"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Saturday, December 4, 2010


I have a phobia about butterflies and moths.  Remember that, because it's going to figure in here shortly.  Why, you ask?  When I was a kid I had many, many ear infections.  Sometimes, because of the fluid in my ears, I'd feel this awful fluttering, and it gave me nightmares that butterflies and moths were crawling in and out of my ears.  (I don't meet many people with this phobia -- well, one, but I wasn't able to ask him why because he was a contestant on "Jeopardy," which at least goes to show that just because you have an odd phobia doesn't make you stupid -- in fact it's probably just the opposite).  So I grew up creeped out by these harmless and often very beautiful insects.  I'll have to bow out of any invitations to the local butterfly garden (I feel weak just thinking about it).
I do love animals, though.  Everyone in my family does and so do my friends, who wouldn't be my friends if they didn't.  Having grown up without a dog (cruel parents! cruel!) I'd have to say I became a Cat Person for the most part, and it was a cat I went looking for when I moved to where I live now.  As everybody knows, there's no shortage of homeless cats in the world.  My only criteria were avoidance, if possible, of cats with chronic health problems (not because I didn't want the care of them, I'm just poor and can't afford vet bills) and I wanted a cat who was homely/funny-looking/not-very-pretty that other people wouldn't be so likely to adopt.  No ornamental cats for me!  There was a young cat at a local foster home who had been born with very deformed external ears.  They folded over frontward.  It didn't affect her hearing.  I went to see her.

She darted out of the bathroom (where she was being kept) with an immediate and urgent need to quickly survey the perimeters of the room with an eye to getting away with as much as she could prior to being sequestered again.  (You could just tell.)  I thought she was a sweetie and the foster mom was delighted.  Then, from behind her, strolled a gorgeous black Maine Coon cat.  He had the long, thick fur, short legs and big "snowshoe" feet of the breed.  The foster mom sighed.  "I don't know what I'm going to do with HIM," she said.  "His people just returned him after a year.  They said he wasn't good pet material."

Well, she might as well have been speaking gibberish to me, because that cat had me before his hind end even made it through the bathroom door.  I was struck with the absolute certainty that not only was this cat going to come home with me, he was in fact the Pet Of My Life.  So I took 'em both, the itty-bitty kitty with the funny looking ears and the beautiful (but apparently naughty? standoffish? unfriendly? mean?) cat who had been dumped back and branded unsuitable.
I got my money's worth in entertainment out of them immediately as they decided to hold a late-night competition to see who could knock the most perfume bottles off my dressing table.  The next day we went outside and I showed them their yard.  "You live here now," I said, herding them (well, is there another word?) back as they quite naturally headed over the border.  Though it would be awhile before I'd feel comfortable leaving them out there unattended, I had no intentions of having indoor-only cats.  I didn't even own a litter box.  This is the country!  I'd never kept a cat indoors in my life unless it was sick.  

We spent time in the screen porch where they were able to look out at the birds, the bees and the two gentle black labs who lived with my tenant in the other half of the house. (It's two-family.)   Eventually I decided I could leave them for short periods and peek out the window at them.  They didn't go far, and wherever they did go, they'd go together; they were all but joined at the hip.  Their names, they informed me, were Itty Bitty Kitty (my folded-ear girl) and Beau (my beautiful Maine Coon).

One place they loved to lie down was under the shade of the snowball tree in my front yard.  It was cool and hidden there, and they could watch people and cars going up and down our road.  They were content to do this for hours at a time.  I left them there for 30 minutes one day to go inside to balance my checkbook.  When I came back out, there was no sign of Itty Bitty.  Since Beau didn't look in any way traumatized, it didn't figure that a dog or something had come by and scared them.  I combed the yard looking for her, calling her, to no avail.  I looked up at the trees, and I looked on the roof.  I looked up at the top of telephone poles.

Frantic, I put Beau inside and started walking up and down the street and into neighbors' yards.  I knocked on doors and asked people if they might have left a shed or garage door open.  I retraced my steps and stuck "lost" posters on trees and telephone poles.  I trooped through the woods and open meadow that runs for a mile behind my house.  I put notices in the Lost & Found sections of all the local papers.  There was never a sign of her from that day on.

So I guessed that Beau probably should be an indoor cat after all.  And truth be told, there were coyotes lurking around, more and more every year.  I bought a litter box and all that jazz.  I had a talk with him.  He had, in fact, become The Cat Of My Life, just as I knew he was, and for the life of me I could not understand why anyone would have given him back.  Beau and I were  inseparable.  

At night he'd lie at the foot of my bed and I'd brush his teeth with my index finger; he loved that.  I'd flip him on his back because he had a zit on his belly that wouldn't go away for good, and yeah - ew - I'd squeeze it; he let me.  If you think I was fast becoming an old spinster Cat Lady, ha ha ha, good for you, we have a winner!
But Beau refused to stay inside.  He went through window screens twice; he would lie on the floor in front of the door with his face pasted to the weather-stripping and howl.   There was just too much magic out there for him.  I gave in, and though he rambled, Beau came home at sundown when I called him.  We kissed and hugged and mooned over each other -- I once read a piece by Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmopolitan magazine once, where she described how she loved her cat scandalously.  Well, we were a scandal, Beau and me!!

