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Wildcat Down

For years I’d jerk awake, hearing her morning cry and think it was one of my babies. Even with my boys aged 13, 10 and 7, the sound instinctually propelled me from bed in a state of semi consciousness ready for nursing, throw up, a bad dream or whatever. About a ¼ a second later however, too exhausted to even roll my eyes, I’d mutter, “Be quiet, Buzz!” at the feline padding around my room, a small stuffed animal hanging from her mouth and immediately fall back to sleep. FullSizeRender (16)

Back when she was a kitten, the truth is, I didn’t like her much. Even though I cupped her six week old body in my palms, feeding her through a tiny bottle in my New York City apartment, she never really left the bodega where we found her and remained stray and wild at heart.  If she saw skin, she would go for blood. Early on, I recognized the merits of heavy socks and learned to tread lightly, especially if I needed the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Buzz relished the surprise attack, actually causing two of my cleaning women to quit screaming the words ‘gato loco’ as they rushed past. It was true. My gato was loco. But she was also frisky and sharp, and occasionally allowed me the privilege of stroking her smooth charcoal coat.

When I had my son, we immediately purchased a netted crib covered. Either Buzz realized she was on thin ice or instinctually knew that babies were babies and allowed them a free pass to roll around without fear or occasionally rip at her fur with no recourse.

I should have known since all her adult life she carried little Beanie Baby stuffed animals around, often moaning as she did. I am forever guilty of denying her motherhood, so I accepted her stalking attacks as payback.

Nineteen years is a long time to love a cat that I wasn’t even sure I liked. And I know she lived a good, long life, but it’s so odd now to be woken by silence.

A week ago, I found her always agile body unable to eat, drink or hold herself upright. She lay limp, surrounded by the stuffed animals she loved to carry. But I refuse to think of her that way. Instead I will remember the screaming cleaning women, her sleek, royal demeanor, her sleeping in my hair and laying all over my keyboard and know that my dangerous, beautiful wildcat is now stalking loftier pastures ready to pounce.

Three weeks ago, holding her own.

                Love you, my crazy cat. 

Our Peeping Tom

I started feeding him about six months ago.

He sat outside the sliding doors of my kitchen window peering in as I shuffled half asleep through my early morning routine – turn on Keurig, take vitamins, feed Buzz, my old cat swirling between my legs, make the kids’ lunches.

It was Buzz who alerted me to his presence by howling and hissing at the glass screen loudly. I looked and saw him there, staring back unaffected, his coat scraggly but his stance proud. Immediately I noticed that he resembled a cat I once had many years before who had died.

“Well, hello Jeffy,” I said to the stray, making the mistake of naming him out loud. I may as well have bought him a collar. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“I’ve got to feed him,” I apologized to my own feisty feline, stroking her behind the ears and looking her in the face. “But don’t worry, you’re in here and he’s out there.”

I slid open the door and Jeffy instinctually peddled back a few paces. I placed a paper bowl filled with food down, introduced myself, then headed back inside. When the sliding door closed, Jeffy padded back and ate. The next morning, he greeted us again, and the next, and the next. He became a frequent guest at dinner as well.

Our arrangement continued through Fall with my kids now well aware of the new extended member of our family. “Jeffy’s here!” They’d cry excitedly and race to find me. “He looks hungry,” My middle son worried and I’d roll my eyes. We were feeding him twice a day. And not the cheap crap either.

Winter and colder weather arrived. It was freezing and I hunkered down, barely going out except when necessary. I couldn’t imagine Jeffy surviving snow and temperatures that seemed to never stop falling. Inch after inch, foot after foot piled up.

Many days, my kids and I stared through the glass doors peering out in the frosty night wondering if Jeffy would make it. At times, the snow was so high he was almost just a head. Other days he carefully careened the mountains of crunchy ice to reach us. Every time he did we cheered and I peppered his dish with fresh chicken or juice from the tuna can. It seemed so unlikely he’d survive the single digit temps and crippling wind, but storm after storm, we’d spy those little foot (and body) imprints in the snow. Somehow against all odds he’d make it to our door.

