The Life and Times of a Dumpster Cat


I never liked cats. Perhaps it was because my parents didn't like cats, maybe it was because one scratched me badly when I was two years old. Whatever the reason, I never liked cats.
It was six years after I married Becky, and a year after we had moved into a new apartment, that I first met the cat.
I was putting a new battery into the car, and threw the old one into the dumpster. A loud shriek came out, followed by the gray blur of the cat yeowling into the afternoon.
A week or so later, Becky and I were sitting outside when the cat came up and rubbed against Becky's leg. “Oh, she's so cute!” exclaimed my wife.
“There are no cute cats,” I told her. “They're evil malicious creatures that haunt the night.”
“Well, I don't think so,” she said haughtily. “I think she's cute.”
“NO!” I said. “You're not getting a pet, and especially not a cat. I hate cats.” The death of our poodle, Moondog, four years earlier, and how Becky grieved when Moon was run over, was still fresh in my mind. I didn't want to go through that again.
“Don't worry”, she said, “I'm not getting any more pets. She belongs to someone, anyway. She's wearing a collar. It's okay if I just pet her, isn't it?”
It didn't matter to her if it was okay with me or not.
A few days later, Becky broke the news that the cat's owner had moved away from the apartment and abandoned her. She was a “dumpster cat”, one of fifty or so that roamed around the apartments, haunting the dumpsters and eating the lizards (which was another reason I added to my list of why not to like cats, since the lizards ate mosquitoes).
“No! We're not getting a pet, and especially not a cat, and especially not a wild one!”
“Don't worry,” she said.
The next day there was a bowl of milk on the porch.
“The poor thing's hungry. I can give it a little milk, can't I? Don't worry, I'm not going to get attached to her.”
Becky lies a lot, especially to herself.
The next day, the cat came around, of course. This time she jumped in to my lap and started purring. “She likes you,” Becky said.
“I don't like her,” I replied.
“Then why are you petting her?”
A week later there was cat food on the porch. “You said it was okay to feed her. I can't let the poor thing starve.”
I was adamant. “You're not getting a pet, especially not a cat.”
“Don't worry.”
In central Florida in the summer it rains every afternoon. Sometimes it rains hard. Sometimes there are tropical storms, even hurricanes. Two weeks after she had put the cat food out, and by doing so fed all of the fifty cats around the apartment, it rained really hard. We hadn't seen the cat in a week.
It was only three in the afternoon, but it was dark and the sky was an evil greenish tint. An ear splitting meow shattered the relative silence of Ted Nugent blasting from the stereo. The cat was hanging on the window screen, dripping wet and baring her teeth, looking completely miserable. She, of course, wanted in out of the rain. Becky, of course, wanted to let her in out of the rain. “Come on, you wouldn't let the poor thing freeze in the rain,” she said, despite the fact that it was summer in Florida. I reluctantly let her let the cat in, with admonitions to keep her eye on her because “you know how cats tear things up.” The neighbor's cat had just destroyed his six hundred dollar speakers shortly before visiting the Humane Society.
I admit, even though I don't like cats, and didn't want my furniture to suffer the same fate as the neighbor's, I don't like to see anything suffer. “Just 'til the rain stops.”
Two weeks later we had a litter box in the kitchen.
By then, “Kibbles” had a name. I was even the one to name her. “You know, like the dog food.” I was thinking “Kibbles and bitch” but didn't say it.
“Really funny,” she replied dourly, but the name stuck.
So did Kibbles. She was a really sweet animal, and contrary to my beliefs and expectations, showed great affection, especially to me. She really seemed to like me. Despite my fears, the furniture remained intact. I grew to really like this cat, even though “It's not coming into the house” had turned in to “It's your cat, your responsibility. I'm not feeding the damned thing.”
