Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In memory of Miss Kitty. . .

You live as long as you are remembered.” -- Russian proverb

My lovely, much older sister posted this on Facebook yesterday:
"In memory of Miss Kitty (my parent's cat), she didn't like people who were loud or had stomping feet, but she was a cozy companion to some of us. RIP."
My esteemed and accomplished much older brother stood on the fuzzy edges of his PHD in Psychology and posted the following comment:

“Dennis has complicated grief relating to MISS Kitty. MISS Kitty could read the true nature of people. The clouds above do not allow stomping feet, she will be fine."

To be fair, I had already posted this:

It's about time, a miserable, angry beast....

I have no PHD, though I did complete a couple of semesters of graduate school in the study of the dark, alchemistic art of psychology, enough to know what he said is basically true, grief is expressed in many ways, almost all of them irrational. So accepting his premise (without actually agreeing with his conclusions) I allowed myself to vent my thoughts and feelings, as complicated as they may be, the same way I deal with pretty much everything. I turn them into words, sentences and paragraphs, top down, without outline or goal. If any of this missive offends, sickens or angers you, just remember, I’m grieving, allow me to mourn freely, it’s for the best.

Miss Kitty died yesterday. Actually she was reluctantly escorted and expedited to her inevitable demise by those who loved her most, my parents.

I last saw the cat back in June. She didn’t look so good then and she was behaving most odd. She came up to me, quietly mewed a greeting and seemed quite at peace with my presence. I knew this was at best a severe form of feline dementia.

The stupid cat hated me, always has.

My parents had Miss Kitty for about thirteen years. She was a brown Siamese or Siamese mix of some sort. I only saw her on my infrequent visits, and then only for a second or two each time. For reasons known only to the depraved, twisted mind of that cat, she either hated me or feared me to a phenomenal, almost comical degree. All I needed to do was enter the old house and she would take off for nooks and crannies known only to her.

Often I would call out to her, in my most deep, threatening and resonant voice: HERE KITTY, KITTY, KITTY!!!!, thumping each syllable like a big bass drum, chucking out each K like a gunshot. Yeah, I guess you could say I terrorized the cat, but only after she first snubbed me.

I don’t know about a cat’s actual memory capacity, but whether I visited twice per year or only once in three, the reaction was exactly the same. I’d step into the doorway, catch a glimpse of her and like a stroke of comic-book panic, she’d dash away treading only thin air, often not to be seen again by me for the entire time I stayed. I was told that the cat only behaved this way with me, every other visitor and family member was always treated with respect and in many cases warm affection.

In thirteen years of irregular visits I was never even able to pet that cat, until this past June. I don’t know whether it was an act of reconciliation in the face of certain and inevitable departure or whether her feeble and failing mind was merely quashing all those memories and past horrors. I did get the innate sense on that visit that this would be my first, and last moment of peace with her.

She looked like a badly taxiderm-ized pelt. Her fur was splotchy and irregular. She sagged heavily in places that were once plump and firm. She was thin, too thin, downright skeletal. Her once glistening coat was dull and lifeless. Her eyes were cloudy and unfocused, her shaky and strained, yet still protesting voice was like a tattered bow pulled slowly across a poorly tuned violin string.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’ve buried a lot of cats in my time, and on this visit Miss Kitty looked no better than many I’d put into the ground.

Maybe that’s it, maybe she’d heard the stories, or used her alleged mystical senses to just know that I had once been a sort of grim reaper for our family’s cats. Maybe to her eyes I was an incarnation of Death itself, surrounded by the hovering, mewling feline spirits of Timmy, Buttermilk, Two-Toed-Tommy, Cotton, Cream Puff, and all the many others that I had scraped off deadly Highway 139, dropped into a grocery bag and dragged off to the woods behind our house. Maybe she heard the hollow scrape, scrape, scrape of the dull, rusty shovel against rocky red soil.

Who knows what her tiny, peculiar little mind perceived.

I never intended this to be a worthy, qualified eulogy for Miss Kitty, I simply did not know her well enough to speak with any authority of her personality, her assets, her contributions, her interests or hobbies, or her life in general. My entire span of interaction with her was only a matter of a few minutes, possibly just seconds.

I am sure of this though, she was loved. Well, actually I don’t know that at all, I just assume it. Thirteen years is a long time to share a household, and in that length of time if no blood is let and no lawyers summoned, it is just more probable that there was love than not.

She was however only a cat, a suitable enough pet for those that are not able, willing or worthy to live with a dog. As pets go, dogs are high maintenance, energetic, needy, and very interactive. Cats are more like slightly mobile houseplants. You can go hours or days without interacting with a cat and they seem to be fine with that. You can put down food for a cat and they will eventually eat it. Sometimes that's the only way you can confirm that you still have a cat.

Occasionally, and at their own leisure, a cat will wander into the room you are in, call to you (or more likely, complain about something), then curl up beside you and expect you to show it the affection and worship it believes it so richly deserves. Then, once again at a time of its own choosing, it will wander off and find more suitable and comfortable accommodations, completely unconcerned with the wants and needs of its lowly human minions.

For reasons that are not clear to me I completely understand and respect most characteristics of a cat’s personality. I don’t necessarily like them, I just understand them. Cats are aloof and narcissistic. I know (at least I’ve been told) that I share at least a modicum of those very traits. I at least pull it off in a way that makes me appear charming, mysterious and desirable. Cats are generally just creepy, callous and cold.

AND they make my wife miserable. Also like many houseplants, cats carry on them an essence, an odorless aroma that bludgeons the breathing passages of my lovely wife (with whom I am madly in love.) She can even be stricken by the evil, latent gasses of cats that have merely recently passed through an area.

If I seem indifferent, uncaring or even disdainful of cats in general, it certainly should be considered, at least to some degree, as a form of chivalry. Whether it is their intent or not, whether with or without malice, cats cause my wife to suffer. I cannot and simply will not tolerate any member of any species that has the capacity to choke my dear wife without even touching her. Who invented such a hideous beast? Who infused such a dastardly trait into a small, soft, cuddly, purring creature? What kind of cruel, twisted superpower is this? It’s the living, breathing equivalent of a thick, sweet, cream-filled pastry lined with poisonous barbed spikes.

My parents like cats. They’ve always had cats. They are apparently completely immune to the foul bits. This of course leaves me in a quandary. Do I despise cats for their capacity to shut down my lovely wife’s ability to breathe, or do I accept them, and in fact praise them for bringing my sweet, gentle, saintly parents so much joy over the years?

Regardless of this dilemma, I do recognize the fact that Miss Kitty was an integral part of their family, for good, for bad, in sickness and in health. She was family and any time you lose a member of your family, regardless of their actual value to society at large, is a cause for mourning.

I’ve held and hugged a couple of beloved dogs as they were injected with the modern chemistry that would forever ease their growing pain. I have held them as the life slipped slowly out of them. I’ve held them as their heartbeats slowed to a standstill, as their final breath finally passed from them, almost a sigh. I’ve looked into their confused and frightened eyes and could sense the very instant when those eyes were no longer actually seeing. I know this deep pain of loss very, very well. I know how hard it is to finally choose to let your pet, your beloved family member go. Even though we’re just talking about a cat, Miss Kitty was more than a mere hyper-allergen houseplant, she was loved.

More important than just being loved, she will be remembered, and according to that old Russian proverb this means she in fact, still lives.

Miss Kitty was laid to rest in a peaceful lea behind my parent’s house in the small town of Cerulean, Kentucky. She is buried alongside a previous beloved cat, whose name I do not recall.