This last storm took us all by surprise. It came hard and fast. The two feet of snow already in my yard quickly turned to three. For three days, we didn’t see him and feared the worst, but then the sun came out strong and my town began to melt. People walked the streets in open coats and no coats. Everyone was smiling, stretching out and thawing after the long winter freeze. Within a day, Winter had retreated and Spring had unofficially arrived.

And there in my vision stood Jeff, his fur weathered and matted but his posture still strong and proud.

He had made it through.

And now he would feast.

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Sick days, Blue days and Birthdays

I really want to write something right now but I think I may be getting sick. My throat is scratchy and I’m feeling so tired. No matter that I got up at 5:45am because the cat was crying loudly again at the foot of my bed.

She’s old, pushing 18, and it’s like every morning she’s announcing, “I’m still here!” I’d like to toss her across the room and throw her the hell over there, but instead I get up with a heavy sigh and pad downstairs alongside her. We are both a little slower and more creaky than we were just a few years ago.

I give her fresh food as she twists through my legs. This used to be no big deal, but now half the time I almost trip on her. My cat’s cat reflexes have also gone to the dogs and she is no longer adept at darting out of my way.  We are two clumsy old broads.

My throat really is sore and I grab a piece of cantaloupe from the fridge, hoping the juiciness will soothe it. It does for an eighth of a second and then I’m back where I started, but now I’m thinking I need some Advil. I know it’s bad to take on an empty stomach but it’s barely 6am and I can’t think of putting anything in there except my coffee, irritating or fruit, acidic.

I take another piece of cantaloupe, sip my coffee and consider it all while I rest my head on my desk instead of typing brilliant, entertaining prose like I’m supposed to be.

When I pick my head up it is 7am and my middle son is looming over me. He wants a morning hug, pancakes and to know whether he needs to wear his blue or white shirt for his baseball game later.

I check the calendar and confirm that it is in fact a blue day and then realize the date. July 10th.  And now I feel a little sicker. It is my grandmother’s birthday. She died two and a half years ago and would have been 93.

I know she’s hovering around, watching me, tsking when she sees my boys running outside without shoes, invisibly rubbing my hand in that circular comforting way that she had when I’m on the phone with my father, wishing she could send over some lobster Cantonese, fried rice and an egg roll because right now I know she wants to fatten me up.

She took such joy in life and in the challenge of life. She was a lawyer without a license, a psychologist without a degree. A lover of babies, a card shark, a chicken soup maker, a shoe thrower, a piece of work, a force to reckon with, a giver of jewels, words of wisdom and tough love; a matriarch, a mother, a grandmother and a great grandmother.

From her first “Helloooeee” to her last “I love you more” and every affectionate “You rotten bitch” in between she captivated you with her commanding tone and raspy voice.

I wish I could do her justice but no one could.

I still hear her and think of her and wish she was here with me to enjoy my boys and tell me in person everything I’m doing wrong and how exactly I should be doing it. We would laugh over a bagel and lox, a good cup of coffee and lick our lips before we dove into our bowls of chocolate ice cream. We would talk for hours, but mostly I would listen, because she was a fascinating woman who led a fascinating life.

It’s July 10th and it’s a blue day. My throat hurts and now so does my heart.

Damn I miss this woman

Damn I miss this woman

The Cat Whisperer

Michael and Julius have a new friend. She’s about 75 years-old and lives on our block in a semi-rundown house. I have heard random gossip from the morning dog walkers that her recyclable garbage contains only wine bottles. Another neighbor labeled her a nasty, old lady.

Until recently, I had never met her. I knew her house, but like so many people who are close enough to touch, our paths never crossed. Then one day, while playing on our lawn, Michael and Julius spotted a black cat across the street. It became our activity for the next ten minutes to follow it. No matter how it scampered from us, we pursued. At least they did. I pursued them.  Finally, the cat stopped at her driveway, walked up toward the porch and laid out on the concrete, stretching like he owned the place, which he obviously did.

Photo of Marina by Michael

“Her name is Marina,” said a quiet voice off to the side.

I turn my head and notice a woman in a blue, flowered housedress sitting on an old kitchen chair on her porch. It’s not even a porch really, just a small, guard-railed area to stand and get your key out for the door.

“She’s a little skittish, but mostly playful. Come around to this side of her and pet her head.”

My boys listen and beam proudly when Marina rolls over for them and sticks her head under Michael’s hand for continued pleasure.