One day I came home from work, and Kibbles had a nasty gash just above her right eye. Becky explained what had happened to her. She hadn't seen it, but Dan, the neighbor across the way, who now had a big red dog since getting rid of the destructive cat, had. Kibbles had been sitting on the porch when the dog decided to make Kibbles live up to her name, and tried to bite her head off. Kibbles pulled her head back and sunk her razor sharp claws into the dog's sensitive nose. The dog pulled its head back, swinging Kibbles, who was holding on to the dog's nose for dear life, over its head. Dan reported that Kibbles then rode the dog like a man rides a horse, spurring the dog's hindquarters with the claws on her left rear leg. When Kibbles decided that the dog, who had shed copious amounts of blood, fur, skin, meat, and screams, had enough, she hopped off and strutted back to the porch. The dog walked with a limp for a month, and never bothered Kibbles again.
Except for the fleas.
All kinds of bugs are problems in Florida. Flies, gnats, mosquitoes, cockroaches, even flying cockroaches sometimes infest the best of houses. Where there are dogs, there are usually fleas, especially in Florida. The dog had its revenge by giving Kibbles fleas.
Kibbles got them bad.
What's worse, she was allergic to them. Pretty soon she was “Kibbles the Bald Cat”. The only hair left was on her head.
Several cans of flea spray and a trip to the vet later, we finally got rid of them. Kibbles reacted badly to the vet's shot, and wouldn't eat, tried to bite us, and didn't even try to find her litter box. She had gone completely insane. Fortunately, it was only a reaction to the drug, and she was back to her old self a week or so later.
I have read that animals can't see the picture on a TV. I know for a fact that this is incorrect.
Shortly after Kibbles adopted us, Becky and I were watching a nature show on PBS. Kibbles was laying, as usual, on the couch between us. There were prairie dogs on the TV, doing whatever it is that prairie dogs do. One of them stuck its head out of its hole and squeaked. Kibbles' head shot up, ears high, staring intently at the TV. The prairie dog stood there for a minute, kibbles staring intently. It then turned around and saw the camera, and ran off away from the camera.
Kibbles leaped off the couch and around the TV, trying to catch the prairie dog. She sheepishly came out from behind the TV and watched up close for a minute, then embarrassedly slunk back to the couch. We laughed in uproarious hilarity. Kibbles shot us dirty looks, as she hated to be laughed at.
Kibbles watched TV from then on. Her favorite shows were the news, baseball, and nature shows, especially ones about birds or big cats.
By this time, believe it or not, Becky was teaching Kibbles dog tricks. Kibbles would stand up and beg, shake hands, even roll over. She seemed to understand nearly everything a human said, and would talk back if she thought she was being scolded unfairly. Of course, you couldn't understand what she was saying, but it was obvious that she was arguing.
By now I had come to realize that this was a very special animal. She had never destroyed anything or made a mess, except for her period of drug induced insanity, and was a very loving creature. She wasn't loving like a dog, who will “kiss” anybody kind enough to pet it, but only those she knew and loved. If she didn't know you, she wouldn't let you come near her. What's more she would do nearly everything we told her to do. She would come when called, and if we told her to “go lay down”, she would go lay down.
This doesn't mean that she was never catlike. She had her cat instincts, like (fortunately) using a litter box. If she was angry at you, she would get what Becky called a “cattitude” and have nothing to do with you except give you dirty looks.
The one catlike behavior that annoyed Becky to no end was lizard chasing. She had honed her hunting skills to perfection in her dumpster cat days when she lived on garbage and lizards, and still enjoyed the hunt, even though she now had real cat food. Becky and I would be sitting outside the apartment, and Kibbles would prance up with a lizard tail hanging out of her mouth, twitching around like an evil green tongue. Becky would always scold her, and this would give Kibbles a cattitude.
Another reason I hadn't wanted Becky to let Kibbles in, besides the fact that I hadn't liked cats, and didn't want to go through the grief of losing another pet, was that we were not supposed to have pets. I had capitulated on this point, since this was a rule that was never enforced. It was probably a liability issue, the apartment owners not wanting to be sued for a dog bite and being covered with this unenforced rule in effect. At any rate, despite the fact that nearly half the people in the complex had pets, we didn't want to advertise the fact that we had one.