Now comes the hard part, where I have to tell you about Beau's last day on earth.  August 15, 2005.  It was early morning, before 8 A.M., and someone was knocking on my door.  The whole thing is a dreamlike -- nightmarish is more likely -- memory from that point on.  I remember a tall thin man in jogging shorts standing there asking me, did I have a black cat? with long hair?  I was out in the road, asking the man for help, lifting Beau into the backseat of my car, telling him to hold on, hold on.  He cried once; I was laying on my horn at the vet's emergency entrance, they were running out; I was on my knees saying "do what you can."  There was a prissy little office tech chasing me with an index card saying "which cat is this? which cat is this?"  I wanted to punch her right down to the ground.  Beau heard my voice and felt my hands, and then he died.

There is more.  There is me getting somehow back home with Beau in a box.  Me hammering on my tenant's window for help digging a grave.  A primal cry against my father's chest.  My mother taking me home with her to sleep with her in her bed.  Me, almost 50, sleeping in my mother's bed.  And then deciding okay, pull yourself together, it was a...a cat.  Just a cat.  That didn't work; the compulsion to go lie down outside on the hill where Beau was buried, to not be so far from him,  was overwhelming.  I wondered if I might be losing it.  I mean, what the hell?
I wanted not to be mad at Beau, but everyone was; he had this huge meadow in his own backyard, for god's sake, why keep going across the road?  Of course, when Beau came to live here it was a quiet, minimally-traveled street, and then a delay in completion of a bridge a couple of miles to the west, and consequently a detour, sent so much traffic past my house in both directions that you couldn't sit on my front step and hear well enough to talk on the phone.  Whoever hit Beau didn't stop, of course, even though the vet said yes, they would have known it.  Nope...my angel was a tall, thin man in jogging shorts who had gotten to the bottom of the street and then turned around and come back, uneasy that the sounds he'd heard were not from a bird after all.

I vowed, no more animals.  The heartache isn't worth it.  I moped and I mourned.  Was I mourning other deaths besides Beau's?  I'd say absolutely.  I'm a stoic New Englander and here was a chance to get a whole bunch of stuff cried about in one fell swoop.  The truth is, though, I did feel very empty.  Not to overthink this, but Beau had filled an enormous void in my life.  I wished I knew that he was okay, wherever he was.  I wished he knew how much I loved him, the little bastard, and had tried so hard to save him.  And I wished I knew that he knew.  Was I asking for a sign of some kind from a deceased animal?  I guess so.   Yeah, I guess I was.  

If you're going to ask for signs I believe your mind has to be completely open to receiving them.  I can't usually get out of my own way long enough to tune my brain into whatever frequency my brain needs to be that receptive.  With one exception:  I had come into a little money I wasn't expecting, and I wondered whether I should pay some bills or trek off for southern California again; I pined for the canyons and the cacti and the cowboys.  I figured I'd leave it to the universe to tell me.  I threw caution to the winds.  

I was mulling it over one day en route to the mall, thinking I'd need a pair of cargo pants if I were going out west (or maybe even if I wasn't).  Coming back out into the fairly huge parking lot, I noticed that the car parked next to mine had, you guessed it, California license plates.  A San Diego dealer, to be specific.  Yep.  We don't see too many of those in Connecticut, so needless to say I went straight home and called the airlines.

So what kind of sign was I looking for from Animal Heaven, from the ether of the great beyond, some definitive and unmistakable token or act that would convince me, all was well; all was as it should be?  I was out in the garden when I suddenly thought: send me a butterfly.  Yeah, I don't like them, I don't want one near me, but I will let one near me just this once, on my arm or hand or leg.  I felt like a damn fool, sitting on the stone wall watching them fly back and forth but never light on me.  I mean come ON.

Days went by; I don't recall how many, maybe it was a couple of weeks.  I was out doing errands and had to stop at the pharmacy.  When I came out, I thought it would be greatly gratifying to have a car with butterfly decals parked next to mine.  Parking lots, after all, seemed to be the cosmic place where stuff like this happens, the vortex from which signs from the Great Beyond seemed to materialize -- once, at least.  But then I told myself how foolish I was being and said "I give up."  I was acting nothing short of ridiculous.

There was something on the pavement just ahead of my front passenger-side tire.  It was a pin, a brooch, obviously hand-made, very shiny, gleaming and glimmering with a lacquer of some sort, beautifully painted a glittery gold with black spots and orange blotches.  A little rough around the edges, but aren't we all.  I leaned down and picked it up.  I stared at it. This must have taken some work.  This must have taken a great amount of effort.  But I guess there are things, in fact, that bridge a tenuous gap, that don't ever heal a broken heart but can help a sad human being believe that there are beautiful things about the bond between animal and humans, things that give us strength to open our hearts again to another.  Now you tell me: if you heard me ask for a specific sign like a butterfly lighting on me, but you knew I was afraid of them, what would you do?  Scare me?  

Or find some other way?


  1. Ah yes, find some other way.

    How lovely. And I am sorry about Beau -- I know it was 5 years ago -- but it is sad none-the-less.

    what a beautiful story.

    and beautiful broach.

    LouiseG (I found you through She Writes -- you hoped people would come and read, so I did!) And I'm glad I did.

  2. Thank you so much Louise!! Glad you liked the piece and thanks for letting me know you found it through SW. I still do miss Beau terribly. :{

  3. I came across your blog completely by accident-well not quite I saw a mention oif you on Marvelous Mable --who I found because I am participating in a blog hop---I love your blog-I love your style of writing!!! and I now follow you!!

    Michele aka MikiHope