The Lead of Love

IMG_5458IMG_6088

This is the monthly Feline Friday post on Rewind Real Slow.

“We die containing the richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead.” – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

About a week after Kitty’s first birthday, Kip walked into our lives. Literally. I had seen this scrappy little orange kitten running around the neighborhood. At the time in the late 90s, Kitty and I had housing, but it was in one of the most drug and crime ridden neighborhoods in a 60-mile radius. I was on my evening walk and saw this little orange kitten on the side of the road, obviously quite hurt. A car had hit him. I tried to find his owners, but no one seemed to claim him or even to care. Not wanting to be accused of cat napping, I talked to him, and he literally followed me home.

So small that he fit inside of a child’s shoebox, I took him to the animal hospital, where he remained for a week. He had a broken arm with permanent nerve damage resulting, as well as severe internal injuries to his side and kidneys. Even after a week in the hospital, he came home with tubing in his side that required me to keep moist and flush with fluids to remove toxins multiple times daily. Due to his size, I had thought he was only a few weeks old. According to dental analysis done by the veterinarian, he was actually 4 months old, his stature diminished by severe malnourishment and neglect.

I already had a Kitty at home, and I did not want to traumatize the orange treasure by renaming him and instituting an identity crisis. I was searching for something close to Kitty (as almost all cats will respond to kitty) that was not kitty; he needed unique nomenclature to fit his persona. I borrowed a name from one of my favorite movies and novels. Kip Quark Anderson had entered our lives.

What I did not realize at the time was how appropriate this name would be to his place and impact upon our lives. Kip was the apple, the joy, and the love of Kitty’s and my life. We had 14 wonderful, beautiful, glorious years together, many of them spent regulating his resulting chronic kidney condition, before he finally succumbed to pancreatitis a few years ago.

Kip was a happy go lucky, playful cat full of joy. He taught Kitty how to not be so uptight, how to relax, how to play. Everyone who met Kip loved him. Kip was leash trained and quite enjoyed walking on a leash, often emulating a dog. He was a frequent visitor to my preschool classroom, where he never failed to delight, entertain, and draw out even the most shy and precarious child in the class.

He handled his chronic health condition with grace and dignity. The nightmare-ish visions of having to “pill a cat” never happened with Kip. I would set his medication on his plate with his breakfast or dinner, and he would happily eat it the same as his food. Towards the end of his life, he was on 5 different medications daily, one of them by dropper, and he never squirmed or protested when it was time for his medications.

Kip kept both Kitty and I from losing our minds. Life was hard in the late 90s and early 2000s, as we faced bad relationships, and sometimes lived in the car. Kip’s attitude was always upbeat and helped to remind Kitty and I of the brighter side of life, that things do in fact, get better. Of all my kids, Kip is probably the one who most taught me how to adult and forced me to create a stability in my life and theirs that I had never experienced as a child. I made sure that he received all the medical care that he required and that I was home to give him his medications on time. I was even able to keep his medication on schedule during my early grad school years when I had a one-way 6-hour plus commute from Central New York to Boston for school.

I had spent my first three years of college as a physics major; The English Patient movie came out my freshman year of college. I was particularly drawn to the character of Kip, as his profession in the novel and movie was exactly what I was studying to do in college. In many ways, Kip the cat fit his namesake. He was proficient in diffusing many tense situations with his absolute love of life and easy-going personality.

What Kip taught me the most in his 14 short years on this planet was love. He taught Kitty too. He taught me that every experience, no matter how dark or dire, has a small sliver of hope. He taught me that every single person we meet in life changes us in ways we may not even see or understand. He lived a very full and very bright life that was nothing but a lead of love to everyone he met.

This month, for #FelineFriday, we honor the memory of Kip. At times in my life when I was trying to go too fast, when I was trying to accelerate at 100mph, Kip always reminded me to slow down and remember the important things. Each experience in our life changes us and stays with us forever. Kip not only led with love, but he has changed my life in ways that will have repercussions until my dying day. Even as I held him in my arms a few years ago, as he passed away, he still taught me in his final breaths, the meaning of love.

Cheers to the memory of Kip this month on Rewind Real Slow. If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

Happy 17th Birthday to my Son

IMG_7812

This is the first in the monthly #FelineFriday series.

My kids have 4 paws and a tail. It’s not a joke or some redneck colloquialism. After having four different doctors inform me that I cannot have children, my cats are the closest to a child for me. They have been with me longer than any human being, including either of my parents.