Cats like to perch, especially in windows.
Becky and Kibbles would argue with each other for hours about this point. They finally reached a compromise, whereby Kibbles could perch in the upstairs window, where she couldn't easily be seen.
It was her favorite window, anyway.
Windows weren't the only place she liked to perch.
One morning I got in our big '74 Pontiac go to the store. When I turned the key, an awful grinding noise came from under the hood. I had visions of expensive repairs. Starter? All the oil had drained out? Maybe I'll be lucky (ha!) and it will be a belt hitting the fan.
I opened the hood, and the familiar gray blur streaked out. By nightfall, we were sure we would never see her again.
As I mentioned earlier, Kibbles always came when she was called. She never roamed like other cats, either, but she was nowhere around. We thought she had slunk off and died from whatever injuries she had received under the hood. From where all the blood was, it was obvious that she had been caught in the fan, and she wouldn't have been the first cat to die from napping under the hood of that car.
Becky called and called, and looked and looked. Kibbles was nowhere to be found. I thought I saw her once that night, but couldn't be sure it wasn't a different cat. Becky thought I was telling sweet lies. Later, she thought she saw her, too, but wasn't sure if her eyes were telling her sweet lies.
The next morning I did see her in the weeds of a vacant lot. I knew it was her, but she wouldn't come, and disappeared in the weeds when I tried to go get her.
She had run off, and it was obvious that she wasn't coming back. That night was even sadder than the previous night.
The next night, I heard a “meow” outside. “Kibbles!” I exclaimed.
“No, it isn't”, Becky said. “That's not her, it's another cat. She's not coming back, I know it. She's probably dead by now, poor thing,” and started crying.
I opened the door. It was Kibbles.
Most of her, anyway.
She limped in, most of the fur and some of the skin on her left rear leg missing, along with fully a quarter of her tail. She had a look on her face that said she was really sorry she had run off, and could she have a bowl of milk?
She had been gone for two days. Becky had been so sure Kibbles wasn't coming back she had taken up her water and food, and emptied the litter box. Kibbles drank the milk, and went to look for her food and water just as Becky was putting them back down.
“Don't worry, Kibbles, I have your litter box, too; I was just cleaning it out,” Becky said. “I knew you'd come back.”
One day at work I got a call from Becky. She was in the company hospital – her knee had collapsed at work. I went to retrieve her to take her home. The company doctor had put it in a brace which extended from her ankle nearly to her thigh. He put her on “light duty”, which was meaningless, since Disney World, where we worked, didn't allow tattoos, jewelry, mustaches, sideburns, or visible casts or braces (a really family-friendly, handicapped-friendly place) on employees.
Two weeks later the company doctor told her she would need surgery, and referred her to another company preferred orthopedist. His diagnosis was calcium spurs under the kneecap, like the elderly (such as my grandmother or the not yet thirty year old Becky) often get.
Becky went in for surgery. The doctor slit open her knee and stuck in a fiber optic lens to look at the spur. There was no spur, but he scraped off the inside of the kneecap anyway. Becky was in the hospital for a week, and I broke my promise to not feed or water Kibbles.
It was very painful for Becky to have me help her to the bathroom. She took a clue from Kibbles and used her litter box. Kibbles didn't seem to mind.
Six weeks after the surgery I took her to another doctor, this time one not connected to Mickey Mouse at all. His diagnosis was a birth defect, an underdeveloped muscle that holds the kneecap in place. Her kneecap had simply slipped out of place when it first collapsed on her, and the brace and the surgery had both made the situation worse. He prescribed a different kind of brace designed to keep the knee in place, and therapy to strengthen the muscle. Under threat of a lawsuit, Disney paid for the doctor and the therapy.
