She died. Just like that – gone. I nudged her, fussed at her, even got angry with her. She had to wake up, simple, just stop horsing around and get up. But I knew, I knew she was gone. I was not supposed to outlive her. And yet, she had once told me “Don’t you ever leave me, don’t you dare”. This was after my accident. I’d been paying more attention to the blue jays swooping over ahead than to the blue Chevy that blindsided me. Two weeks and five stitches later I was good to go, but boy did I give her a scare. I guess I had no idea til then how much she’d grown to need me. It had always seemed that I was the one in need.
It is said that we have nine lives, but what good is that if you can’t remember. I never knew my family -- only a vague remembrance of well being, of warmth. I do, however, have a vivid recollection of not having my family, of being alone. And even at that young age I knew I was in for some of the most vulnerable and dangerous times I would ever experience. Fear was second only to hunger. I do not know how long I played hide-and-seek with despotic dogs and feral felines and even worse those people who sought to eradicate all of us.
I learned early to place caution before an empty stomach – not to trust just any person with a bowl of food. Some had motives to ugly to repeat. But in time I learned to follow the lead of the more war-wary yet wise of my roguish family and began to learn which humans to trust and thus which meal was safe, with no strings attached. No doubt there was much in-house fighting among us cats but nicked ears and bruised egos were generally the only price paid for going against the established hierarchy. But never forget the dogs.
Larger and stronger generally won out over agility and smarts. Even the smaller breeds of orphaned pups could rip a cat’s throat open in no time flat. I somehow never faulted them for this as I could remember the first time I was forced to kill for food. Trust me, it does not come easy to all cats to take the life of a cowering little mouse or a dove dozing in the warm sun. But hunger will do that to even the mild-mannered. And while there were many brutish canines -- the discards of too many years in the ring, forced to fight to near death, and left with little respect for life; some were merely orphans like myself. But whether rendered cruel by the blood sports or merely lonely from abandonment, dogs simply had to be avoided and no time was truer than dinnertime.
Forgive my digression, this may be about my life, but it wouldn’t have been a life worth having if not for her. My past was going through my mind and heart faster than a cat up a tree after she died. For it was she who saved me from the streets and from something far more sinister – the Death Camps. The pound, the SPCA, the shelter, Humane Society… morgues for most street cats. Yes, I have heard the hype and to be fair, much is true; many animals are rescued, given a better life by these organizations. But many enter never to return – much like the nursing homes where people place the infirm.
She was one of the to-be-trusted folks that brought us food. There was something about her that got to me. She would talk to me; in fact, she would pour her heart out to me. Her husband had passed and she was as lonely as I was. So it seemed only natural to curl up on her lap – a way of saying I understood. A pat, a purr, a tear, and soon she was feeding me from my very own bowl in my very own kitchen. And she didn’t even expect me to cull the small herd of mice she had. I could be myself; I could relax for the first time.
With so many years given to me it will seem heartless when I tell you I had to leave her there alone. That the neighbor who found her had to think how sad that she died alone, not even a pet to mourn her. But mourn I did. I knew her family would never take me home with them (they all lived far away, had to fly in for the funeral). They would tell themselves it would be a kindness to have the poor old cat put down. Too old. The grandchildren wouldn’t want an old cat – why look at it; it drools. How old is it anyway… Yep, I knew I had to leave.
With nothing but the collar on my neck I returned to the streets as lonely as the kitten I was so many years ago, but this time I remembered my previous life and pined for it, for Her. Street life is hard on anyone, but us old guys…well we just don’t last long out there. Oh, I denied this fact of life for awhile. Then one day at the bus depot (good place to slip in out of the rain and snag a few chicken bones from the trash) I saw the old man.
In people-years he would’ve been about my age. He wore an old three piece suit, a fedora, and leather lace up shoes. Clearly he took great pride in these few possessions (as I did my now fraying collar – my only token of domesticity) as he smoothed and brushed at wrinkles and lint constantly. There was a small valise that he would open and close frequently, often pulling forth a framed photograph of a young couple in old fashioned wedding clothes. His eyes would grow wet and he’d look nervously about and try to hide his face. I knew he had no where to go. I knew he’d sit there until they came to take him away – just as they would me.
I ran all night stopping only to throw myself at someone, anyone that might take pity on me. Then while attempting to charm two young ladies by following them straight into traffic I was suddenly snatched up by a woman from behind. “Is this your cat? Do you know where he lives? I’ve never seen him around here before, must be lost. Gonna get himself hit by a car. Well, hell, I’ll take him.”
My new She took me in, tried to find my home, tried to find any home for me. But an old drooling and slightly incontinent cat is no prize. I kept waiting for her to take me to the pound, which would surely be curtains for me. Despite the food, medical attention and concern I did not feel secure until one day she said, “you are like a little old man waiting for the family that will never come”. And with that, she gave me a name – Bob. It is not a name I would have chosen; yet every time she says it I know that I am home – the safe haven of my ninth life.