I have taken a long time to write this, as it was, and still is an extremely painful memory for both me and my husband.
That day was hazy, and yet sunny. But it was like a weird dream that you can't wake up out of. You are on the edge of something but only feel the sickening sense of loss, impending doom, emptiness, and grief. My father was dying. It was his last day. And Tom and I drove to get something to eat at the nearby Subway. It was mid afternoon in early July in Pueblo, Colorado. It was so cold in the hospital ICU. I remember feeling so cold and glad that it was warmer outside, and that there was light. The pale yellow of the light was sickening and soothing all at the same time. I was falling. He was dying.
Then Tommy yelled, I screamed. There was a cat crossing the highway. So many cars it seemed on both sides of the road and then that awful thump, bump, bump and we saw in the rear view mirror that cat, that calico cat get hit by another car yet again. I wanted to die right then. Oh god, I screamed, Why? Why? Why this kitty? We had killed this creature. We love cats. We sometimes say that we love them more than people. Never, never would we harm an animal if we could help it. It all felt so surreal and out of control.That really was it, an out of control onslaught of life and death and chance.
We were crying and moaning, both of us. It was as if my Dad was right there in the road. Everyone I ever loved right there in the road on this day of yellow haze. Thump. Life is over. It hurts and then it is over. Just like that. And the people drove on.
We circled back and saw his lifeless body on the other side of the road. Then a pickup slowed down and stopped. They got out and went over to the cat.
That was somebody's cat. Somebody's baby. Some part of my heart died that day.
This is the kind of thing that can get treated as black comedy in books and movies. But this was one of the worst, if not the worst day of my life. And my time with my father that day was both the worst and the best. Life is so strange, it happens. And then it is gone.
My father used to joke that when I was a baby I used to say how much I loved the color lellow (yellow). I remember the light that day as hazy pale yellow, at least when we were outside. Inside it was a cold, steely blue. I still love pale yellow. It is like morning. It is the color of the past. Like an old photograph. It is the color of the light that surrounds and infuses my heart when I think of my dad, and now, that day.
Pink and white. Peach fuzz. Soft beyond belief. Like a baby. Oddly, like a baby's bottom, even though it is on the front of his body. It is his abdomen. He has a seam down the front of his body, like a stuffed animal. He is in fact a chubby stuffed animal, even though he is real cat. And the seam indents at his lower belly and looks like a tender pink baby’s bottom.
Sometimes I feel that there is nothing, nothing more important in the world than tenderness. To tender our hearts and minds, and bodies. Why so much struggle? I have to ask myself this.
What is it about my kitty’s abdomen that so melts me, melts my heart and tenders me? It is so vulnerable and exposed. It is real, and temporal.
He has licked off some of his fur. Years ago it was worse. But it has begun to grow back, fill in a bit like a forest after a fire. New growth. Tentative growth. The scars of angst still there. That one can see...something happened here. There was a struggle. There was some need to remove, to release, to work out some some anxiety. Do cats feel anxious? We are all alive, and so die, and I doubt that cats realize this. Our vet says he just was over grooming. Or maybe it was just that uneasy feeling that I have sometimes. I do not need something to explain away this sense of heartache and joyful sadness and incredibly heart rendering, tendering, love that I feel when I see my kitty's belly exposed like this. It is the reality, the tender sweet vulnerability that it speaks of by its pink and white purity, its animal simplicity. We are all an exposed belly. All of us.
My other cat Butchie exposes his belly with unabashed glee, whereas Sunny is protective of this area, and of his body in general. It has taken years of unrelenting tenderness and affection to build the necessary trust in Sunny that has allowed me to touch him there.
Butchie, however, is a hedonist. He exposes his belly, and has since he was a kitten. He does so, like he does everything, with abandon.
"Hey, here I am, pet me!" "Relate to me, rub me, pat me, the harder the better, firm, soft, I like it all!!!" "And feed me, too!!!" "I am comfortable in my fur, in my cat body, just as it is!"
Not so with Sunny. They are (even though animal behaviorists might disagree) just like people - or we are just like them. We are all animals. Why do we separate ourselves from this fact, if indeed we do? We are the same. We are born, we may, or may not, reproduce, and we die. And we love. And we struggle. We are wired to do so. Wired by what? This is the mystery. I don't really need to know the answer to this question. But I feel the question so deep in my heart, and in my own vulnerable belly, that I feel this inexplicable connection to my cat's exposed, and vulnerable, belly.
I have grown tired of the stories that try and re-frame experience and package it so we can all feel more at ease. Do the non - human animals have these stories? I like stories. In fact, I adore stories. They comfort and distract. The imagination is amazing, a process that has divine potential. Stories are the narratives that hold the immensity of feeling and experience. They bring a sense of coherence and meaning to the inexplicable. But the feelings that provoke the narratives, the sensations and heartache and longing from which they emerge, they are to be felt, fully felt, not explained away by the narrative.
I long to be like Butchie, and sometimes I am. But I am also very much like Sunny. Maybe I am both of them. Maybe we are the same.