One afternoon in 1984 I came home to find Becky crying. I was afraid something had happened to Kibbles. By this time, I had grown quite attached to the lovable little creature, who liked to play catch and keep away, and sit in my lap and purr. She had always kept me company in the bathroom when I took my morning stool. She acted as a back up to the alarm clock, waking us if there was a power failure during the night, which was quite frequent, as Orlando's power company wasn't too reliable. I would have hated for anything to happen to her.
“Kibbles is fine. She's upstairs, sleeping on the water-bed.”
“Then what's wrong?”
“I'm pregnant!”
I didn't understand why she was crying. I thought it was wonderful news. Becky, always the optimist, was afraid I would leave her for being pregnant, since I had seemed to be happy with just the two of us for the past eight years!
Her tears of sadness turned to tears of joy.
As Becky's belly swelled from the baby within, Kibbles took to sneaking up on Becky's belly when she was asleep. The vet, when Kibbles had the flea problem, had informed us that Kibbles would never be a mother, as she had been “fixed” when she lived with the people who had abandoned her.
Becky's pregnancy was Kibbles' substitute for her own pregnancy that could never be. She was never as contented, or purred as loudly, as when she was laying on Becky's bloated belly. When the baby kicked, Kibbles purred even more loudly.
On The morning of the birth, Becky woke me at three. “It's time.” Of course, I was groggy, it being three in the morning. “Time for what? Do I have to go to work today?”
“I mean it's TIME. I'm having contrac ... OH! OOH!”
“Oh,” I replied stupidly. I don't think I ever got dressed as quickly.
“Make some coffee,” she said. “We have time to get to the hospital.”
I made the coffee. We didn't have time to drink it. By this time, we had traded the huge Pontiac for a somewhat less huge Volkswagen Rabbit. We called the doctor and went out in the pouring rain and thunder to go to the hospital.
The nurse said they were false contractions, and that we should go home. The doctor checked her out. “This baby has to come out now, its ‘distressed’,” which is polite doctor talk for “the patient is trying to die on me.”
Becky's pelvis had been broken in an auto accident nearly a decade earlier, so could not have a normal birth. Since it was a cesarean, the medical team didn't want me there. Becky would have no part of that. “I'm not going in unless he can.” The doctor was concerned that I might faint, or throw up. I assured him that I had cleaned more than one game animal in my time, and Becky's insides couldn't look much different than a rabbit's insides, only bigger. He reluctantly agreed, being afraid that arguing with Becky would take too much time.
It was the best medical decision he had ever made.
I was scrubbed and gowned to hold Becky's hand as she was cut open. I peeked over the sheet just in time to see the baby's head appear. She was born with the most surprised look I have ever seen on anyone's face, before or since. I know nothing will ever surprise that girl as much as being born did.
The “distress” was that the umbilical cord had wrapped around the baby's neck, and the baby had dropped a stool and gotten it into her lungs. The medical team got the baby out and on a table trying to make her breathe. No one but me was paying any attention to Becky. “I don't feel good all of a sudden,” she exclaimed, and became pale. The numbers on one of the machines started dropping. “OOoh!” Becky exclaimed. The numbers dropped faster. Becky passed out. The numbers dropped even faster.
“Nurse!”, I called. “NURSE!” One of the nurses, watching the doctors work on the baby, looked in my direction. “That gauge,” I said pointing.
“Oh my God!”, she replied. “DOCTOR!”
The doctor looked, ran over, and did something. The numbers started rising again, and Becky woke up.
The doctors finished cleaning up the baby, and invited me over to meet her. They had her breathing and crying. Her astonishment at being born had turned to loneliness, anguish, and discomfort. I took her hand and she stopped crying and looked at me with her big blue eyes. It was love at first sight.
Later, I called my parents and in-laws and grandmother with the news. We named her Leila Marie, after my Grandmother, whose maiden name was Zelma Leila Lennon, and Becky's mother, whose maiden name was Florence Marie Holmes.
I went back upstairs to look for Becky and the baby. Becky was still in surgical recovery. Leila was in a bassinet in the hallway by herself, crying. I went to her and held her hand. Again, she stopped crying.
