Thursday, November 17, 2016

All In

Every morning after that, I woke up with the realization that bringing home a kitten was a mistake. We had a wonderful, if slightly boring, dynamic at home. I had time to take care of my three pets, the dog, the cat, and the frog, without digging into the rest of my schedule. I was sleeping pretty well. Seth was eleven, too settled to be disrupted by kitten energy. Teddy was already the bottom rung of the family hierarchy. How much lower could he stand to go? Things were good as they were, pretty great, actually.

But as every day progressed, especially when I checked the vet's website, I fell in love with our kitten all over again. His brothers and sister were going home with families. Eventually, he was one of only two. On Saturday, I called and asked how much he weighed.

One pound, twelve ounces.

What? Four days ago, he was one pound, eleven ounces. How could he be growing so slowly? Would he be ready to come home in a month? I didn't think I could wait that long. Look at him.

So, I made another appointment to visit my little munchkin on Monday. Then, Mike and Nick decided they wanted to go. Nick said I should stay home. It was a Saturday. I thought I'd tag along but suddenly, it was a guy thing. Buy video games, eat fast food, show Dad Nick's kitten.

Well, okay. I'd just seen the little guy on Thursday, but I was worried that Mike was the only one who could put a stop to the madness. I called the vet's office again and they said they were too busy right then. Could they come at 3pm?

Suddenly, I was blathering about how, if Mike didn't like the kitten, the whole thing might have to be called off. I begged for them to make it nice when the two arrived, to make the kitten perfect, to ensure that everything was perfect so we really could bring him home. They said they'd do the best that they could.

When I got off the phone, I realized I'd sweated rings around my armpits. I paced. I tried to clean the house. Mike's sense of the kitten might be better if the house was clean when he got home and I asked him about it. I paced some more. I looked the guys up on my app, Find My Friends. They had arrived at the vet's office.

I sweated and paced and checked the stalker app again until I saw that they were on the road home. No time to relax yet. I frantically vacuumed and ran a load of laundry.

When the door slammed open, I ran downstairs to look at Mike's face. He looked relaxed but a little annoyed.

"Two video games," he said. "And lunch."

I tried to sound casual. "How was the kitten?"

Nick answered, "He was really cute! He's getting tamer! He was really sleepy! They had to wake him up!" And on like that.

I let him run on then, I looked at Mike, who shrugged his shoulders. "He was okay. He didn't do much, mostly slept."

I rolled my lips into my teeth and bit them a little to slow myself down. The pause was difficult to manage. The quiet voice almost a squeak. "Well, do you think it'll work out?"

"Yeah, I guess. Nick is really excited. He hasn't been this interested in anything for a few months. I suppose it'll do."

And I jumped into the air. I don't usually jump, but that day, I jumped. I think Nick jumped too. Then, I called the vet's office and said they could really, really put us on as definites list for our kitten. We were all in.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, November 14, 2016

Maggots, Tapeworms, and Leeches

The next time I visited with the as-yet-unnamed kitten, I came prepared. I brought the dog's blanket and a little cat toy I'd made by balling a wad of both Teddy's and Seth's fur until it behaved like a felted wool toy. I reinforced it with a few stitches and added a string. I was resourceful, prepared, right?

It reminded me of when Nick was born and we brought home one of his baby blankets from the hospital so that our dog Indiana could get a whiff of him in advance.We had nothing to worry about. Indiana loved Nick on sight. He was her baby. We could see the love on her face.

I thought the blanket and this little toy would inspire some curiosity, a moment of recognition, cat and dog with this human. I thought it might make getting to know my kitty easier.

The technician brought me and the kitten into the same room along with a blanket and a pillow. I could take my time, she said. He was one pound, eleven ounces and could come home with us when he was two pounds and could be treated for fleas and worms. Worms?

Nobody said anything about worms.

But then the technician left and I was stuck in the room with a flea bitten, wild and possibly wormy little kitten.

It didn't seem like so much fun after that. I tried not to think about the worms. Seth had had worms when he was a kitten. No one, not even the five year old Nick who played with him, had gotten worms before we found out and got him treated. So, I tried not to visualize those worms eating through my intestines, or Nick's. I sat back on the pillow on the floor and waited, throwing the little cat toy around by its string.

Nothing. He had no response to it. None, except the occasional time I hit him with it and then, he'd cower further under the little table. I sat that way for ten minutes or so. I'm not that patient. I should be after two dogs, two cats, a boy, and now a kitten. Are there evolutionary advantages to being impatient?

I don't know, but if there are, my line will last through the ages and more than one toddler will say 'dammit' as his first word. Don't ask. Really, it's embarrassing.

Then, I felt stupid because I still had to corner the poor creature, throw a blanket over him, and roll him into a burrito again to get him into my arms.

