My husband just walked out the door with Eleanor. Eleanor is a cat, our black and white long-hair, histrionic, five-pound screamer who is the Omega Cat in the house. Whatever happens, she comes in last and she and all the other creatures of our little forest know this. Eleanor has had the sneezes for about a week but otherwise seems OK. Her eyes aren’t runny or half-closed the way sick cats can get.
Eleanor prefers to stay in the breakfast room which is my husband’s home office. I’m not sure what made him decide to take her to the vet now but I’m thinking it was just one little sneeze too many for him.
Since he didn’t warn me he was going to do this, I quietly had a panic attack.
As he walked out of the door with Eleanor squalling with every breath, he was on the telephone where he has been a great deal of the afternoon working on some work-related issue. And because he was on the telephone, I couldn’t talk to him.
He doesn’t realize what a nightmare this was for me, one that played out over and over again throughout my childhood. And because I was aware of it, I didn’t exactly freak out at him. I did dial his number frantically for about 15 minutes until I could talk to him. But I didn’t totally lose it. I feel good about this. This is progress for me. I’m coming back down from my panic now and my heart rate and breathing are closer to normal.
I mentioned recently that my first dog Clementine was my pet for only a brief time and then the dogs had to go away. That was a recurring pattern. We would have pets, cats, dogs, a rat, a snake, a mouse, fish, even the chickens. Then, without warning one day my father would take them all away. He did not do that with my parakeet. He did not do that with my mother’s dog Pierre. But, the losses were nearly unbearable for me.
I would come home to find my cat gone. My father would lie to me and tell me that my cat had been adopted by a family with a little girl. I am pretty sure they thought I would get over it.
But I didn’t, partly because it would happen again and again.
Sheba was such an unusual looking cat for the alley variety. She had “ticking” or tipped fur, no stripes except eyeliner and a butterscotch tummy. She looked like a fluffy mountain lion in a way. She liked hunting a bit and was fond of the small lizards common in our central Florida yard. She was patient with me in such a maternal fashion that I imagined she thought of me as a large homely kitten. In the 1960’s, it was rare for owners to do anything more for a housecat than feed it, so Sheba had at least one litter of kittens and stayed outside all the time no matter how much I begged to have her come indoors. Fleas were common. Ticks were occasional. Cat lives were shorter. I was convinced I was Sheba’s student in learning all things cat.
Then, one day, all the cats were gone. Daddy had taken them all to the pound which was not called a humane shelter because it was neither humane nor shelter. Daddy lied and said a family had adopted Sheba but I knew he had specified they all be killed. Daddy had a certain look when he lied that I knew.
I mourned the loss of my teacher, my friend, my cat for years. She represented my helplessness in the wake of adult power and responsibility.
This scene repeated itself. My little dog Mitzi who had made the “mistake” of trying to bite the man who brought the bottled water for our water cooler was taken away. Suzi who had too many puppies and who, in classic beagle fashion, liked to escape the confines of the fenced yard and run throughout the neighborhood was taken away.
When we moved to New Mexico, our dogs all caught distemper. Because everyone in the family had a favorite dog and the expense of saving them was too high, Daddy decided to save none of them and they all perished, Beau, Ajax, Bill, Jacques and Jem.
Oh, there were other losses, too, that weren’t at the hands of my parents. Cars hit Pierre, Dickens, Benji and Calico. Some budding psychopath stole Misty and tortured and killed her along with scores of other pets. But all of it grew and grew within me, the knowledge that there was a better way to treat these little creatures we brought into our lives. It wasn’t evil cars or junior serial killers that needed fixing.
Finally, one day while I was in high school, I came home to find that Daddy had taken Meph, my long-haired black cat who had a delightful personality, out far into the New Mexico countryside with her latest litter of kittens and dumped her. Daddy lied again: She’s going to be near a barn where there are lots of mice. She will be happy. I knew better. I cried and screamed in frustration for days. My father set his jaw the way he did when he didn’t want to say what he was thinking.
A few days later, Meph showed up, thin, worn, sans kittens. But she was home. My father was astounded. I picked her up and held her, wheeled around and blazed at my Dad, “You. Will. NEVER. Take. My. Pets. Away. Again.”
My ferocity scared him, I think. He understood, finally, that the way we treat these little ones is so often an echo of how we treat each other. I would have happily taken him out to the countryside and left him in a field that day, lying to myself and everyone else that he would find mice in a barn and live some false fairy tale.
Meph lived another ten years with my parents and then with me after I moved away from home. She had no more kittens because I paid to have her spayed. She had a heated, elevated, insulated house in my backyard and, when no one else was around, she got to come inside and stay with me. She brought me mice each day from her catch and laid them on the front steps of my little house. She hunted chipmunks. She came to my specific whistle. She didn’t mind the dog so much. She died peacefully in my arms when the cancer became too much for her to bear.
Eleanor is fine. Dr. C at the veterinary hospital sent her home with some kitty vitamins because she likely has a mild virus, the common cold in the feline variety. Ellie still has the sneezles but she was actually pleased with all the extra attention.
And I kissed and hugged my husband, who, after all, isn’t the monster who took my babies away but the Nicest Man in the World who made the appointment with the vet to make sure Ellie-Bellie would get well again.
My little 6 of Cups in Tarot, memories of childhood, had been set aright and what I vowed as a helpless child to be when I was a “powerful” adult was still intact. I will take care of my critters as if they were the most precious things in the Universe, mostly because they are.
I will be reading Tarot on September 29, 2012 in Petaluma, CA at Halloween and Vine! Click on the link to get directions and take a peek at the other fabulous vendors who will be there like ... Sharon Bloom!
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