A nurse came out and told me I could hold her. Of course, I was terrified I would hold her wrong, or drop her, or something. The nurse assured me that it would be okay, and I held my daughter for the first time.
They finally took her for her first real bath and a bottle, even though she would be mostly breast fed from then on. I went in to visit Becky. She was crying. She was sure that Leila wouldn't like her!
Of course, this was silly. Leila got along with her just fine, especially after her first taste of breast milk. The first time Becky held her, I handed her to her.
Kibbles and I spent a lonely week together, just like it had been when Becky had her knee surgery. When I first got home, she greeted me, then stood by the door, waiting for Becky. I opened the door to let her out. She looked out, and turned around, came back in, and looked at me.
“They're still at the hospital,” I told her. She laid down with her chin on her front paws. I sat down, and she jumped in my lap, but she wasn't purring. She missed Becky.
A week later, I brought Becky and Leila home. My father had bought a baby bed for her. My mother bought a car seat and chest of drawers. I bought her a little lay-down baby chair, diapers, and all of the other paraphernalia one needs when a new baby comes home.
Kibbles was really happy to see Becky, and happy, anxious, and a little nervous at meeting Leila. Leila was delighted with Kibbles, and laughed like Kibbles was the funniest thing she had ever seen. Of course, Kibbles was the funniest thing she had ever seen, not having ever seen anything but the hospital and the inside of the car.
“You know, you're going to have to get rid of that cat,” my dad said. “Why?” I asked.
There is an old wives' tale that says that cats will be jealous of new babies, and will jump into their cribs and smother them, murdering them to regain the baby's parents' affection. My dad, indeed, none of the older folks, thought that this was false, and believed it as the gospel, although no one could ever tell me of a single instance of this ever happening. After knowing Kibbles, and hearing of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (which wasn't believed in until fairly recently), I can see how this tale would have started. The cat, instead of being jealous of the baby, is protective of it. If the baby dies of SIDS, the cat jumps into the bassinet to try to wake it, and is blamed for the death, and usually killed itself.
“It's not my cat,” I told him. “It's Becky's cat.”
“It's your baby.”
“it's Becky's baby, too. If you're worried about Leila, you'd better talk to Becky. I didn't want to get a cat in the first place, and there's no way I could talk her into getting rid of her.” A coward's way out, I know, but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, to coin a cliché.
Kibbles stayed. I was glad. I had grown to love “Fuzzybutt”, as Becky sometimes called her after her brush with the radiator fan.
Aside from being a backup alarm clock, she started earning her keep in another way. She would guard the baby.
The apartment was a very small, two bedroom townhouse, with the living room and a small kitchen downstairs, and a large bedroom and a tiny bedroom I used as a studio upstairs. Leila's bed stayed in our room.
When Leila was napping, Kibbles would lay under her bed and keep watch. When Leila woke up, Kibbles would come halfway down the stairs and stand on the rail and meow and make as much noise as she could, until somebody came upstairs and got the baby.
Kibbles not only watched over her when she slept, but watched TV with her (at arm's length), especially baseball.
When Leila was an infant, she would lay in her little chair and watch an entire game without complaining about anything. When the game was over, she would want to be fed and changed, but was perfectly content while the game was on, regardless of how wet her diapers were.
Kibbles would watch the whole game with her.
Leila loves baseball to this day.
When Leila was six months old, we moved back to Illinois. My parents had divorced shortly before I got married, and my mother was the only relative for a thousand miles. Everyone else lived in Missouri or Illinois. So we moved to Illinois.
Lacking jobs, we spent a month in Becky's sister's attic, and another month in my father's back room. The month was January, the air was cold, the snow was deep, and, since my stepmother was so afraid that Kibbles would shed or tear something up, despite the fact that Kibbles had never hurt anything and they had a poodle, Kibbles, who had spent her life in Florida, spent that month on a leash in the garage.
