Sunday, May 6, 2012

hello kitty

Pets aren't merely domesticated animals whom we feed and care for; they are family members, service critters, heart regulators, surrogate children, and more. Most especially for un-partnered and childless people, the bond between owner and animal can take on deeper and multidimensional significance. Oftentimes we don't even choose these animals, rather they find their ways to us as if walking on some predestined path. One of these very creatures has been present in my life, yet barely mentioned; I'll do that here.

Sometime in 1997 or '98, my then boyfriend found a frightened and disheveled looking cat in the parking lot of the Safeway off of Geary Street, near Japantown in San Francisco. He brought the cat home and the two of us slowly nursed it back to health. The cat was terrified and in pretty bad shape; it was filthy, its fur matted and mangy. It had been wearing a torn spiked collar. One theory about the cat's history was that it had been used as bait in a dog fight and then discarded. Though underfed and in bad shape, this was a large cat; white with big orange patches. Because of its size and color (all Tabbies are male) I assumed the cat was male and named him Carl. 

Carl was famished and very skiddish; he had clearly suffered some severe trauma. We took Carl to a vet, discovered that the little black spots on and around his ears weren't mites, as we'd suspected, but were actually burns caused by sun exposure. We also learned that Carl was a not an orange Tabby, but was what is classified in cat typography as "Buff." We also learned that Carl was female. Thus Carl became Carla.

As slow as Carla was to warm up, she was quick to gain weight - she ate and ate. She wasn't interested in going out; she stayed away from doors and windows. She was cautious around people, hesitant to be petted, and was only interested in food. Having known hunger, it appeared that she wasn't going to chance being hungry again - Carla quickly became a very large cat.

She occasionally meowed, but more often hissed. She wasn't doing this when threatened, or necessarily as a warning; it seemed hissing was the only way that she knew to communicate (know any people like that?). Even when she'd eventually let me pet her, she would softly hiss as if she didn't have any other method of expression. I remember thinking it was odd that she couldn't purr. I'd pet her and she would rub her head against me, but she wouldn't purr. Her experience and history had programmed away her natural pleasure response.

At the time, my boyfriend and I were living in separate apartments; Carla stayed at his house and my cat, Cleveland, a big beautiful black cat that I'd rescued a number of years earlier, stayed at mine. We were spending more and more time at my house and less and less time at his, so we decided to move Carla to my place. Introducing the two cats took a while, maybe a few weeks. They would be on either sides of the same door, tails fully puffed, meowing and hissing at each other under the crack in the door. Eventually, they learned to live in harmony, though they never became truly close friends. In Cleveland's old age the two would sleep together, but it always seemed that they did this out of necessity or obligation rather than any feeling of closeness.

We all moved back East: boyfriend, Cleveland, Carla, and me; packed into a Nissan Pathfinder, the back squeezed full of belongings, stuff loaded and tied to the roof of the car; looking like the Clampetts. After we had been back in New York a little while, in the early spring of 2002, I rescued Zeke. When I brought Zeke home, Cleveland immediately welcomed him by purring and rubbing against him. Carla, who had since learned to purr, but certainty wasn't purring at Zeke's introduction, watched indignantly from across the room. Eventually she crossed the room, walked directly up to Zeke, a slightly dopey and confused young pit bull, and swatted him square across his snout. It was a gesture that seemed to say, "I was here first, this is MY house. You may be big, but I have retractable claws - Don't fuck with me." She confidently turned and walked away. It worked; Zeke was terrified of Carla. For years afterwards, if Carla was in the hall, Zeke would sit and wait for her to move rather than chance walking past her.

Zeke and Cleveland became close friends almost immediately. The two of them would lie about together, and Cleveland would clean Zeke's ears for hours on end. Carla, on the other hand, would have little to do with either of them. Perfectly content to obsess about food and wander off by herself, she would let them have their little love fest for the next few years.

Always demanding when it came to food,Carla would often wake me by finding any body part that had been left exposed while I was sleeping; a hand, a foot, and slowly apply pressure with her teeth until I woke up. I would wake with a start and find her looking at me. She'd meow, and I, being an obedient human, would reward this horrible behavior by feeding her. She's trained me well.

Cleveland became ill, and in 2005, he died in my arms, here at home as Carla and Zeke looked on. Zeke seemed to suffer terribly from Cleveland's passing, and eventually, Carla would take to sitting with Zeke; though there was certainly no licking or ear-cleaning going on between them. Again, as if by obligation or necessity, the two of them understood that they were family, and were expected to be civil, if not affectionate.

Carla isn't of the same temperament or stature as she once was (sometime in 2003, I took her to the vet and she weighed in at close to 30 lbs). I have no idea how old she is, maybe 16 - an old lady by anyone's cat standards. She's still food obsessed (she'll often eat until she pukes, then meow for more), she's lost a good third of her body mass since her weigh in at 30 lbs, and she's calmed considerably. A few months ago, Zeke died, leaving Carla the unlikely and lone remaining quadruped of the stable. From impoverished and traumatic California kitten-hood to pampered Upper West Side old-age, Carla is a survivor. She often wanders into the other rooms at night and meows loudly, conversing with ghosts or her imaginary playmates. She's more needy and affectionate than she's ever been, sometimes circling my ankles while I'm at the desk, or flopping on her side, silently begging for a petting. Despite her big personality, I often take her for granted. What with the recent blog postings about Zeke and the void that he's left, I thought it was time I give a shout out to Carla and give her an extended blog posting of her own.

1 comment:

FIZAZI, Kamal said...

Awwwww... Very tender and touching, and I love the recognition of what family is...