Delicate. That was the diagnosis the veterinarian pronounced when we took our new kitten, Hannah Clare, in for her first check-up in May, 2015. Ed and I had not even officially adopted Hannah and her brother, Tucker Matthias, but were “fostering with intent to adopt.”
The two black kittens weighed barely a pound and had just come into the Brother Wolf no kill animal shelter from foster care. We were told they were 8 weeks old. Tucker was the larger kitten with hair sticking out in all directions, like he had put a paw in a socket. Hannah fell down when she tried to stand, was not eating the dry food the shelter provided because her mouth was too small. Tucker was only half-dead. Hannah was mostly dead. One look at her and I suggested that we might want to adopt a third kitten – I was that unsure about her survival. But, Hannah and Tucker were the only kittens available at the shelter.
And I really needed kittens. After the death of our 18-year-old the year before, we had to euthanize our last remaining cat, Jessie, in February – the day I had planned a dinner party for the committee that I chaired. The committee’s work was about to get difficult and emotional. We had all taken a vow to not discuss our work. The dinner party was to celebrate the ending of one phase of our work and hopefully cement some good will as we began our next phase. I canceled the dinner.
The committee work of calling a new rector of our Episcopal church turned brutal. I would walk into our house after a committee meeting and Ed would greet me by asking if I wanted a glass of wine. I usually said yes. Sometimes I nodded my head. Other times I shook my head, no. There were the times that I burst into tears. Our house had been without a cat for three months, longer than I can ever remember living without a resident cat.
After we welcomed Hannah and Tucker into our home, those kittens were the only thing that could make me smile, even laugh, after committee meetings. They were (and still are) my little bits of God in fur. For a few weeks I kept them in the room with me, often on my lap. I became “mom cat.” Tucker started suckling on the inside of my elbow. Hannah began taking the scrunchie out of my hair and suckling on that when she settled into my lap. Both cats began following me everywhere I went.
When Hannah began eating canned food, she steadily gained weight. We’ve laughed at that early diagnosis over the years as Hannah grew into a fierce, 9 lb. cat that bosses her 14 lb. brother. She can purr and growl with equal passion and depth. She’s perfected the art of hitting a high note meow and holding it longer than any cat I’ve ever heard. She’s the Maria Callas of the feline world, piercing your soul with her voice.
While Tucker has grown into a big, fluffy puff of a sweet, docile cat, Hannah is the explorer cat, demanding doors be opened, taking her paw and working a drawer until it opens, then fishing out whatever she can inside the drawer. She’s the busy cat, sleek, shiny soft silk ribbon fur.
While I was out of town, Hannah discovered Ed’s lap – more accurately, she discovered that his outstretched legs on the otterman was a comfy place to settle. She didn’t stop there. She was soon carrying the scrunchie from my hair to Ed’s lap. Now it is her nightly routine. She waits for Ed to get in bed and get her scrunchie out of his bedside table. As he reads, she suckles.
Although she is the sweetest, most loving cat with me and Ed, there are times when she does not want to be touched or picked up and we’re had to learn to approach her only in her “safe places” – bed, window seat, favorite chair – or let her come to us. She hides from almost everyone who comes near the house. We’ve had weekend house guests who never saw Hannah.
When we moved to Yancey County three years ago, the veterinarian here told us that some cats have a “feral gene” and that may very well explain Hannah’s fear of the world. Hannah did not take the move well. The first night she found a hole in the drywall behind the dryer and crawled into the wall. She refused to let me help her out, but eventually found her way. One day we came home to find Hannah sitting in the shower stall downstairs with the door closed. She had apparently taken a leap from the top of the fireplace that separates the bedroom from the soaking tub and shower and assumed the shower also had a top. Fortunately, she jetted out, unharmed, but she has not returned to the top of the fireplace.
When she started vomiting earlier this year, we took her into the vet for bloodwork and an exam. The vet suspected a food allergy so we changed to a hypoallergenic food (“The cat eats better than we do,” Ed joked). The vomiting stopped for a while but then returned recently. She lost two pounds in the last month. An ultrasound last week showed a large area of thickening in her stomach, an indication most likely of cancer. Unusual for a cat her age. There is a possibility that it could be irritable bowel disease. Less likely is that it is an infection or the stomach’s reaction to a foreign body. There are no definite answers and no good choices. We’ve chosen to give her a long-acting (month) steroid in hopes of improved health, at least for a few months. For now, she is responding well and appears to be a normal, healthy cat, albeit a bit too skinny.
Hannah and Tucker are part of our family, and we’ll do everything possible to give her the best quality of life for as long as we can. Much as I wish that I could rescue this little bit of God-in- fur that saved me, I’m learning to accept that our time with Hannah will be much less than we anticipated.
THE CAT’S SONG
by Marge Piercy
Mine, says the cat, putting out his paw of darkness.
My lover, my friend, my slave, my toy, says
the cat making on your chest his gesture of drawing
milk from his mother’s forgotten breasts.
Let us walk in the woods, says the cat.
I’ll teach you to read the tabloid of scents,
to fade into shadow, wait like a trap, to hunt.
Now I lay this plump warm mouse on your mat.
You feed me, I try to feed you, we are friends,
says the cat, although I am more equal than you.
Can you leap twenty times the height of your body?
Can you run up and down trees? Jump between roofs?
Let us rub our bodies together and talk of touch.
My emotions are pure as salt crystals and as hard.
My lusts glow like my eyes. I sing to you in the mornings
walking round and round your bed and into your face.
Come I will teach you to dance as naturally
as falling asleep and waking and stretching long, long.
I speak greed with my paws and fear with my whiskers.
Envy lashes my tail. Love speaks me entire, a word
of fur. I will teach you to be still as an egg
and to slip like the ghost of wind through the grass.
—from Mars & Her Children (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992). First appeared in Matrix 28 (Spring 1989). Copyright © 1989, 1992 by Marge Piercy and Middlemarsh, Inc.