Besides being one of the sheddingest animals on the face of the Earth, poodles are also the stupidest animals on the face of the Earth.
When someone tells you that their poodle died of “natural causes,” they mean natural for a poodle – it was hit by a car. All poodles get hit by cars. If you see a poodle older than five years old, it is not a full blooded poodle, or it would have been hit by a car.
If you never let the poodle out of the house, a car will crash through your wall and hit the dog.
Shortly after we moved into our own house, the poodle was, of course, hit by a car.
The new house was tiny, and it was a dump. It had two bedrooms and was smaller than a double wide trailer. It was fifteen feet from a railroad track and was infested with mice and roaches. The stove was so filthy it was completely unusable until I completely disassembled it and cleaned each part with steel wool and strong detergent. To Kibbles, it was like heaven.
It took two years to get rid of the roaches. The mice were no problem.
Being next to the railroad track, the mice would move in every fall. Moving in in February, they were already there. There were several dead ones, and several open boxes of mouse poison under the sinks, in the basement, in the cupboards. We had a lot of cleaning up to do before we could move in. Having to pay a security deposit on this dump was a cruel, evil joke.
The first morning after we moved in, we awoke to the sound of strange thumps in the hallway. It was Kibbles playing with a half-dead mouse. I took the mouse, to Kibbles' chagrin, and Becky repaid her with a can of tuna fish.
The next morning, there was a dead mouse next to my chair, stretched out like a trophy. Kibbles was happy; she was on the hunt again. To Kibbles surprise, not only did Becky not scold her for hunting, but even rewarded her with her favorite treat, the one she used to teach her the dog tricks with. Kibbles was happier than she had ever been.
The next summer was a drought year. People think of Florida as hot and humid, being in the tropics, but in the five years we lived there, the weather service never admitted a temperature higher than ninety eight degrees. If the humidity went over seventy percent it rained.
In southern and central Illinois, the humidity can be ninety percent and not a cloud in the sky, especially when the temperature reaches or exceeds a hundred. That year, it did just that, and often.
The only air conditioner was in the back bedroom, and there were no other windows that an air conditioner could fit. We moved Leila's bed and the couch and TV into the back bedroom, and moved our bed in the living room.
Leila's first Christmas was the winter before the drought summer. She had her first birthday in June, in over ninety degree weather. Kibbles didn't mind; she was a Florida cat. She spent part of the summer roaming around the yard, looking for the nonexistent lizards.
After Leila was born, I soon learned which cry meant “change me,” which cry meant “hold me,” which cry meant “feed me”, which cry meant “Turn on the TV, I want to watch the ball game,” and which cry meant “Boy, I'm tired and crabby and you're not going to get any rest until I do,” just as I had learned which meow meant “Feed me” or “Water me” or “let MEOWt.”
Humans in the Western World think that speech is their unique, private domain, shared by no other animal. This is despite the fact that every one of them has had a dog tell them, at one time or another, “Get the hell away from my territory before I kill you and eat you.” In fact, all animals that make noise talk. Granted, it isn't English, but the Koreans don't speak English, either. Also, animals have very limited vocabularies; in the case of dogs, it is only three words, “I'm hurt”, “I'm lonesome”, and “Go away before I eat you.” Anyone who realizes this can become an instant “Dr. Dolittle”; just don't expect much in the way of really intelligent conversation with an animal. And don't expect any jokes from one, as humor and laughter are what really differentiates us from the other creatures.
In Thailand, their “Garden of Eden” story is a little different from the Judeo-Christian version. In their version, when people lived in Paradise, they were happy because they didn't know how to talk, and therefore had nothing to argue about. Then the evil cats taught them to talk, and they have been arguing and fighting and going to war and killing each other ever since.
What is interesting about this legend is that there are absolutely no noises that a cat makes that isn't a real Thai word. In fact, “Meow” is Thai for “I want”. If you are ordering fried rice in a Thai restaurant, you say “Meow Cow Pot”. Two women arguing in Thai sound exactly like two cats fighting. The term “cat fight”, referring to two women fighting, probably originally comes from Thailand.
