dusted the bright red hummingbird feeder still hanging from a hook, abandoned from the summer.

She set the dish down with the cat wrapping around her ankles in a non-stop figure eight. 

“So you missed me,” she chuckled and rubbed the little cat’s head.

Before she could go back inside, she noticed the outside closet door was ajar.  She slammed it shut and made a mental note to find the key to lock it for the future.

Wait, she stopped herself.  Why was that door open? 

The stray crunched greedy mouthfuls of food behind the woman, eying her with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion, as the woman stayed outside longer than usual.

Unable to shake the feeling that something was amiss, the woman reopened the closet door with a gasp.

Only a small dead mouse curled on its side remained where a tangle of two bikes, a grill, lawn chairs, flippers and snorkels, and old tennis rackets should have been crammed.

“Well Brownie,” the woman said, taking a step back.  “This is bad. This is officially not good.”

The cat continued to watch without comment.

                    **************

A key turned in the lock and the door opened. 

“Hello, I’m home,” a man announced, tall and handsome in scrubs.  He dropped a bag from his shoulder onto the ground and kicked off his shoes.

“What in the….” He trailed off as he took in the scene in front of him.

His wife sat on the floor, grinning at him.  The brown cat was now on the wrong side of the sliding glass door.  She was purring on his wife’s lap, lazily stretched out while their sweet house-cat was monitoring the situation from beneath the rocking chair.  

“Some things have happened while you were gone.  We were robbed and your bike is gone. Brownie came back and she wanted to come in. Now she lives with us, ok?”  

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