The woman goes on like she’s talking with a friend over tea. “I took her in. She was a street cat and it took a while to get her to trust me, but now she’s very comfortable. Not like that one.” She points, and we all turn to see another cat strut out of her open door, rub up against the leg of her chair and saunter down the steps. “That’s Valentine. He’s not nice.”

Valentine had Garfield’s body and Cujo’s expression. “I think he was abused.” The woman said and Michael and Julius automatically take a step back. Marina did as well. “You never know the story with rescue cats. Where they come from, what’s happened to them.”

Valentine photo by Michael

Two more cats emerged from the house, and Michael and Julius stared in awe. “Are they good?” Julius asked.

“That one’s Cocoa. She’s very friendly. And this here is Pumpkin, she’s sweet but very shy. I don’t think she’ll let you touch her.”

Michael and Julius slowly approached, with cartoon-quality, quiet faces and matching exaggerated, quiet steps. I almost expected them to turn around with a finger to their lips and go “Shhhh. I’m hunting wittle cats.”

Cocoa loved up their loving and, Pumpkin, as expected, stayed a safe distance away, jumping backwards anytime one of the boys invaded her space.

Photo of Cocoa by Michael

We stayed too long, the boys obsessed with the felines running round, and watching Valentine (“the meanie”) mess with the other cats, stalking and then pouncing on them. I said a few words to the woman, and she acknowledged me, but spoke mostly to the boys in a soft, adult-voice, schooling them on each cats temperament and history. The boys were fascinated, asking questions, listening, not just politely, but with interest. Wow.

There was no condescending baby talk. No, “Oh those are cute kids.” She spoke with my four and seven year-olds as equals. I wondered about her. Alone, in her house with her rescued cats and a reputation. I remembered she gave out inappropriate candy on Halloween the first year we lived here – sticky, wrapped hard candy, probably from a bowl sitting on her table for 5 or 50 years.  We never knocked again.

It was getting late. I was getting bored. “Guys, come on. We’ve got to go home.”

“That was so cool.” Michael exclaimed as they skipped back towards our house.

“Yeah!” Julius chimed in.

“Can we go back later?” Michael asked.

“Yeah!” Julius again concurred, nodding expectantly.

“No, not today guys. We were there long enough.”

“Can we get a cat?” Julius asked hopefully.

“Uh, we have a cat. Remember? Fuzz.”

“Yeah, but he’s boring.” Michael said glumly.

“He is not.” I defended poor Fuzzy. “Come on. Let’s go play with him”

We walked in our house and neither kid showed the slightest interest in Fuzz. “It’s okay, boy. I’ll play with you.” I cooed and stroked his fur.

We’ve been back to the cat lady at least half a dozen times now. She always steps out onto the porch in her house dress, like she’s been waiting for us. I know as little about her as I did the first day. The boys love going. They enjoy her conversation. They love her cats. They’ve won Marina and Cocoa over completely. Pumpkin is still a spectator but a less jumpy one, and “Meanie” Valentine is still not showing the love. I’m the real outsider. Watching. Waiting. Wondering. Do I really know any of my neighbors? Not really. So close. So distant. Who was she? Who is she?

Every so often I run in my neighborhood and sometimes notice her door left wide open. The gaping hole looks dark and empty and full of quiet, and I wonder, is she the one who needs to be rescued…?

Buzzy gives me, “Two cones up!”

Today is my blogging anniversary. For one full month, my ass has been rooted to this chair. The boys tolerate it, except when they want something. Howard is happy for me, except when he wants something. My most solid supporter in the house is Buzz.

He sits next to the computer, rubbing his head on the keyboard or against my hand.

He’s here now as I write. He rarely leaves my side. Sometimes, he leaves me gifts.

A gift from Fuzz.

Buzzy – I know I seem annoyed when you accidentally push keys with your nuzzling head, or lay all over my papers, or get hairs up my nose, but I appreciate you standing, uh, laying, by me. We’re in this together, at least for another month.

So thank you Buzz and everyone (special shout out to Juicy Pear Colorado), for reading and supporting me.

Please forward around and ask your friends to “Follow”. Yes, that was shameless. I’m okay with shameless. Do it for Buzz.