Kibbles was the first animal I knew that learned to talk in English. Unlike a parakeet, she knew what she was saying. When Leila started calling Becky “Mom”, so did Kibbles. Kibbles also said “out” when she wanted out, “rat” when she wanted food, and her favorite word, “No”.
I suspect that this is not too uncommon with some cats, as I met a cat later that could say “hello” and “Help”. As far as I know, Jeff's cat only knew these two words, but they were clear and unmistakable. One time when we were visiting Jeff, his cat, who lived outside, woke me up with several “Help!”s. I thought it was a ten year old child. I opened the door, and the cat walked in and said “Hello!”
Leila's toddling around was not pleasant for Kibbles. Kibbles was Leila's favorite toy, and Leila pestered her constantly. One thing she loved to do was to sneak up on Kibbles when Kibbles was sleeping on the couch, then slam her little hands down next to kibbles and yell “CAT!”. Kibbles would jump a foot in the air and take off running. Leila would laugh as loud as she could, and Kibbles always hated to be laughed at.
After Kibbles slapped her the first time, Leila treated Kibbles with a lot more respect.
Kibbles took to laying on Becky's belly again, so Becky went to the doctor for a pregnancy test. Of course, it was positive.
One cold, overcast, windy, snowy morning, it was time. I didn't have a car, so my dad loaned me his pickup truck. I took him to work and Leila to my grandmother's, then went back home to take Becky to the hospital.
I didn't have as much trouble getting in to the operating room this time, especially since Becky had told her doctor about Leila's birth. This time, things were much easier, and there were no problems.
The new baby's birth was nothing like Leila's. The baby wasn't surprised, she was furious. She came out screaming her little head off. When the nurse brought her around to show me, she screamed even more loudly. It was pretty obvious that this little girl didn't like me a bit.
We named her Patricia Jean, after my middle name, and my mother's middle name.
After phoning everyone with the news, I went to see Patty again. She had quit crying by then.
The nurse handed her to me, and she started screaming again.
By the time I left the hospital, the sun was shining and it was seventy degrees.
Kibbles, Leila, and I spent another lonely week. Becky hadn't tried to potty train Leila yet, so I did that week. I was very lonely that week, especially at night. Leila seemed to do okay, except at night. Kibbles slept a lot. I stayed home so Leila and I could go see Becky and Patty every day. Because of the hospital's incredibly stupid rules, Leila met Patty only once that week, which made her even more angry than it made me.
The second day we went to visit Patty and Becky, Leila had been in potty training for two days. The weather was nice, so we walked the two miles to the hospital. Well, I walked – Leila rode in her stroller.
Halfway there she started crying. “What's wrong”, I asked. “I gotta go potty!” she wailed. I told her it was okay and comforted her, but she cried the rest of the way there. She wanted to be a “big girl”, especially since she had a baby sister. Becky wanted to know why she was crying. When I told her, she didn't believe me. She hadn't thought Leila was old enough to potty train, especially in three days! Actually, it only took a day.
About a week after Becky and Patty came home, Patty started liking me a little. Feeding her and changing her diapers helped. Kibbles had a new baby to watch over, and was very happy. If she couldn't have kittens, well, kids would do.
By the time Patty was four, we were able to take a vacation back to Florida to visit my mother and Mickey Mouse. Kibbles, of course, went with us.
Becky bought a covered litter box for kibbles, since Kibbles often kicked litter out of her old box, and we were pretty sure my Mom wasn't going to like that very much. We put a couple of suitcases and Kibbles' litter box in the back of the little car, with a towel in the bottom for her to lay in. The kids had their pillows in the back seat with them, and the car was packed – literally.
During the three day trip, kibbles didn't go “potty” once, even though Becky took her outside often.
My mother wasn't too happy about having a cat in her house. She was afraid Kibbles wasn't potty trained, or would tear up the furniture or something.
