i am startled when i discover that i am loved. it's not that my parents didn't love me, but since my father drank and my mother was exhausted by maintaining the household, raising four children and working full time, there wasn't much left for us children in terms of cuddling, laughter, or soothing tears.
so when my new four-month-old stray kitten rosamunda showed some reciprocity of my love for her i was grateful.
i walked all day buoyant, everything lovely, the snow fall, the parks with the thick coat of pristine white, the trees with the sparkling ice on their branches, topped by onfalling snow, the lamp lights on the alleys.
i wished the past to be like that, suddenly disappear under a thick layer of white new beginnings, covering it like the snow covers all the dirtiness in the city, its littered sidewalks, its mounds of black garbage bags.
and as if such miracle from the spirit of life seemed possible, .
before rosamunda we had an old stray cat. my son brought it home and declared he never had been allowed to have a pet, so now at the tender age of 24 he'd have a pet. the pet looked dismal. her fur all mated, skinny like a death nightmare, her screechy meow so horrid it made me laugh. no cuteness there. but in six months her fur coat was thick and shinny, and i didn't mind when she'd wake me up at dawn trumpeting with her alarmed meow that the end of the world was coming right now and no one believed her. i took it as an anxiety attack. i related to her. i fed her and soothed her. i'd had anxiety attacks before i asked for pills to pacify the horror of small hours.
i was very proud that the vet i'd taken her to in the summer proved wrong, that our cat was not dying, under our care she recovered from her hard life in the streets. the vet was just a greedy profiteering liar. our cat was not ill. she was just a senior cat, 12 years old.
we were doing great the three of us.
one day a friend who fed stray cats in his neighborhood brought a kitten in a bag. she looked exactly like my senior cat, a gray tabby. the friend of this kitten had been killed by a car. i said i'd take her in, maybe my morose senior cat needed company. but upon introducing the kitten to my cat, my never scratching or biting senior started hissing! the kitten bolted out of my friends' strong hands and hid in a deep corner in the living room behind my paper archive boxes. after much searching, i found her in the evening and placed food near her hideout and was gratified to see her eating ravenously.
the second night i discovered her in the kitchen under the table, on top of my old dowry chest. i put her food there and crouched under the table soothing her with whispers.
my son caught me at it, but he thought it was our old cat that was noisily crunching the dry food under the table. i giggled to myself, because my son works temporarily at a storage facility and he is sure the sixth floor of the building is haunted by a spirit. the elevator often goes up on its own to the sixth floor and no one is there. he declared he can sense spirits. so to me it was hilarious, having smuggled the kitten in the house for two days and he not noticing it.
he asked me why i looked so guilty. i just smiled. but the second time, i don't know why he kept on coming into the kitchen, it was past midnight, but as he went out of the kitchen to his room he saw the old cat on the corridor and said to her, 'oh, you ran from my mom's cuddles,' but then it dawned on him and he pounced on me, 'you have another cat hidden there! how could you! now you'll start hoarding cats, have seven, twenty cats!' 'no,' i said apologetically, 'just this kitten. i won't be able to survive if miso soup dies on me. just this stray kitten. her friend died hit by a car. just this kitten.' he slammed his room's door. fine. in the morning he asked me where was my new friend hiding. that's how he is, hollers, then cools down.
well, on the third morning my senior started coughing. i thought it was a fur ball, so i took her into the bathtub, so she can vomit without me cleaning after her, but she coughed and coughed and nothing came out. i held her, soothed her, she was so weak she tried to stand up, but she'd fall down again, and again. until she didn't get up anymore. i caressed her murmuring soothing words, but then she stopped breathing. i picked her up and she was like a rag doll, never had i held her without some fretting or purring in her lively body. her heart stopped beating. i tried to hear it. it stopped beating. then her eyes turned glassy. her spirit was gone.
i was in shock. i knew death, loved ones died, but never under my very eyes.
to witness life go away, was demonic. how breath and heart beat makes us alive, conscious, and then when they stop it's all gone. how indeed life is a gift, an incomprehensible miracle. what sustains its flicker, where does it go. inconsolably i cried all day.
the next day i listened to other people who lost pets. my neighbor's daughter cried on the floor for a week, her mom divulged, to her daughter's outrage. my therapist when a little girl had a bowl full of golden fish and one day they all died except for one. the next day her father bought new fish to replace the loss, brought new friends for the lonesome fish. when she came from school she found the old fish dead on the floor. he jumped out of the bowl. she ran crying downstairs to her dad, but it was too late.
my physical therapist told me how she had watched powerlessly her dog eating her parrot.
my son said at least we gave miso soup a good home and care for a few months, and she died in peace. the kitten needed us now.
yes, the kitten was less and less in hiding. gradually she moved to my bedroom. first hid under the chest of drawers, but gradually came on my bed and played with the rubber fishes, actually wiggly lizards and balls containing bells i hung for the senior cat on a folding-arm lamp. then i started brushing her fur. she'd not let me do it for long, just a few strokes and then she'd turn her head and try to grab me with her clawed paws and bite me. i'd back off scared.
