The first sighting happened on a Sunday morning. I looked up from my spot in the den to see an unfamiliar kitty face peeking through the bottom pane on the French door. G saw it too, but the kitten melted into the backyard before we could get the door open.
Another morning, I saw the same teensy face peeping out from a crook in the sourwood tree that grows beside the deck. We held eye contact until I reached to open the door, then the kitten slipped into the space between the deck boards and the tin ceiling of the patio beneath it. Our cat Rufus saw it too. He sniffed the tree then hung over the side of the deck to see what he could see.
At that point, my overworked mother mind thought, “Dammit. If Vivi sees that kitten, we are DONE.” She’s been asking for a kitten for years and I’ve finally got her convinced that kittens happen around your twelfth birthday. No sooner.
I reacted to this kitten as one more thing to manage. What if it stayed feral too long and couldn’t be tamed? What if we fell in love with it and it turned out to have feline leukemia? What if it eludes us long enough to get knocked up? How many kittens can that tool shed hold?
I am mother, hear me sigh.
Being the suckers that we are, G and I started leaving food out in a blue plastic bowl behind the grill. Someone kept nibbling at it, either our stowaway kitten or a lucked out squirrel or Huck thinking every day must be his birthday now.
Days passed without a sighting. Then one night the unmistakable sound of caterwauling from the deck. I opened the door and Rufus stomped in with his tail all in a puff. Rufus is a white cat with an orange tail and a bright orange patch of fur on top of his head. Come to think of it, that howling happened the week of the Republican convention.
G spotted the kitten slipping into the toolshed by the deck stairs. Now we know where it’s been hiding. But it’s not like we can get to the kitten, what with the old lawnmower, an archery target, three plastic sleds, six tomato cages, a bag of birdhouses, a trash can filled with hoes and spades, and a decade of yard work good intentions. The kitty has holed up in a stronghold.
A couple more flits past the French door. An empty food bowl and another. A shake in the tree sometimes when I step out on the deck. Vivi’s still none the wiser, even as G and I walk outside every morning with the little blue bowl.
Something shifted in my heart last week. After a brutal and long and disappointing and confusing year, I let some hope back in. I thought about that little kitten and instead of seeing it as one more in a litany of responsibilities, I saw this little stranger as a gift. I thought about how delighted Vivi will be once we let her in on the kitten situation. Nothing about the situation had changed. Just my attitude about it. So last weekend, I wrote “cat” on my list of things to accomplish.
We made real progress on Monday morning. I looked over the edge of the deck to see Rufus sauntering around the sidewalk with the mackerel kitten less than a foot away. Each time Rufus turned in his direction, the kitten hopped sideways or skittered under the steps. Coming a little closer, getting to know each other. Nobody fussing.
The board beneath me squeaked. The kitten turned its bright tiny face up to me and froze. I smiled gently and made that tuk-tuk-tuk sound that we make around kitties. We held gazes for a few moments then the kitty disappeared into the tool shed. I crept down the stairs. The small face watched from behind the lawnmower. I picked up the blue bowl and tukked. Associate me with food and tending, little one.
That little interaction had me smiling all day. The kitten and I, we were getting closer. Maybe we were both feeling some hope.
Today, though. Today. I worked really hard all day on a project for the CEO. When I sent it to him, he made it clear that he was delighted with what I had created. Isn’t that a great feeling–when you work hard and it WORKS?
Well, then I let the fear in. The place where I work is going through a lot of changes and we’re navigating spaces we’ve never been in before. I love where I work and I love what I do. I’m good at it. But now I might not be necessary. Maybe there’s someone else who’s better at my job or can do it more efficiently somewhere else. Within minutes, I went from joshing with the big boss to a full-blown fret about my future.
Letting the fear in taints everything. Even little kittens. When I went to check the blue bowl, I had descended into “WHAT AM I THINKING? WE CAN’T AFFORD ANOTHER ANIMAL IN THIS HOUSEHOLD BECAUSE I’M GOING TO BE LAID OFF. tuk tuk tuk AND I’M OLD. I CAN’T START OVER. I CAN’T ADJUST. I CAN’T I CAN’T I CAN’T. tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk I BET SOMEONE PUT THIS KITTEN IN MY BACKYARD ON PURPOSE. ASSHOLES. NOT ONLY WILL I NOT BE ABLE TO FEED MY CHILDREN BUT I’LL HAVE TO TAKE THIS KITTEN FROM THEM TOO. tuk tuk tuk here kitty kitty THIS IS THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE THAT I’VE HAD TO WORRY ABOUT HOW MUCH ANIMALS COST TO CARE FOR BECAUSE MY DADDY IS GONE AND I CAN’T STEAL CAT FOOD FROM THE CLINIC ANYMORE tuk tuk tuk
And that’s when I had to laugh at myself. That kitten hasn’t changed at all over the last three weeks. It’s just trying to make a place for itself in a brand new world. But me? I am a constantly changing equation. I am projecting ALL my feelings onto this innocent little cat. My thoughts create my reality. If I’m stressed, the kitten is a burden. If I’m happy, the kitten is a gift. If I’m fearful, the kitten is one more statement from the universe that all good things will be taken from me.
I might as well see the kitten as a gift. I can decide to choose joy. Even if I get canned tomorrow or in a year or even if I retire in fifteen years at the top of my game, TODAY was better because I locked eyes for a few seconds with a wild animal that might decide to trust me. I offered it food and clean water. I kept the door of the tool shed open so that it would have a safe place to tuck in for the night.
And I bought two cans of tuna fish because I am the daughter of Sam Garrett DVM, and we are kind to kittens.
Damn if that kitten didn’t just thunder across the deck while I was saving this!