I was afraid Kibbles would get outside and get lost.
Of course, neither happened. By the time we left, Mom was starting to like Kibbles. I even caught her petting Kibbles once.
From then on, when I would talk to her, she always asked “do you still have that silly old cat?”
A few years later, the house across the street became vacant, and Becky snatched it up. It was much larger, with a larger basement, an attic, and a very large back yard. I spent weeks mowing the waist high grass.
The girls had mixed feelings. They liked the big yard – they hadn't been allowed in the tiny yard without supervision at the old house, since there was a railroad track and no fence, and their bigger bedroom, but it was strange to them. Patty had never lived anywhere else, and Leila hadn't since she was six months old.
Besides that, we didn't get cable hooked up at the new house. They were pretty mad about not getting to watch Nickleodean.
We weren't sure what Kibbles thought about the move. She did, however, go across the street once in a while, and seemed to look longingly at the old place.
She missed the mice.
Kibbles slept more and more, and played less and less. She had windows she could lay in, and porches to sun herself on. On weekends, Patty would get up early and watch television. Kibbles would watch with her.
Some people with a big dog moved in next door. Kibbles got fleas again. The fleas took quite a toll on Kibbles and her allergy to flea bites. The people next door moved out, and we finally got rid of the fleas by late winter.
One springtime Saturday morning that year a wasp got in the house. We found out about the wasp from Kibbles' frantic yelp – she was sunning herself in the pantry window when it stung her on the cheek. We got the wasp out, finally. I don't know who was more afraid of the wasp, Kibbles or the girls.
By that night, her cheek was swollen up to the size of a marble.
Becky took her to the vet, who lanced the swollen, infected cheek. Her cheek would quit draining, then she would scratch it open and it would drain some more.
One Sunday afternoon, Becky came in, shaken. “I think my cat is dead!”, she said. I went out on the porch to look. She was limp and didn't seem to be breathing. I lifted her head, and she opened her eyes. She seemed disoriented and could barely walk.
By the next weekend she was strong enough to climb up in Patty's bed, but not strong enough to jump off. She tried anyway, and landed with a thud. She was going downhill again. The sore on her cheek still hadn't healed. She couldn't walk at all.
Again, she got stronger. She got to the point she could again get in a window, and kept falling out. It seemed she would get better, the sore on her cheek even healing.
She took a turn for the worse a few weeks later. In a few days, she went from jumping up in the window to walking with a stagger. That Monday night, we were awakened by a plaintive, pained “Mom!”, and thought it was one of the children having a bad dream. Becky went to comfort whoever it was. It was Kibbles.
The next morning we all knew was her last. She couldn't walk, could barely lift her head. I asked her, concernedly, “Kibbles, are you going to be all right?”
“No,” she said.
Patty, the one who loved school, didn't want to go to school.
When I came home for lunch, Kibbles was laying in the bathroom, where she had been spending most of her time the last week. I went in to pet her, and when I went to the kitchen, she tried to follow me, but couldn't. I picked her up and carried her in with me. Becky petted her while I ate. Kibbles tried to get down off of her lap, so Becky laid her down on a towel. She lifted her head one last time, choked, and was gone.
Becky didn't want to face the children alone when they were to arrive home, so I took the afternoon off from work, and dug a hole in Kibbles' favorite spot in the back yard. She had always liked sleeping in cardboard boxes, so we wrapped her in a towel and laid her in one, and put her cat toys in with her, and waited for the end of school.
When the children came home from school, they knew something was up. “What's wrong, Mom? Oh NO! KIBBLES!”
We all went in to the kitchen, where Kibbles was in her box, to pay our last respects. There were tears all around. We closed the box, and I carried it to the back yard for the funeral.
Everyone threw a handful of dirt on the box, and I shoveled the rest in. Leila gave the sweetest eulogy I have ever heard for anyone, animal or human.
“Yesterday we were the richest people in the world. Now we're really poor.”

1997

 

 


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