When I adopt, I adopt for life. I am not a crazy cat lady that lives with 10 or 15 cats. I live with two cats, because that is what is reasonable for me to handle given time, money, love, and other resources to ensure they have a life of true children.

Kitty is my oldest and my first.

Today he is 17.

I’m not sure if I adopted him, or if he adopted me, but in the past 17 years, he has made me a better person, taught me how to grow up, and shown me more about myself and others than I ever thought possible.

The first 7 years of his life were pretty rough for both of us. I was not yet settled, but I kept us together as a family. This was back in the time when my relationships were tenuous, my housing situation even more so, and the most stable things in my life were the fact that I had a car and a cat that made a family.

Kitty has an anxiety disorder, which he was diagnosed with by the Feline Behavioral Specialist at one of the most prestigious colleges of veterinary medicine in the country, which happens to be in our local community. I’m pretty sure his diagnosis is mostly my fault. It probably comes from homelessness.

From times that we were living in the car, Kitty has been my protector. He has always been hypervigilent and very possessive of me. I am definitely his human. At times he acts more like a dog than a cat. Most of the time, I am quite certain that he is more human than any being I have ever known.

As Kitty turned 7, I was finally able to give us some stability in life. We have had stable housing since he turned 7. In fact, the past decade has been the most stable decade of my life. I have worked hard to keep the family together. Yes, there were times that we were living in the car, but no matter how bad things were, I have always made sure that my kids have never gone without. They have always had food, and their medical care has been better than mine. Those are the sacrifices that you make as a parent – when you love someone so much with your whole being that you do everything to take care of them.

Kitty has been with me for 17 years. He has been here every time I walk in the door. He sleeps with me every night. Some days, he is the reason I get out of bed in the morning. He has seen me through multiple relationships, many of them abusive. He has become my litmus test for being able to judge a potential partner’s character. Does my Kitty like you? If so, then I’ll think about dating you.

Kitty has his own personality, and he takes care of me. In fact, his name was never intended to be Kitty. I named him Molecule. He would only ever answer to Kitty. I guess he chose his own name. Kitty is also a purebred Maine Coon with no papers. The breeder turned him in because his traits “weren’t desirable.” In 17 years, I have not found a single thing undesirable about him.

Kitty and I adopted each other when he was 4 months old. We were alone together that first year, and then, his younger brother Kip, entered our life. Kip had a chronic health condition, which contributed to my desire to provide more stability for all of us as a family. Kip passed away from his illness a few years ago, when he was 14.

When Kip was alive, I administered and kept track of all his medications. As he quickly declined, I even took to washing him with a washcloth his last day or two of life when he was just too tired to deal. I will always remember the night before Kip passed away. It was one of those moments when Kitty, in the way he interacted with Kip, showed me the true meaning of love. This is a manner of love so deep, that I have not seen it anywhere else in life.

They say that love is watching someone die. The night that Kip died was the only night in 17 years that Kitty did not sleep with me. He slept with Kip. Then, he woke me up at 3 am when Kip got bad to let me know it was time to say goodbye.

Kitty and I also grieved together. I would not have made it through Kip’s passing without Kitty. When Kitty’s time comes, I honestly don’t know how I will survive that moment. I hope it does not come any time soon, but I know that at age 17, our time together is now more limited.

I have a lot of guilt over the fact that I have worked most of his life. I mean, I had to work 60 hours a week or more in low-wage jobs while going to school just to pay the bills. Yes, I was finally able to provide housing and stability for our family, but the price that was paid was missing out on our time spent together.

I am looking forward to completing grad school and so grateful that I am now only working one job 40 hours a week or less so that I can have more of the short, precious, sweet time together. I know that our time together is shortening. When it is Kitty’s turn to pass away, I only hope that he knows I love him more than I have ever loved anyone. He needs to know how very much he is loved and how he is the best and most important thing that has ever happened to me.

I honestly think that if it hadn’t been for trying to keep the family together, I would probably still be drifting. I don’t think I would still be living in my car, but I would probably still be burning the candle at both ends right up until the wick was gone.

Kitty has been with me every day. He loves me when I’m happy, he loves me when I’m sad, he loves me when no human person in my life has loved me. He has taught me so much in life. I don’t think I saved him. I think he saved me.

When I say Happy 17th Birthday to my son, I really mean my son. Kitty has shown me what family means.

Happy 17th Birthday, Kitty. I love you.