Monday, September 29, 2008

How the Kracker Cats came to be, part 5: I rescue a kitten from a certain drowning - I love it too much, it leaves me, I feel betrayed; I almost die

I have no pictures of Speedy, so here is a picture I took yesterday, in Anchorage, while walking from my car to find Nabysko at the protest rally that I mentioned yesterday.

As I prepared to enter the second grade, I stumbled across a cute little gray tabby while visiting my friend Gary Belkey, who lived on a farm just outside Pendleton. A "mouser" there had produced a litter of kittens. All but one had been claimed."If we can't find someone to take this kitten, we're just going to have to drown him," Gary's father said, radically altering the hero image I had previously held of him.

"Please, please, don't drown him!” I pleaded, “Give him to me."

"Well, I don't know. Maybe you won't take good care of him"

"I will! I will! I sure as hell won’t drown him!" I swore in bewilderment, wondering how this man’s mind worked.

"Well, all right then." He smiled.

I had this one figured out. The Belkeys would bring me home, with the kitten, my kitten. A kitten that was would be drowned if I, just me, did not keep it. No one could be hard-hearted enough to send such a cute, cuddly animal back to the Belkey's, to be drowned.

It worked.

Yet, once again, tradgedy waited

I could tell Mom was not happy with the idea, but she agreed, I could keep "Speedy." I named him “Speedy” because he sped all about. Mostly, what he was sped from was me. Whenever I came for him, my arms outstretched, ready to grab and love him, he sped away.

My last memory of Speedy is of him looking down at me from high up in a tree, where he had gone to escape my love.

I loved him too much, and so drove him away.

The Anchorage cat hopped onto a fence.

Shortly afterward, ringworms began to sprout throughout my scalp. "Cat's," the doctor told Mom. "He is getting this ringworm from cats. Keep him away from cats."

I then entered a painful and humiliating process of rehabilitation. My head was shaved bald. At school, I had to wear a stocking cap at all times, a fact which did not escape my schoolmates, who quickly capitalized upon the many possibilities this offered to heap ridicule upon a peer. Each night, I had to stand with my head over the sink, while Mom repeatedly poured vinegar over my head. It trickled into my eyes, and stung viciously. I screamed, howled, and fought, to no avail.

The world hated me. God hated me. I had loved a cat and it had sped from me, and left me sorely afflicted.

The worst came with our school Christmas program. I tried to get out of it, futilely so. On the dreaded day, I stood there with my class, not one other of whom had a bald head, covered with a white stocking cap.

In all of history, this became the first school Christmas program where not one father beamed as his darling soprano daughter sang out a beautiful solo rendition of "up on the housetop, reindeer paws." The beauty in the strains of "Silent Night" was lost on this crowd. Hearts did not soar when "all ye faithful" were beckoned to come. There was no rejoicing in the "harks" of the herald angels.

With no exceptions, the eyes of each parent bored into the little boy with the bald head and the stocking cap. They whispered, and murmurred among themselves and while their words reached my ears as an unitelligble drone, I knew exactly what they were saying:

"Cindy told me this boy was a hideous sight, but I never imagined."

Cindy, oh, Cindy! How I loved her! Cindy of the short plaid dress, the long blond hair. Cindy, who had been to Hawaii, who had regaled us all during show and tell when she danced the hula-hula with her mother, swishing and swaying so lovely in her little grass skirt. Cindy, who I planned to marry and grow to be 112 with. Cindy! I loved her so passionately that I was incapable of uttering even the simplest word in front of her.

"I never seen such a freak! Disgusting!"

"Do you really think it is safe to let Cindy attend classes in the same building with this boy?"

“Hell, no! I don’t think it is safe to let Cindy be in the same building, the same town. Hell. Someone should kick this boy out of America.”

“I agree! Get a rocket! Shoot him off to Mars! Cindy will be safe, then.”

