She arrived in our house after we’d been married a few months, part mistake and part fate the way good things always are.
We had seen teeny-tiny kittens in the pet store, so I went to the animal shelter to ask if there were any laws about selling kittens too young to be separated from their mother. The shelter folks said no, but I looked at the cats. She was there, newly turned in after someone found her wandering around a parking lot in downtown Ithaca. Out of the cage, she stood on my Patient Husband’s shoulder just like our goofy kitten did, so I put our name on a list, and a week later they called.
The two cats got along great, but that was seventeen years ago. Our family has transformed from me and my Patient Husband living in a terrarium with two kittens…to seven angels, four kids, and up to as many as eight cats for six teeth-clenching weeks one summer. Stormy died two years ago. Last year we acquired the brain-damaged kitten (because every household needs a furry beast that will never grow up, a furry beast that finds twist-ties wherever they hide and plays with them on your bed in the middle of the night.)
She hadn’t been doing well, and the vet said there were two separate problems. She lost weight, and in the last week, she looked skeletal. She still was in good spirits, but she couldn’t jump on the bed any longer. Whenever I went into the bathroom, she’d follow because that was her domain, and she’d look at me expectantly as if waiting for something good, but she didn’t want food. Or cold water. Or her treat. Nor even to sit on the toilet lid, her kitty-throne.
On Sunday night, Kiddo2 and I sat up with her, petting her, brushing her, talking about her. She purred, and in the morning she was still with us. She spent the day in her basket by the window, then moved to her spot under the bed, and sitting underneath where I was reading, she died.
God answered our prayers: her death was peaceful and quiet, and the ground wasn’t so frozen we couldn’t dig a grave. I carried her basket outside, and we laid her in the ground wrapped in her blanket. Stormy’s ashes had been waiting for two years in a locked box in a plastic bag sealed with a twist-tie, and we sprinkled them over her now.
Back inside, I set the basket in its place in front of the window. So much for the physical realities of death. I sat in bed to knit and feel miserable.
Orion, our brain-damaged kitten, went to the basket and sniffed around it, then pounced. His head came up out of the basket, and in his mouth he had a twist-tie: the twist-tie that had been on the bag of Stormy’s ashes. And he began to bat it around.
I guess there’s a lesson somewhere in there if you care to find it, that death and life are intermingled in ways we don’t truly understand — pain and play, youth and age, endings and beginnings. But I didn’t have the energy to find them. Instead I just watched the kitten play with a twist-tie, unaware of the way things open and the way things close.