March 16, 2009


We got Spook when he was an eight week old kitten. He was black with silver points, like an inverted Siamese. He came from the home of my best friend Christy as a Mother’s Day present from her to my Mom. My dad wanted to send him back. We didn’t need a cat, in his opinion. He was, of course, correct, but that was beside the point. My mom wanted a cat and she had lived without one for a decade, which was quite long enough, in her opinion. She just looked at him and said, in a sweet, utterly reasonable voice, “But, dear, he was a gift. We can’t send him back.” Dad stomped down to the basement to sulk. We never bothered to tell him that we had been by Christy’s house the day before to pick him out of the litter.

Spook thought he was a dog, since we already had two of those. As he grew, his silver points gradually faded until he turned into a big black cat with bright yellow eyes. He still had the occasional white hair, but only if one looked very close. He enjoyed the dogs, especially Benjamin, our twenty-pound miniature poodle. Benjamin had his own issues, having come to us feral from a condemned puppy-mill. He could never eat at the food dish. He would carry his food from the dish by the back door into the living room and eat a few mouthfuls at a time, then go back for more. Spook would wait for him at the juncture of the back hall and the bedroom hall and leap out to attack him as he passed. Poor Benjamin would freak out every time and Spook would run away. Ben would pick up the food he had dropped, continue into the living room, and when he went back for more, Spook would stalk back to his corner and the entire thing would start again. Sometimes they would play tag. Ben would sit at the far end of the living room and then go racing down the hall, knock Spook over and then race back to his starting point. Then Spook would race out of the hall, leap onto Benjamin and go racing back. This could go on for quite some time, while our larger dog, Jordan, just watched from the safety of the couch.

Spook was never the most friendly of cats. We tried to show him in 4-H once and he received the award for “Most Spirited” because he bit the judge, who kindly didn’t hold it against him. The only person he would visit was my mother, and then only for five minutes at a time a couple of times a day. That was all the affection he needed, though he did sleep in my parents’ bed at night. He never cared to be petted. If I wanted to pet him, I had to catch him. He never purred for me, but I could set him on my lap or on the floor and he would arch his back and stick his tail up as I scratched up and down. He would even press his ears into my fingers to a vigorous skritch, then turn and hiss at me. I would kiss him between his glaring eyes and flattened ears and let him go, or, if I wasn’t quick enough, dodge his bite.

He bit like a snake. We used to wrastle, he and I. I could tell when he was in the mood, if I walked through a room and he let me get within three feet. I would get down on the floor, pull my hands into my sleeves and then knock him over. He would attack my hands, which I put on his head or his belly. Sometimes he would nail me even through my sleeves, but I figured it was his prerogative. When he was done being “playful,” he would get up and leave. He didn’t bite my mother but that was because she bit (or smacked) back.

He missed the dogs when my parents moved out. He actually wandered around their new home calling for them and he rarely talked. When I sold the house in Gretna, and Jordan and I moved back in, Ben having already passed on at the grand old age of fourteen and a half, Spook was most pleased. When I moved to the condo in Lincoln, I left Jordon with my folks, since the third floor walk-up was too many steps for his old bones. I came home every weekend to visit him, bring my new cat, Isis, with me. One day, Isis had an accident in her kennel, so I rushed right up to the bathroom to wash it out, neglecting my poor old dog, who promptly piddled on the carpet outside the bathroom. I scolded him quite loudly as quite loudly is the only way to scold a dog that is ninety percent deaf. As I shook my finger and yelled, Spook came up right beside me, hissed very loudly and attacked my leg.

I was absolutely dumbfounded. Yes, Spook was a mean cat, but he never, ever, attacked people, especially without provocation. Thankfully, I was wearing riding boots, so I just shook him off and then went to put the dog out in the yard. Spook, a house cat his entire life, who didn’t even like the feel of grass on his paws, trotted right on that dog’s tail, until I closed the screen door literally on his nose. He turned and attacked me again. I shook him off again and then yelled at him, using every bit of animal body language and sound I knew to let him know that I was fully prepared to punt him across the living room should he do that again. I wouldn’t have, of course. As I turned away from the back door, he went to sit at the screen and look out. I realized then, he was protecting his dog. He thought I had been threatening his dog and he was protecting his dog from me.