see, to me to have a pet it is unbelievable. i come from romania, where packs of stray dogs attack people in the streets. there was a scandal a few years ago, stray dogs ate a baby left unattended for a few minutes in a park. i'd seen rabid dogs, rabid cats when I was small. i was bitten by dogs and hatefully barked at by those chained in the yards. see, in romania dogs are security guards. cats are the sanitation department workers. they eat mice and rats and table scraps.
my mother gets annoyed and cuts me short when i talk about my cat. her cats would steal schnitzels from the kitchen table if left unattended. she can't conceive i let the cat sleep in my bed, they were never allowed to stay in the house, even in harsh winter.
here pets have coats and shoes. i've seen a dog with orange rubber boots yesterday in the park.
when my kitten looks wistfully out of the window i tell her, 'i know it must be hard to miss your friends and romping outdoors, but think how harsh is this cold winter. and soon spring will be here and we'll go out for walks.' i went with her in the park and she turned into a crouching tiger, sneaking around the park fences thru the mounds of dry leaves.
two elderly ladies talked to us, both had lost their cats that week. i understood their grief. one was crying, 'my tomcat would kiss me every morning. better than a man he was.' it was a bit creepy, but i understood her pain. years before it was mind boggling to see the petmania here. i'd be sarcastic about it. but i understand it now.
i am lucky to have rosamunda.
she ended up being rosamunda after i tried out various grand names. brumhilda, rosamunda, gertrude, geraldine, wilhelmina. wilhelmina was how the language professor called my mother at the university, her name was actually vilma. the senior cat i called misu, like my sickling father, but my son insisted she was rico. so i compromised and called her miso. then miso soup.
my rosamunda was to be royal.
only now i realize i wanted to call my mother's name. wilhelmina. but she is rosamunda, the rose of the world to me. so sparkling of life and curiosity. she darts up on my five-shelf rack of clothes, she follows me everywhere i go, from room to room. in the evening she scuttles to my bed and hunts my moving legs and feet covered by my quilt. hunts and battles them.
yesterday morning i was meditating at what i just read in a book about human animal interaction. the author says we are deluded that our pets give us unconditional love. to him it was clear that his cat thought about him as her food dispenser, fur scratcher, play toy, and door opener. there are some who say pet ownership is wrong, like slavery. we keep them hostage for our own enjoyment, we fix them against their will. it's immoral.
yes, i said guiltily to my self, rosamunda hates me, she always turns around to bite me when i brush or pet her back. always. but then why does she follow me around? and why when once i closed my bedroom door she meowed forlorn on the corridor.
so when she wanted to attack my feet, then moved to my hands, i let her have her way with me. if she wants to bite me, let her bite me, i said, masochistically, guiltily. so here she comes! her paws hold my hand, then the open mouth with sharp teeth closer, closer to my flesh, ready to dagger her fangs in it. but she holds my hand gently between her teeth, then she lets go of it! again and again. then, wonder of wonders, she licks my hand! and again! i thank her, grateful and honored, 'thank you, rosamunda, thank you,' each time she gives me her raspy hand kiss.
i am overwhelmed that i misunderstood her wish for rough play. she was reciprocating, showing me her love. and i'm sad my mom never experienced that. i had a fluffy dog, a puppy when i was small. he got lost and i cried all day until my father brought it back from wherever the puppy went. but then he grew into a monster. a large shepherd dog, furiously barking from his chained powerless.
i told my mom whenever i look at this kitten's large, clear eyes, i remember my young siblings, my sister and brother's blue eyes. i don't ask her if she remembers when i was a teenager and was angry at her, who knows what she had forbidden me again, she was washing the china cabinet window, my little siblings helping her, and in my hatefulness i smeared the clear glass. i am so ashamed i did that, but i don't know how to ask forgiveness for that. my brother died from drinking, my sister is still alive, in the room with mom when i call in on skype.
my sister understands my love for my cat. she loves chicken. mom's three roosters sing together at dawn. 'a choir of roosters,' she laughs.
so all i say is, 'do you remember, dear mother, your beautiful gray, silk dress, with small burgundy flowers? and the pigskin leather bag? i dismantled and ruined them. were you upset about it, mother?' 'oh, no,' she says, 'i wasn't wearing them anymore. and anyhow, i'm not one for fancy dressing, purses and such.'
i tell her i believe my cat has a soul. she scoffs.
i love my mom.
we are from a people that still have ancient purity codes. odd ones, misogynistic ones, and one of them might be that animals are not clean. she always alarms me the cat carries awful diseases.
and so i write this for the goodness in people.
i was walking back thru the slushy melting snow, when at a street corner a guy was texting, waiting to cross the street. there was only a rambling snow-blade truck moving slowly two blocks away, so i told him, 'we can cross safely now,' and i went ahead. i don't know if he heard me or not, i walked fast so he wouldn't think i wanted to accost him, but for a moment there was a 'we'.
for a moment i could share the world in kindness.
february 11, 2015