Once he was there, he sat like an antelope in the jaws of a cheetah, staring into the near space without making eye contact.

I petted him with my one finger again. He stiffened.

Then, remembering the effect the tears had on him the last time I had visited. I wondered if I could dampen my finger on my tears again to make it feel like what his mom would do. No tears.

And then a vision of worms in my eye sprung to mind. No tears.

Spit, maybe?

But I couldn't put my kitteny-possibly-wormy fingers in my mouth. I just couldn't.

See, if I have a kryptonite, it's maggots, tape worms, and leeches. They're all the same in my book, things that will eat me from the inside out if I let them. I'm telling you that I have observed open-heart surgery and kidney surgery. I can clean up shit, vomit, and spoiled food like a champ. But put maggots on the compost and I become a sweaty heaving mess. If I discover little white worms crawling around in the turds in the litter box and I can puke my split pea soup on them for additional nutrients. I carried an ounce of salt like a talisman on me at all times for a week on a canoe trip in leech country. I don't do parasites.

I sat and stared at the tiny kitten. Eli/Blitz/Yeager. Whatever his name might be. Fuck.

So, I spit on him.

It was just a little globule of spit, but it was enough that I could use the one finger to clean him the way his momma would have. He seemed to relax a little. I smeared my spit around until it had the right resistance when I petted him with my one finger, pulling at his skin just a tiny bit. He closed his eyes as if momma had appeared out of the mist. This was working.

The only problem I had then was that the one spot on his fur, the middle of where I had spit, stuck up like a wet cowlick. Do you remember that scene in the movie There's Something about Mary where she accidentally uses his sperm in her hair and spends the whole meal with her bangs sticking up and you know what that crap in her hair is even though she doesn't?

It looked like that.

I could imagine the technician asking how he got wet. I might be able to raise my eyebrows and say I had no clue, but could I lie? Could I really?

So, I got to work on the spot. I think he was getting tired of big momma licking the same spot over and over again, of me rubbing it with the furry dog blanket, my T-shirt, the terry cloth inside of my jacket. But he tolerated it because maybe if he didn't, the big predator would just eat him.

Finally, I got the spit spot smoothed out and looking normal, for the most part.

It was time for me to go. I wrapped him in the blanket they'd provided for me and took him back to the front desk.

"So," the cheerful receptionist asked, "can we change you from 'potential' to a 'definite' new momma?"

I stood at the door, took a deep breath, and thought of Nick's face if I said no.

"Oh yeah, sure," I said vaguely. "Sure."

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, November 11, 2016


After that, I went to see my potential kitty, Jagger, every few days. I knew I was done for after the first time I sat alone with him. I posted pictures of potential Yeager/Jagger/Whatshisname on Facebook. Was Mike going to discover my hard intent on Facebook? I was going to have to pretend I was still negotiating before he sat down to cyberstalk my friends and the community through my account.

The staff at the vet clinic had come briefly into the room with my kitty and left me with a few toys, a blanket, and an offer for a cup of coffee. I just wanted to see if this wild kitten would warm up to me or would he forever scrabble to get away from me whenever anyone handed him to me?

How old was this guy? Had the window of opportunity passed? While he ran from one corner to another, staring at me, I googled 'taming a feral kitten' on the Internet. I wanted him to feel my calm. After ten weeks, the article said it could get really hard. Between eight and ten weeks, it could take a month or so.


I needed to pick this guy up, about a thousand times.

So, I put down my phone, rolled onto my belly, and crawled over to the table he hid behind. He hissed, then skittered over to the doctor's stool and tried to hide among the wheels. I army-crawled to the doctor's stool. He bolted to the door. I slithered to the door. Boy, I hoped no one was watching. He shot past me to the table again. I rolled over and sat up.

I needed another plan, a less friendly plan.

I stood up, grabbed two corners of the blanket, picked up the table he was hiding behind and put it on top of a chair, and I dropped the blanket over him like I was kidnapping him in a Bronx parking lot.

The poor creature writhed in the blanket and I rolled it like I'd worked at Taco Time on the pinto bean burrito station for thirty years. I folded the blanket back to expose his face.

He looked at me as if I were about to eat him. I put one finger behind his ears to pet him. He hissed but then calmed down a little. I stayed silent and nearly still except for that one finger. His eyes squinted a little and I could feel the tiny heart beat under his bony ribs slow just a little. I tried not to stare at him as if I were a predator.

"I've got you," I breathed. He settled. Then, he tilted his Yoda head and stared up at me with huge hazel eyes. I loosened the burrito a little and petted him further down his back. He stared. I stared.

Then, something popped in my soul. I could swear, it felt like a bubble. And suddenly tears spilled onto my cheeks. He continued to stare at me and I looked through the blur until I realized his fur was wet from my own tears.

