There was a lot of sighing in the house today. It makes sense: it’s not everyday I take my brother to the dentist and find my cat dead in the neighbor’s lawn.
I thought he was napping at first — you know, in 28 degree weather. But we stopped and walked over. His eyes were open; blood was in his nose. He was laying in his left side, at first. My brother ran inside to tell my parents and my mom flipped the cat over to examine his other side. I had been tentatively trying to flip him with a stick to no avail. My mom bent right down and grabbed his little, white paws to turn him over. There was a skinny rash diagonally across his chin. His tongue was stuck hanging out of the left side of his mouth, now awkwardly sticking towards us instead of to the ground. My dad hugged my brother while Mom went to get a pillowcase.
“I got a pretty one because you were a good kitty,” she said to the dead cat upon her return.
My brother left, probably returning to bed. I don’t remember where my dad went. All I remember is laughing at how doggone frozen our kitty was. It occurs to me now as I write the irony of that. JR was one of the floppiest, rag-doll cats to have ever lived. My older brother and I used to play catch with him, and he would purr. I used to throw him over my shoulders like I was Jesus and he was my lamb, and he would purr. It didn’t matter what you did to him. He would purr. He didn’t care if he was spread out out on the floor or cradled in your arms. He purred. My cat was born with the art of total relaxation around anyone.
I am far from that ability. I brace and I tense. The world is coming at me and I have to be ready for it. It takes such conscious effort on my part to relax for things that are supposed to be calming, like massages. I try to be still while my friends round their thumbs into my knots and twists and stress. Really, I’d like to take care of that myself. But my cat, man. He would melt into the presence of anyone willing to pay him a lick of attention – even for Esther the dog, our other and now only black and white animal. Why can’t I be like that? Why can’t I entrust myself to other people like he did?
Mom wiggled our brick of a cat into the flowery pillowcase and carried him off to the shed. We haven’t buried him yet. He’s still out there, eyes still wide and fixed on something whether out of fear or fight. After we put him there, though, I went to my room. Alone. Which I needed. I was mad. Jesus took my kitten away. Jesus hit my cat with a car — at least, that’s how we think he died.
Yesterday, I put Christmas lights on our tree. JR was on his bed in the bay window and came over to me when I had finished. Per the usual, he laid on his side, looking up at me, attempting to seduce me into petting his white bikinied belly. I laid down too, on my left side. I gently flipped over my kitten and pulled him close to my belly. I could feel him purring right on through to my backbone. I rubbed his soft stomach for a few minutes, and eventually one of us got up.
Today, I didn’t touch him when I found him. I thought about it, but I didn’t want it. A few summers ago, I was present at the euthanasia of Patras, a horse at a barn that I’ve been working at for as long as I’ve been in Indiana. He was old, and when he walked his back legs twisted to the side as if he was on a slope. It looked sorry and he needed to be put down. We were in control of that. We decided it was time. We also decided that he would be buried in the pasture and walked him out to his un-dug grave. The vet gave him sedatives. Patras put his knees down, then his barrel and rump followed in the usual “humph.” Then, the vet had a huge tube in his hand — two, actually. He pumped one then the other of these handlebar-sized things into the horse. I watched Patras die. I remember trying to close his eyes and how they wouldn’t stay shut. And I stroked him. He was warm and soft, exactly the way he had been before. I even got to keep clippings of his mane and tail: brown at the edges and ends, but black in the middle.
But my black and white cat . . . I don’t know how he died. We gave him a quick, family autopsy, but we really don’t know. His fur was soft and fluffy, perfectly the way a cat should be. It’s no wonder I didn’t dare touch him after the fact. My hands, my cheeks, my nose all know how precious he felt. I loved it when, whenever I cuddled him under my chin, he would stuff his black face into mine, making the one white spot on his lip and white whiskers disappear. It made me feel good because he wanted my love. I often sucked at returning that love. He enjoyed demanding we humans let him in and out, demand our attention and food and, “I am god. Do everything I ask” because he was a cat and cats are clearly the only thing I have time for at breakfast and while watching TV and at five freaking o’clock in the morning.
JR loved us, and he would let us know. He would express it through purring or meowing or head-butting or leg-rubbing. I’m bad at all those things — probably for good reason — and I’m bad at expressing my love. I’m afraid of saying dumb, honest things like, “You look nice today,” especially when you just complimented me. Or “Thank you,” because whatever you did I really needed but I don’t trust that a thank you will cut it for this really nice thing that you did because everyone says thanks, don’t they? No big deal, right? I can’t be genuine because my legit self comes out through things that sound silly or polite. The weight of these things is lost for us, but my kitten understood. God said, “Purr when you are happy,” and JR purred. All. The. Time. God said, “Head-butt things because you like them,” and JR did that to ALL the things.
When God tells me that He’s big and He can handle stuff and that I should let Him do things, I say, “Helluh noes, Jesus man. You stay right where you are up in heaven. I like my cozy pit. See? Check out this boulder. I like this boulder. It is a nice boulder.” And He be like, “Girl, be like yo cat! He listened to me when I talked. I din’ have to tell Him twice ’bout nothin’. Be still, child. Be still.”
So, my cat’s dead. But even in his short let’s-kill-everything-smaller-than-I-am-like-squirrells-and-rabbits-and-mice-and-then-leave-its-green-stomach-on-the-doormat life, he managed to learn me good about some things, so I suppose he’ll live on in me a little here and there. Maybe I’ll grow white whiskers and someday a little white dot will show up on my lip, and when I see it I’ll say something like, “Look! I became more like Jesus.