"Cats, you know. he brought this upon himself, by loving cats."

"Cats, this boy is allergic to cats."


"This boy is allergic to cats."

From then on, this was the official word: I was allergic to cats. "Like a kitten, little boy?" some kindly but misguided soul would ask.

"Nope," I would answer steadfastly. "I am allergic to cats." And so, in time, I convinced myself that I did not like cats – even that I despised cats.

The Anchorage cat walks around on the fence.

With dogs, it was a different story. Although Mom did not like him, a dog had actually lived with us in the past, back when we had lived next to the Pendleton airport, atop a high hill. Tippy often went on extended walks, from which he would return full of porcupine quills that my father would then extract with pliers. We took Tippy with us when we moved to the house by the golf course, but he would not stay. He kept returning to the airport. Finally, to my grief and horror, the parents gave up on him, and let him live with the family that had moved into our former house.

They tried to consol me by pointing out the fact that Tippy had been an extremely stupid and worthless dog, and eventually, we would get us a smarter dog.

I refused to let them forget this promise. One day, not long after the disapearance of Speedy, I convinced my reluctant mother to take me to the animal shelter. There, I found Whitey, a little white mongrel pup adorned with light brown spots.

Whitey, I had to admit, was a far better companion than Speedy had ever been. He responded to love with love. I could hug him, wrestle him. He would not speed away. Yapping happily, he would pounce on me, wrestle me back, lick my face, and wag his tail.

He was my friend, for life.

Unfortunately, for Whitey, life was short.

Before he could even outgrow his puppyhood, Whitey suddenly began acting strange. He hid under the bed, and whined, for no reason. Suddenly - in shades of Speedy - he was afraid of me, and everybody else. When he did emerge from under the bed, he looked weak, walked spastic, and was not interested in food.

To make matters worse, ringworm sprouted all over him. I was certain that I had passed the same ringworm the cat had given me onto the puppy. The parents took him to the vet, and when they came home, they appeared serious, and grave.

"Grahmny," they spoke gravely, "Whitey is very sick. He has distemper. He is suffering terribly. The only way the vet can stop the suffering is to put him to sleep. It is not right to let an animal suffer. But before we let the vet put him to sleep, we wanted to talk to you, and hear your feelings."

"Putting him to sleep will end his suffering?"


"He won't hurt anymore?"

"No, he won't hurt anymore."

"I don't want him to hurt. The vet should put him to sleep."

Afterward, my parents had nothing but praise for me. What a brave boy I was! How noble of me to let this puppy's suffering end! How unselfish, how loving!

"Okay, now, when does he get to wake up again?"

Oh, the devastation! The devastation!

The Anchorage cat did not speed from me. 

In the midst of my bitter grief, I went to school, where the teacher showed us some film strips. One was about "Old Mother Hubbard." When she went to the cubbard, and there was no bone for her poor dog... I had to bury my head to conceal my tears, for they poured out of me.

I fell deathly ill after that. Measles broke out all over my body. Vessels burst in my nose. The blood flowed and would not stop. I grew faint. The parents rushed me to the doctor. The only way to stop nosebleeds such as mine, he said, was to press the offending nostril shut until the bleeding stopped.

In the evening, the bleeding started again. My older brother Weet, who, along with his twin, Fire Jr., normally took pleasure in such things as nailing me shut in a closet, locking me in the bedroom with him and shooting me with home-made blanks fired from his new .22 rifle, and in finding countless other imaginative ways to fill my life with terror, sat up with me all night, and stopped every nosebleed I got.

And then, as I lay so faint and weak, wondering if death was coming to me, Whitey came to me, wearing a red ribbon. I looked into the laundry room and there he was, sitting atop the washing machine, looking at me.

Yes, Mom agreed when I told her. Dogs do have spirits, just like people. Yes, you will see him after the resurrection. Yes, that was his spirit you saw. He wanted to let you know that he is doing fine on the other side.

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