Of Calicos and Reincarnation
The world, in its gifting progression of time has offered several indications that I have been asked by former pets to be at peace - to be reassured there has always been (and will always be) a place for their souls and for mine, to eventually and always have chances in time to be together.
Sarah was gifted to me by an actor I worked with here in St. Louis, Jim Paul, whose son raised Russian Blue prizewinning felines. As a kitten Sarah was abandoned and on her own - an alley cat - that found her way to Jim's back door and was let in to simmer down the scratching on the door and persistent crying. She subsequently harassed the pedigree Blues into a paranoid frenzy, and Jim's son compelled him to find her a new home.
I had refused the night before during 1/2 hour as we got ready backstage for South Pacific then playing nightly at the Westport Playhouse here in St. Louis. "Sorry, Jim, no more cats for me right now." So, Jim in his aged wisdom brought this little homeless Calico to the theatre the next night in a carrier and placed it next to me on the dressing table. He opened the carrier gate and this thin wisp of a patchwork rushed out, sniffed my arm, started purring and crawled up onto my shoulder nuzzling my ear, and finding a bed on my shoulder behind my neck where she perched and fell asleep purring while I did my make-up and drew a Navy tattoo on my arm until it was time to go onstage.
I took her home, cursing Jim all the way to my apartment on Castleman in the Shaw Neighborhood ("The Home of the Stars!" as all us twenty-something actors who took advantage of the cheep rents and yuppie renovations of the 1980's called it.) I raised her with care and with a growing awareness and quick understanding that her trials had been tough in the alleys – therefor her need for an independent run of the land and a leave-me-to-myself non-affectionate respect from all others - as once indoors, she was very skittish and standoffish, as if to say, "OK I'll stay here, but I don't feel safe, nor do I want anything but food and sleep and to be left alone." So I did.
I took her to the vet and got her wormed and rid her of fleas and then, bought her some really good food. Placing the food down, she stood over the dish, buried her nose in the meat and “Growl and chew, [swallow...] Growl and chew [swallow...] Growl and chew [swallow...]” until the food had disappeared. It took a month for her to stop growling when she ate.
So, I left her alone, vowing I would allow her time to come to me if and when she was ready. She was so pretty and funny when she played, and her company made it a home. Over a year or so she calmed down and learned I was trustworthy, though she was very cautious and unfriendly to anyone visiting. Eventually, she would sleep on the end of the bed and while I watched the tube, Sarah would sit on my lap (I was the only person she would do that with) and, one winter night after I had settled my pillow and rested my left face in the perfect place and found my on-my-stomach comfort sprawl, she jumped up and nestled between my knees and went to sleep. She would always do that, almost exactly 10 minutes after I would lay down and get settled, I would hear her pat-pat-pat into the room, over to the bed, pause, and jump up purring. Then, nestle herself into the castle walls made by my legs. Sarah was a magical one. When my back was hurting or my stomach upset she would always find the exact place and lay on me purring, adding her warmth and vibrations to mend my ills.
When she had kittens she came into the bedroom and woke me up and asked me without words to keep her warm. She crawled up to my face her extended kitten belly fully bulging and crawled down under the blankets and between my legs. I thought she was just cold, but 2 hours later I woke up and knew --her water had broken. Having placed a blanket in the largest closet for her to deliver, I carried her there and placed her carefully in the large towel-soft box of a birthing chamber and went back to bed. She came immediately after me and with her high shaky meow, asked me to sit with her while she delivered. I looked and nodded and she led me back and I watched as this very small Calico delivered three tiny and jittery kittens in 45 minutes. She was tiny – strong, but, after three, was exhausted - so, she rested for three hours and I slept on the floor next to her. I called the vet and they said to just let her sleep – that she was resting for strength. Then she awoke in the morning to deliver the final two.
I loved this little cat with all my heart. When she was 19 she was very healthy until the last few days and I noticed a few accidents near the litter. And, she was sleeping a lot. I changed the litter and made a fresh place for her. An hour later I came in and she was in the litter box, laying comfortably in the fresh, unused litter, with her arms gathered under her chest as if sitting on my lap and she looked at me. I called the vet and explained what she was doing and the vet said she was telling me that she could not keep her kidneys in control - that she needed help. So that day with a very sad soul we said our goodbyes and I had the vet come to the house to help me relieve her suffering. She transitioned in my arms with peace and respect.
A year later I was at a bonfire party at a farm in Illinois. The owners’ were keepers of exotic animals and they had about 30 kittens and cats running wild in the barn. I went to look at the Arabian horses and the peacocks housed in the barn and was immediately charmed by this one little calico kitten that was running like a wild one, trying to play with the horses, climbing the ladder way too big for her up to the hayloft, jumping down 10 feet into the hay and just having the time of her life.
I sat down and she came over. I started to talk to her, praising her gumption and laughing at her exploits. I reached out and she sniffed my hand and ran behind me and disappeared. About to rejoin the party I shifted my weight to my feet leaning forward about to stand, when I felt a little purring lump of fur with sharp tiny claws jump on my shoulders, sinking in to the back of my neck like Sarah's used to (I never had the heart to De-claw her, much to the dismay of my couch and chair,) and, just like Sarah had done at the dressing room half hour, while the cast of South Pacific poked fun because my heart was melting in a mess of "OK, I'll take her," Sophie (as of then not named,) found the same place Sarah had - that shoulder perch behind my neck, where she rested and fell asleep purring while I sat, stirred and determined to take this little one home. Which I did.
By the way, Sophie is laying on my lap now, almost asleep...a bit different - her own style: Sarah liked to lay long-ways on my leg, and Sophie has a version of, “across-my-lap-as-a-bed”, but she's exactly the same weight as Sarah was at her age, (now that she’s a bit more matronly,) the same temperature as Sarah was, exactly the same purr - same timing of r-r-r-r-r-'s and exactly the same volume and duration of breathing. This indication of association astonishes me every day, because no one I know has had the company of the same kitten for close to forty years and counting.
© 2016 Christopher Limber