The smaller of my two cats is Kitty Girl. She appeared on our fenced-in patio shortly after sunrise one hot summer morning. I was awake early that day, sipping coffee at the picnic table, and saw a flash of black and white inside the flower box. At first I panicked, thinking it was a skunk. I studied it for a minute, and deciding it was too small to cause much damage, went over to investigate. Peering into the box, I couldn’t tell what I was seeing. It was a tiny blob of coarse dirty fur, and when I reached out to poke it I heard an almost imperceptible meow. Within a few seconds, the ugliest kitten I’d ever seen unrolled itself and looked at me with a combination of curiosity and desperation. Fleas hopped all over her, and yellow green drainage from her swollen eyes matted her face. I brought her inside, cleaned her up, treated her eyes, and fell in love with the perky, petite cat I call Kitty Girl.
Fast forward 13 years. Kitty Girl is no longer an ugly duckling. She is a dainty, lively, sweet cat who loves adventure and has used up at least six of her nine lives with exploits.
Once she wandered about a quarter mile away and climbed a tree. She was stuck there for three days and we were resigned to the idea that she died. Unwilling to accept that, Jackie and a search party of eight-year-old friends set out to find her. Looking under bushes and inside drain pipes, they persisted for almost an hour before one happened to look up and see Kitty Girl high up in a tree, cloaked by leaves. A truck and ladder were required to get her down, and she lay on the floor at home for hours, until her dehydration was gradually countered with frequent sips of fluids. She regained her strength, quickly forgot all about the incident, and was right back to her curious, adventuring self.
Another time, she perched precariously on the edge of our pool, using her paws to scoop water into her mouth. Spotting her there and inadvertently screaming, I startled her. She teetered on the edge in slow motion until she was finally able to swing herself backwards to safety. Ignoring that catastrophe, she climbed out onto the pool cover that winter to taste the icy water trapped in the middle. She slid a little too far, and in a dramatic show of persistence, clawed herself back up the slippery surface to safety. During the summer, she suns herself on top of my car. When she wants a better view of her little world, she perches on top of the patio wall. She teases the dog running back and forth across the high deck railings like a trapeze artist far above his head.
When Neil first got sick, we often strolled a short distance down our road for fresh air. Wanting to be near him, Kitty Girl started coming along. Even now, almost two years later, she still wants to join when I walk the dog. As Buddy pulls on his leash, she trots beside him, tail held high, prancing around him when something catches her eye. She slips into a bush or hides behind a tree if she hears a neighbor or car, and then pops right back out to rejoin us when she is sure the danger is passed. We walk to the bend in the road, then turn around and come back.
A few weeks ago I wanted to take Buddy on a longer walk. Kitty Girl wanted to come, but I was afraid some noise or animal would scare her into the woods. I was afraid she wouldn’t be able to find her way back if we were far from home and I would lose her forever. So I carted her into the house and quickly closed the door before she could dart back out.
An hour later, I came home to a furious cat. She whined and howled loudly and stomped around the house for at least twenty minutes. When she finally settled onto my lap, she looked intently at me and meowed more. As I cuddled her and stroked her soft fur, I gradually got a sense of what she was saying. You can’t protect me, Mom, no matter how hard you try. You have no idea the trouble I could’ve gotten into when you thought I was safely closed up in the house! You can’t control me either; I will explore the world whether you want me to or not. I know it’s a scary place but it’s also beautiful. And you have to trust me, Mom. You have to trust me enough to let me learn my own lessons.
Are we good? She purred.
Hmm…smart cat. On so many levels, she was right of course, and it was all too familiar. I can’t constantly protect the ones I love. I can’t control their choices or their situations no matter how hard I try. And they deserve the chance to make their own decisions and learn their own lessons. I need to trust, let go, and embrace whatever happens with compassion and love.
Yes, Kitty Girl, I pledged. We’re good. I can’t promise I’ll succeed, but I promise I will try.