Monday, April 4, 2011

The Nuclear Cat

My earliest memory of my paternal grandmother is she owned an enormous pure white cat named “Fluffy”. This was an animal that was about half my weight at the time, and rightfully, I was frightened of the animal. My father always hated cats, and I have never understood why someone would go to the trouble of hating an animal rather than just being indifferent to it, but that is another discussion for another day. As a child, we were never allowed to have a kitten, or a cat, because my father hated them. When my parents divorced my father moved his mother in with us, but he insisted she give her cat away before she came. Hold on to that last thought, it will return to the story much later on.
            Needless to say in nearly all fields of discussion my father was not only opinionated but as long as we were in his house his opinion was the only one that mattered. My younger sister and I still joke about how many times we heard “as long as you are in my house you’ll do what I tell you. When you get a house of your own you can do whatever you want to do but this is my house” and of course whenever my father comes to visit any of us he acts like he owns the place. Much like a damn cat he is, betimes. But it has been many a year since I lived with my father, and even when I was with him for just a few months while I was house hunting back in the mid nineties he was still very much the same person as he ever was.
            There for a while, back in the early 00’s, and I would not hazard a guess as to how to pronounce that, my father was dating a woman quite a bit younger than he was, and she had a cat. Tom Puss was not only a cat, but he was also an inside cat, and my father’s girlfriend thought the world of Tom Puss and my father had to put up with not only there being a cat in the house, but there was a cat who was king in the house. Whenever he called to speak with me, or I called him he would refer to Tom Puss as “that damn cat” and he secretly wished bad things on Tom Puss. Well, not really secretly, but in a way his girlfriend didn’t know about it anyway. We were surprised he had lasted so long with her because she was not only a smoker but w two pack a day smoker. My father bitched like hell about it, but that only made things worse. Yet there is no explaining or accounting when it comes to love. They stayed together despite everyone’s predictions that it would never last.
            They had a routine, and if you associated with my father at all you will have a routine, and that was he would go eat breakfast at his appointed time each morning, and then after breakfast he would go to her house and wake her up. One morning he slipped into her house and found her dead of a heart attack. The cigarettes had caught up to her, and all the warnings he had issued had come home to roost. The funeral was held the next day, and the woman’s children, who were already grown, decided to take Tom Puss to the animal shelter, and he would go from being a well cared for pet to being on Death Row in a cage. No one was dropped in their tracks more stunned than I when my father said he would take Tom Puss.
            And so began the most unlikely of relationships. Both parties were in grief and loss, and in that, they shared a common bond. My father started sending out photos of how pretty Tom Puss was, and how clever he was, and how it was just like he could read my father’s mind sometimes and we were all just floored by this. I could not believe it. My sisters could not believe it. No one could believe it. Yet there was my father with a purring cat in his lap, and loving it.
            Tom Puss was not a kitten. He had been around for quite some time and when his time came, my father lost his girlfriend all over again. Tom Puss was his link to her, his last living link, and I swear in the name of all things Holy I never expected to see the man cry over a dead cat. I buried my last childhood dog, Spike, before my father got home so he would not see me cry. Crying was for little girls and sissies and he did not put up with that, no, never. I put my best friend in the ground and then had to deal with my father telling me this was all part of growing up or some such garbage, and I never showed a moment of grief. But that haunted me, and haunts me still because I have a hard time dealing with emotion. I tend to shut it off. That was he trained me to do.
            But my father got another cat. He went down to the shelter and rescued a female cat, and held a family contest to name her, and for the last seven or eight years we’ve been hearing stories about how this cat is really special and honestly, it has been quite endearing to see the man love anything like this. They discovered a tumor on her, and then another.
            My father, the man who has always hated cats and is nut and bolts and hard facts and never blink is now sending his cat to have radiation treatments for cancer. It might not work, and the thought of losing his cat is breaking my father’s heart. He called me and told me he regrets, deeply regrets, insisting his mother give up her cat, and it hurts him to think he did.
            For the first time in my life, I feel sorry for my father. For the first time in my life, I think I have found commonality. He’s going to sink a fortune in saving a cat, and for the first time since I have known him he’s making a decision based on love. When he told me this I was too stunned to tell him I was proud of him. He’s just an old man trying to hang onto a dying pet, and you will never know how sad that makes me.
            But now, in this moment, for the first time in my life, I think I can help him. I have been through this with others, and I know animals. I know cats. I know loss. I know how this feels. In the body of a dying cat I may find a way to connect with my father.

Take Care,
Mike

7 comments:

  1. An excellent essay, very poignant. Some people just THINK they don't like certain animals - but once they've allowed one into their lives, they realize what they've been missing. I hope your father's cat lives longer; I've lost cats through the years, and it's hard.

    I love cats & dogs, but used to THINK I was a cat person only. All it took was getting one dog, and now I'm owned by two dogs - one sitting on my lap as I type this (I call Rambo my velcro dog!).

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  2. I like Rambo and I like his nickname. Lucas is the one who likes to sit with me, but at 90 pounds....

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  3. This is my second favorite non-fiction post of yours. The first is, of course, "The Poet..."

    I wish more people would see this. I think you need to send it in to small presses, along with some of your others. www.pw.org.

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  4. I love this for so many reasons....so many I can't even get into here...except to say I know this man, your dad, because he sounds a lot like my daddy. They were from the generation of men who didn't show their emotions...ever.

    Daddy now has an 11 lb Chihuahua that is his constant companion. This is a man who only ever had "working" dogs, dogs that were owned for the purpose of what they did in regards to work: hunting, catching cows...but not just as pets. So to see him with this little pooch following his every step is too funny. But I think that Bear (the dog) is a listener who listens while he and Daddy ride around in the woods and hears what Daddy has to say as far as his grief about Micah.

    I have great hope for what you and your Dad may be able to come to in terms of your relationship these days, your last sentence is full as hope in many ways.
    I believe this is my new favorite piece of yours :)

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  5. It's amazing how we Southern writers have so much in common even if we are from opposite sides of nation of South Georgia

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  6. Two years, eight months later, did you connect? Or will I discover it going forward?

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