i was only about five when i first saw him. it was a normal day of my little self playing with her favourite barn, clacking all the little animals together as my mom prepared something in the kitchen. i was small enough that i didn't care whatever she was doing; i was young enough that nothing mattered but my toys. it was when she had opened the door to peer out and gasp that i turned my little head. she came back smiling, beckoning me silently forward with her hand. i grudgingly stood up and tip toed to her, knowing that she wanted me to be silent.
she led me to the door and pushed me out slightly. with her head on my shoulder she pointed across the street in our suburban house and whispered, "there." across the street my small eyes set upon the bushes of my schoolmate's house. i saw nothing. as i was about to huff and go back into my farmhouse, distraught over being stopped, i saw it. there was a small rustle in the bushes. then it stopped. then it came again, and out popped a cocked head. my small mouth opened in awe.
"a kitty," i whispered and my mom nodded. that was the first day i saw him.
it would be a while before i would touch him. it would even be a while before he came to our door. my mom had a way with cats, and she was desperate to help this fellow. from what i could tell, he was small. he was very much too thin, and looked as though he had a rough time getting to our neighbourhood; there was a small notch in his ear, and he walked with his head always tilted to one side as if he was always perplexed at something. his gait also turned into a curve, presumably because his head wasn't quite right. i remember giggling at it while my mom just worried about him.
i can't put my finger on when exactly it was, but i was still five. it had been maybe a month after first seeing him and now my mom was sitting outside with cold cuts in a bowl, desperately trying to get the skinny old cat to eat. i watched from inside the house, not knowing if it was ever going to work. after watching my mom get frustrated that he wasn't coming to eat, she just put the bowl down and sat. the cat followed. in the silence that they shared, my mom decided to reach her hand out. the cat didn't flinch. afraid he would run away if she stood up, she kept her hand hovering and wiggled her fingers. immediately the cat bounced towards her, gnawing lightly on her fingers as they moved. she gasped, and my small self followed suit behind the door.
excited, i bounced out the door but stopped when i saw her hand flash at me. stay back she was silently telling me, and i obeyed. i could hear a distinct purr in front of her, one i was never going to forget. i watched impatiently, wanting to see if he would come if i wiggled my fingers. eventually my mom would let me come forward, and i would gingerly raise my hand and slowly start to move my fingers up and down. to my very sincere surprise, the cat would come up and bite lightly at my fingers. that would be the first time i touched him.
it would be maybe a few more weeks before he stepped in our house the first time. after bonding with him through touch and trust to feed, he would come and sit at our doorstep, pawing at the door. our other cat at the time, Angus, would hiss and bat angrily back; he did not enjoy the other male cat at all. because of this, my mom would only put a small cardboard box outside with a towel in it for the cat, and he seemed to deem that enough as well. it wasn't until a storm would hit that my mom had no choice in her mind but to let him in.
there was strong wind and hard rain, and with each drop to the sidewalk my mom got even more worried about the skinny cat outside. she would watch from the window and flinch every time the wind hit particularly hard. eventually she got fed up and went outside to find Mr. Cat and bring him in, promising Angus he would stay in the basement. all the while i watched, wondering if Mr. Cat would be staying with us forever.
and so he did. i watched Mr. Cat unfold into Hamish, the new cat of our house. he was a dominant male, a hunter by virtue, and a sweetheart underneath. he would purr alongside my mom (and even me) every chance he could, and hunt outside all the rest of the time. of course Angus would hate his existence every time he was in the house, and the two would fight constantly, but my mom would assure me it was all alright. Angus and i never got along either, so i would say i was with Hamish.
it wasn't until Angus died that i would see the face of a depressed cat. i was too young to remember Angus and his passing, but i will never forget the face Hamish held when he realised Angus wasn't coming back. he would sit at the door and wait, his tail wagging every now and again but he would never see his nemesis. he walked with such lack of reason and stopped his hunting. i would catch my mom crying and wonder if Hamish was crying inside too.
years with Hamish would progress. more cats would emerge, and Hamish felt it was his duty to show them he was boss. that's when the peeing started. i could never leave my towel on the ground or my shoes in the corner without coming back to them the next day with a distinct and awful smell on them. it was terribly annoying and terribly destructive that we would eventually get pills for him to stop. it was awful, watching my mom give him the pills. Hamish was certainly unhappy at those moments; being mounted and his mouth forced open. i was almost certain the only reason he went along was because he got tuna after. i would smile. tuna was his favourite food. and now i frown. was.
