It was a beautiful fall day, sun shining on the Pacific waves, promising warmth with a side of hope. It was the Husband’s birthday and I had a mission to accomplish. It was still early and, uncharacteristically, I got up and took a shower, holding on to the handle of the wet, glass door for steadiness. It had been a long night, much of it staring off into the dark of the bedroom because sleep would not come.
I gathered up everything I would need for the morning’s outing and left the quiet house. The first stop was Secret Beach as it was known to locals, as there was no sign on the Highway alerting eager beachcombers that public access to another of Oregon’s gorgeous beaches beckoned just down a narrow county road. There was only one other car in the small, sandy parking area. A short walk down the narrow path and the glorious ocean appeared, autumn blue with whitecaps that frothed and pulled at the waves and shore. Already, part of the beach had been cut off by rising waters signaling the winter King Tides to come in a few weeks.
A young couple sat at the base of the cliffs on a blanket, sharing a thermos of something, sitting shoulder to shoulder. I wished they weren’t there. This was my time and I needed no watchers. The rock outcroppings met the tidal waters, swirling around the edges and crashing into the base where the sand met the antediluvian cliffs, smooth and easy to climb. My shoes grabbed the hard surface and I moved easily across the hump of rock. A narrower ledge along the cliff face above the water was the perfect spot. I looked back and could no longer see the young couple.
After getting down on my knees, I pulled the small plastic bag out of my pocket and opened it.
“Happy birthday, my Love.”
A large wave was coming in and I leaned over, the light gray dust falling down into Mother Sea. A moment later another wave crashed below me washing the cliff face of the rest of the gray dust, once a good man, a philosopher and poet, into the sea. Back home, back to his origins. Now a wave, a whale’s puff of spray, a tumbling agate in the sand.
I didn’t stay long, the rising tide pulling away at the sand, threatening to leave me little room to walk back along the shore. And my mission wasn’t yet complete. I needed to keep moving.
Back on the highway I drove north, watching the mileposts as I got closer to my destination. I remembered the man saying, ‘We’re right after Milepost 74.’ I arrived early by about 20 minutes and found a place off the highway to park. The gate to the building was still locked. I hoped they remembered I was coming. Sometimes in the country things didn’t work on the clock like in the city. It was just part of being here. And why people liked being here. No one was on a punch clock.
Finally a man appeared and the gate swung open for me. I told him who I was and he directed me where to park then secured the gate.
“Thanks for being here when you said you would. Some folks say they’re coming and I wait around for hours and never see ‘um.”
I thanked him for meeting me and we went inside after I parked. It was poorly lit and the smell of animal feces bordered on overwhelming. Animal cages were spread around on tables and counters, rather randomly. Kittens and cats meowed and paced or lay passively in their cages. The manager told me that most kittens of the same litter have their Moms with them at the shelter. But the cage that drew me in did not have an older cat. There were eight kittens in the cage, tabbies, pure white kittens, and variegated gray kitties. One of the latter ran to the edge of the cage and climbed up the metal mesh. He meowed loudly, looking me directly in the eye, as though saying, ‘I’m the best, take me, lady!” His paw tried to squeeze through the cage. The gray kitty had huge green eyes, his pupils big black saucers as he took in his prospective human Mom.
I looked in the other cages, at many more extremely cute kitties, most eight weeks old, some six months out, and some older cats who looked resigned to their fate, whatever it might be. I wandered back to the gray kitty and the manager said he’d give me two kitties for the price of one, just $75. I had been leaning towards two kitties after researching the benefits for kitties to have playmates. But could I handle it? I hadn’t lived with a kitty for several decades.
In the gray kitty’s cage were all of his siblings. One elegant, fluffy white sister-kitty with beautiful blue eyes sat regally on a ledge over the mess of the cage floor, full of pine pellets, kibble and poo. It looked like she was blocking out the filth, imaging herself living in a palace with handmaidens at her beck and call.
“I’ll take the active gray kitty and that pretty white one up there with the blue eyes.” I felt kind of weird picking them out, like they were sausages at the butchers. I pined for all the kitties left behind and said I was sorry in my head.
The manager seemed to really care about the kitties and carefully gave each of them their shots and flea medicine. He noticed that the gray kitty had a broken tail, making the end of it hang down like a decorative tassel. The kitties had come in to the shelter just three days before, no mother with them. They were skinny but seemed healthy. And they were so darn cute my heart split open right then and there. And as though fairy dust had just performed a miracle, I was a Human Kitty Mom. I handed the manager $150 rather than $75. It looked like they could use some help.
The tiny furry creatures rode back home with me, a half hour drive, crying in fear in their new kitty carrier with a soft towel in the bottom, the motion of the car frightening to their equilibrium and their memory of the ride to the shelter a few days before. I cooed and sang and cooed some more, the crying stopping for a few seconds sometimes, or the kitties would each take turns crying.
I was practically in tears by the time we got home, commiserating probably too closely with their fear of the unknown. I set their carrier gently down on the entry rug and opened its door. The kitties hesitated for only a moment, then the gray kitty, soon after christened “Smokey,” confidently stepped out into his new house, his sister, now known as Maru (Clouds in Setswana), following closely behind, more reticent than her curious brother. I grabbed some baby wipes and cleaned a little poo off their back legs. It was a Human Mom thing to do.
That was about six months ago. All three of us have landed in our designated roles now. Smokey: lead food stealer, paw kneader, morning cuddler and ambush mercenary. Maru: professional princess, vulnerable coquette, expert jumper, creator of imaginary friends, and paper shredder extraordinaire, including important ones you fail to store safely. Human Mom: sneaky food stealer from the pantry, part-time, past-prime princess, and creator of imaginary stories (also known as novels). And I still cry. A lot. Some weeks. I’m crying now. Fuck.
I wonder why I share similar traits with the kitties? Perhaps I just need to get out of the house more often.
So here I am now with my feline compadres in crime. Being cats, they ignore me at whim. They criticize me at meal time, calling me slow and inept at my job of getting the cat food in the bowl. I admonish them back to calm down, remember it’s a process that has components to it, remind them this process happens 21 times a week and shouldn’t they know by now they will definitely be fed. My words hold no currency at meal time.
But the ritual repeats itself. The days and months past the Worst Day continue to tick and tock by, now ten months gone. And I work away, like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up hill, looking ahead but afraid to stop looking behind. Wondering what I’ll have left if I do.
Outside spring is swinging and pushing forward like George Foreman at the Rumble in the Jungle, winds howling, rain lashing out like a vindictive lover. But when the rain stops and the swollen clouds thin out and the sun makes even a brief appearance, it’s a good moment.
Those good moments add up, and the world moves on. Smokey steals a spare rib from a plate, Maru plays with her worn blue mouse and a new invisible friend, and I write, finally.
And continue to wonder it there’s any chocolate hiding in the deep, dark depths of the pantry that I can steal.
From Lady Proverbs, somewhere on the Oregon Coast
LOVED THIS ENTRY. TEARS CAME TO MY EYES WHEN HIS ASHES BECAME ONE WITH THE SEA. YOUR KITTIES ARE A SOURCE OF JOY WITHIN THE GRIEF.