A Man and his Cat (Part 1)

Jack came into our lives as a nine-week-old kitten – a fluffy ball of gray fur with tawny eyes. We tried to make him a house cat, but he had a wild streak that refused to be tamed. As a result, Jack did nothing to advance the cause of cats who aspired to be seen as man’s best friend. He was independent, aloof and hard to approach. A fraction of a second with the door slightly ajar was all he needed to dart to freedom and return when it darn well suited him.

Jack was also a one-person cat, and that person was me.  Ben is one of the few men I know who likes cats, but he and Jack lived parallel lives. They avoided each other if possible, and eyed each other warily when their paths did cross. Until the last year of Jack’s life.  Then a truce and even a friendship were forged between man and cat.

In his final months, Jack lost a lot of weight and started having seizures. He would fall off the couch and hit the floor with a thump louder than an 10-pound body should ever make. We would race to him and one of us would cover his little body with ours to stop it from repeatedly slamming against the floor during convulsions. Often it was Ben who did that. Each time, we hoped the tests the vet was running would offer a solution  quickly.

It was during that time that I saw the shift in their “relationship”.  One day, Ben was shaving with the washroom door open.  From where I stood at the end of the hallway, I was astonished to see  Jack venture into the room, sit at Ben’s feet and look up at him expectantly.

In his prime, Jack could gracefully leap from the floor to the countertop. (No, this wasn’t allowed but Jack was never one to follow rules.) But his poor diminished body could no longer make that jump. Unaware that I was watching, Ben picked him up and gently placed him on the counter. Then he turned the faucet on to a light trickle and waited while Jack swiped his paw in the stream and brought it to his  mouth several times to quench his thirst.  Afterwards, Ben set him back down on the floor, cleaned the counter and the faucet and finished shaving.

It was humbling to see this once proud, independent little beast accept his vulnerability and trust the other human he lived with. It was also a tender moment to watch Ben help the little guy get the drink of water he wanted.

In the following days, we had heart wrenching discussions about what to do about Jack. His quality of life was not good, but we hoped the problem could be found and solved with surgery or medication. Jack always did do things his own way, though, and this was no exception. He took the decision out of our hands when I came home  one day to find that he had quietly left this world. RIP my fierce little friend.

ODE TO SATURDAY MORNINGS

My eyes open and for a moment, I am in “let’s go” mode. Then, I remember:  it’s Saturday! The slow, languid feeling that is the very essence of Saturday mornings past settles in. I burrow deeper into my warm bed, savouring memories of those mornings as a kid.

My brothers and I would get up and pad, barefoot and in our pajamas, to the living room to watch cartoons. All week we looked forward to seeing what Fred, Wilma, Betty and Barney would be up to. Finally, there was Fred at work at the Bedrock quarry. The quitting time signal would blare and the big moment came when, in unison with Fred and each other, we belted out, “Yabba-dabba-doo”! Then we’d sing the theme song (Flinstones, meet the Flinstones. They’re modern, stone-age family) as we watched them all pile into the car and head to the drive-in theatre.

When we got hungry, we headed to the kitchen for breakfast. We sat at the table, still barefoot and in our pajamas, and watched the milk turn pink (or blue or green) from the Froot Loops cereal floating in our bowls. After breakfast, we could watch more TV, loaf around the house or head outside to find friends.

Somewhere in the intervening years, everything changed. Relaxing and doing nothing went out of fashion. Worse – it was scoffed at.  Adults became hard-wired to constantly be “doing” something. The hours in our days were filled from the moment we woke until we hit the pillow again at the end of the day. And not only did we have to be doing something,  we had to be the best at it – at least our own personal best. There was no time to  contemplate life and no room for mediocrity.

But we still weren’t satisfied. We then inflicted this harried, over-scheduled way of life on our kids. Instead of cartoons, bare feet and pjs, on Saturday mornings they packed their hockey duffle bags, hurried to get to swim lessons or got ready for whatever extracurricular activity was the flavour of the day. Until now.

For much of this year, we’ve been forced to slow down. Many of us are working from home. Gatherings are prohibited. Stores, restaurants, gyms, theatres and  other businesses are closed or restricted to essential services. It’s been hard on everyone for one reason or another. But maybe, just maybe, we can rediscover the art of whiling away some of that extra time on our hands by doing exactly what we want to do.

And I realize that what I want to do right now is have a nice mug of coffee – or maybe two – while I read the newspaper at my leisure. So I’m going to head to the kitchen to do just that. How will you spend your Saturday morning?

Snapshots

March 7, 2020

I look at the picture I snapped of my mother yesterday and it just makes me sad.  I don’t know why I took it and now I wish I hadn’t.

When I arrived at her door, she greeted me with the Québécois two-cheek kiss. Then her eyes quickly went to the nylon lunch bag I carried. I bring lunch on my weekly visits and it’s always a treat – something she loves but is rarely served at her seniors’ residence.

Her eyes widened with glee when I took out pizza, hot and fragrant with the scent of pepperoni. It’s disconcerting to see child-like joy beaming from an aging parent’s cloudy, sunken eyes, but it made me smile. At 93, the things that bring her joy are few and far between. Pizza is a small price to pay.

After we ate, I took out a coloring book of cats. My mother loves cats. The Christmas after my father passed away, I bought her a tiny Himalayan kitten she named Frosty. That cat had a mean streak but she catered to its every whim. Frosty left this earth a few years ago and my mother cried for her as much as she did for any human she ever loved and lost.

“Do you want to colour with me?” I asked. “Sure!” she said with enough enthusiasm that I believed her. My mother is very good at hiding what’s going on in her head because it helps to cover the memory gaps. Gaps that used to be tiny, hairline fractures but are increasingly like faults left behind by an earthquake.

We colored and chatted until I stopped and moved to the couch behind her. That’s when I snapped the picture. In it, the thinning hair where her head touches her pillow lies flat against her scalp. One rebellious lock sticks up in the air. She is wearing charcoal gray jogging pants, a worn cardigan, white gym socks and slippers.  Except for her adult-size, she looks like a child hunched over, absorbed in a school project. 

JUNE 7, 2020

I saw my mother today for the first time since the COVID-19 lockdown in March. So much has changed since then. There was no two-cheek kiss greeting when I arrived; instead, mask in place, I stepped back when she opened the door. Only when she went back into the apartment did I follow at a safe distance. She has trouble wearing a mask, so I made sure to stay distant during my whole visit.

Instead of food, I brought gifts: a blouse and a cashmere shawl in her favourite color – pink. I sat on the same couch as I had in February and asked her to brush her hair, put on some lipstick and change into the blouse and shawl.

“Why?” she asked.

“You’ll see,” I said.

When she came back, I took out my cell phone. “You look so pretty that we’re having a little photo shoot.”

The look of pleasure on her face at this sliver of flattery and attention pierced my heart.

“Wait, let me brush my hair again!” she said, laughing like a young girl.

Later, I deleted the photo I took in February. For three months, I feared this could be the last image I had of her. Then I printed the one I took today. In it, my mother is smiling as she clutches the shawl close to her. Her lips are shiny with a shade of lipstick that almost matches the shawl.  Her smile is self-conscious but pleased and reaches all the way to her eyes. She looks beautiful.

“Lonely is not being alone, it’s the feeling that no one cares.”  – Author Unknown

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