Jordan died in my arms at the fine age of fifteen and a half. Spook died a month ago, in my mother’s arms. He was over sixteen years old. Dad, who had even been known to scoop up that mean old cat for a pet himself, called to tell me. I choked back tears as I was getting ready to go to class; tears were not in the schedule. I miss Spook. He was a good cat, even if he was mean.

This weekend, Mom and I went to the local PetSmart where there is a branch of the Nebraska Humane Society. She had been there to look at self-cleaning litter boxes (my cat Isis still being a frequent house guest) a few days before and spoke wistfully of this lovely little tortie she had petted. Of course, I talked her into taking the lovely little tortie home. We knew Dad would grumble, just like Dad knew that when we decided to go to PetSmart that morning, I would talk Mom into coming home with a cat. The little tortie is seven months old, with long legs, and a lovely pattern of red, brown, and blonde splotches and stripes, one of which makes almost a perfect circle on each side. I tried to sell the name Basho (which I realized later should have been Enso, the Zen calligraphy circle, not the 17th Century haiku poet), but that didn’t fly. As of now, she is nameless, though when I left we were running through the list of old movie stars with May West currently the favorite.

She is as different from Spook as a cat could be, loving and cuddly and talkative. She explored the entire house and sat on every lap in it, including Dad’s, in the first day. She slept in my parents’ bed that first night. She was still growling at Isis when I left, but at least Isis wasn’t growling back, which is an improvement. Isis did not like Spook, though Spook had always seemed perfectly prepared to be friends with her. Mom always felt her dislike was entirely unjustified. “Hey, the last time she let a guy get near her she got knocked up and dumped at the humane society with a litter of five kittens before she was a year old,” I defended her. They had learned to co-exist after a fashion. Now she just watches the new girl with alert ears. They will have a week to get acquainted, while I am travelling for spring break.

Fur-people are some of the greatest teachers I could ever imagine having. They teach compassion by the bucket-load and unconditioned love. They have their own brand of unique and powerful wisdom, all wrapped up in a candy-coating of humor. They both need and want our care, having several thousand years ago, volunteered for domestication. As I pet the cat who rests in my lap, I often marvel that she is even there. I mean, what’s so special about my lap? Certainly there are softer places to sleep, quieter too, which don’t move and wiggle so much, and don’t tug on ears or tails out of boredom or mischief. Yet, if I’m sitting on the couch, there she is, ready to take over my lap. Maybe it just makes her happy, but I know that it makes me very happy, content. I am reluctant to get up, when she is on my lap. Maybe that’s it. Maybe she’s just trying to get me to sit for just a moment longer, with her warm, little body. And Spook was just trying to get me to wake up with his sharp, white fangs.

Fur-people are each a very special kind of buddha.


TMC said...

I wholeheartedly agree! Nicely written. :)

Teacher Jim said...

Nice, very nice.

Samantha said...

First, I grieve wit thee. Losing beloved pets are indeed a great lesson in impermanace. But they aree, while they are with us, equally full of Dharma, and make great teachers.

Reading about Spook, made me remember fondly Bubba cat. He too was a bit of an odd duck, then again he WAS (past tense) my husband's cat when we first met. He was early on, an anti-social recluse, which was amazing consdiering the small one bedroom we lived in all those years ago. Never to touched, pet, snuggled or ever seen I used to joke about our invisible cat.

Over the decade we spent together, he wasn't from that crazy recluse to being a big, friendly, love sponge of a dog. He learned that being bit hurt. He learned that of course when I bit him one day. I hated the mouthful of fur, but it greatly tempered his biting. By the time he and I were forced on different paths, he was amazing. Social, loving, friendly, playful and lovable. Fetch was one of his favorite games and we'd play for hours.

Anyway I loved what you wrote, but I usually do, and it brought back good memories. My brother has a cat named Isis too, and she's awesome.

Thanks Monica!

john said...

A beautiful post. Spook was a lucky cat to be part of your family.
Take care.