I petted him with that one finger, wiping the tears until his fur was evenly damp. I wondered at the look on his face, if he too thought of that mother who had, until five days ago, licked him and loved him with her tiny tongue.

And I knew he was mine, my tiny baby kitten.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Only a Potential

So, a few days after Nick and I visited the kittens, Mike finally agreed that we could perhaps bring one home. Maybe.

Then, after dinner, during commercials, we had a vigorous discussion of names. One name was rejected because of a mean kid at school.

"He has an 'M' on his head in his stripes. What about Memphis?" I sat in my recliner petting Seth. Eleven years ago, Nick had named Seth after a cat in a book who had saved his owners lives by showing them a gas leak. Seriously.

"Mom, that's ridiculous! You'd name him after a city?" Nick was on one end of the couch with the dog's blanket pulled up over him. At some point, all the blankets became the dog's blanket.

"What about Merlin?" I said.

 "I'm not nine years old."

"Well, what then?" Mike hadn't added a thing to the conversation. He sat on the other end of the couch with his computer in his lap. Was he even ready for this, a kitten who would chew, make noise at night, break things, upset the balance with Teddy and Seth?

"I like my names to come from something meaningful to me. What about Blitz?"

"He's pretty shy so far. I didn't see him tearing anything up, not even when we looked in on him before the humans came into the room."

"Maybe that's a good thing," Mike murmured.

"Jager then? It's German for 'hunter.'"

"How would you spell it?"

"Like the German word, with a 'J'.'

"And people would call him Jagger and think he's named after the Rolling Stones."

"Only people at the vet clinic would ever see the spelling. What difference does it make?" Mike piped in.

And the commercial break was over, thus the conversation was closed, for now.

The next day on a whim, I went back to the clinic and asked to visit them again. Nick said he was too tired to go. Did he really want this?

When I arrived, they all grinned, handed me my kitty and escorted me into a room to sit with him. I sat down on the floor and let him go. He skittered into a corner. Someone came in to see how I was doing and caught him again and put him into my lap. I told her that he looked pretty wild. I asked if they'd bring me the rest of the kittens so I could see him with the others, so he'd relax.

And then there were five kittens, a blanket, a few toys, and me in a room. The cuteness was overwhelming.

I was in heaven. Ritz, the one they told me had nearly died, played with everything. He had a big belly with dots on it. I batted a ball toward him and he batted it back. Eventually, I got him to come over by making my finger disappear around the corner of my jeans. Vincent, the smallest one, came and quietly sat on my shin while Ritz played. He didn't seem to mind when I gathered him up and put him into my zippered jacket. He snuggled in and let me pet him.

The other three, including our Blitz/Jager, huddled in a corner glaring at me at first. At least they looked terrified. Eventually, they played a little with balls I rolled in their direction. They didn't come close, but they climbed on the bars of the doctor's stool and played king of the mountain on a tiny shelf beneath a table. The white kitten grabbed Bone's tail. Blitz/Jager mostly stayed withing paw's reach of the other two, across the room from me.

I sat and watched my kitty. Technicians came and went, easily picked up the friendlier of the kittens, chased and cornered Blitz/Jager to put him into my lap a couple of times where he shivered until I let him go. I didn't intend to make him stay on my lap. The worst nightmare I could imagine would be to be picked up and held by someone's without being allowed to get away. Each time he jumped off my lap, he looked back as if some monster had decided he wasn't hungry. Then, he rejoined his brothers and sister in the corner.

If this kept up, he might be a hard sell for Mike. I've noticed that Mike likes any animal who likes him back. Beyond that, it's pretty simple. He once gave honey-covered hazelnuts to a friendly squirrel at our apartment complex.  Seymour, he named him. Mike loved Seymour. Mike kept working with Seymour until he would leap onto his legs whenever he left the apartment and climb up and cling to a belt for a treat. I usually threw the nuts at Seymour from a distance, but he was a pretty smart cookie.

Do you remember when women wore skirts and pantyhose to work? Yeah that. The morning Seymour climbed my pantyhose inside my skirt and got tangled, I put a quick end to that kind of training. Picture a woman in heels screaming and running down the sidewalk, slapping her thighs, and lifting her skirt while a sad but well-trained little squirrel clung to her hem.

But would Blitz/Jager warm up to Mike? What if he never did? What if he stayed sort of wild forever? What if he didn't like me or Nick either? What would we do?

I stayed too long that day, petted and played with the friendly kittens, watched Blitz/Jager in the corner and wished I could change my mind and adopt one of the others instead. Had the friendly ones already been claimed? I felt a stab of remorse at the thought. 

When I finally left that room and they took my picture with Blitz/Jager, I asked them to use the word potential when they posted my picture on Facebook.

Thank you for listening, jb