the neighbourhood began to know him. kids walking home from school would pass him and even eventually learn his name. Hamish was skittish at first, but warmed up to some of the kids, even enough to let them pet him. that same purr would roll out and captivate the kids, and i have to say, it captivated everyone around him, humans and animals alike. he had a certain way into someone's heart.
as our family of animals grew into two dogs (and even just the one), Hamish would follow. if we took them out you would see a trotting shadow following you, and then a meow coming from the tall grass no one ever wants to cut. one of the dogs, Khaya, would was very much Hamish's best friend, would sniff him and bump heads, agreeing that they were friendly with each other. sometimes you would even find them sleeping on the same bed together. it was a true friendship.
it's evident to me that Hamish was a special cat. he wasn't just a cat. he was hope. i remember praying next to the tree in the front yard all those years ago, sending my hope that Hamish would be okay. and he was love. he gave off a sensitive, loving aura that would catch anyone who happened to see him. we never had to worry about him being caught by animal police because the whole neighbourhood would back him up. he never liked to be picked up, only by my mom, but when he was, you could tell he loved her. they would sway and i swear to god he would smile, that purr echoing off her cheekbones. he was, in fact, a very special cat.
i say this now with tears. the past tense makes my heart ache. i am thinking all of these things as if they didn't actually happen. as if pretending they were all made up will help ease the pain of loss. but it doesn't. i think back to the first sign. the first joke. "the almost sit down cat", we would call him. it was cute. but we never imagined it was killing him.
it would be another day of work for me, eleven years later, that my mom would pick me up, frustrated i was out so late. i would shrug, but then guilt would hit when she told me Hamish was at the hospital. it was because he was sitting down to pee, she tells me. something was blocking his bladder. she was there with him up until before she picked me up, and she was waiting for a call, to see if the catheter was in alright. i would nod, it would make sense. he needed to get all the urine out.
three days, she told me. three days and he'll be back home. so for three days i went to work, came home, went to work, not knowing that everything was about to backfire. she told me she was waiting for a call. a call telling her he was okay to come home. this call she would never actually get.
i would wake up, tired from work the night before. i would open my computer to listen to the mumbling of my mom downstairs. my ears would only perk up once i heard sniffling. then crying. then the words: "put down." my heart would stop. i would stop chewing my breakfast. and i would run downstairs. my mom crying. the phone hanging up. the news that Hamish had to be put down.
cancer. cancer, was her reply. in his bladder. there was nothing to be done. this was the best, if not only, way for it to happen. i would have to collect my thoughts. i would have to call work to say i was coming in late. i would have to plan out how i would say goodbye.
it all came too fast. i wasn't ready. come to think of it, i would never be ready. not now. not eleven more years from now. not ever. the numbing sound of the car driving would be my only distraction from getting him. my mom would tell me we could have him home to say goodbye. she said it was going to happen while i was at work. this thought stayed with me in the hospital. goodbye. it came to me back in the car. and it came to me in tears when he would meow.
he was scared and tired it seemed. upon being home he would dart off, my mom following frantically to make sure he was okay. to calm him down we would bring him to my parent's bedroom and set him down. a bed was his first choice. he curled up and nuzzled down into a soft pet bed on the floor. i would crawl over and pet him, his head perking up and that same purr ringing against my wrist. this would be the last time i touched him.
i would get my clothes on. i would put some make up on to disguise my anguish, and i would slowly step back into the room. at this point, he was on the bed, laying down, purring away. i watched as his small chest rose and fell so delicately. as i beckoned my mom out i would see him blink at me. this would be the last time i saw him.
all these thoughts are with me now. it is a cool night outside. i am in only pants and a t-shirt as my dad digs the grave Hamish will be in. my mom is cradling his body, carefully wrapped tightly in a small pillow case. she is crying - no, she is sobbing. her cries are painful to my ears, but the sound of the hole in the ground hurts more. i watch with tears clouding my vision as my dad gingerly places him in the ground, filling his grave with a sort of numbness to his movements. i keep bringing back memories into my head, trying to tell myself that he is gone, but it doesn't work, and i am left sobbing.
i walk away from his grave and into the house. i see Khaya and two other cats of ours waiting. they are confused. they are lost. and they are hurt. before, i was too young to remember the pain of the loss of Angus. now i feel it as i see the faces of our cats, sad and confused as to where Hamish has gone. they are searching, and they were before; in front of the door when we walked in and at night when he was usually fed his tuna. these are the faces of loss.
i sit on my front porch, the very one i sat on eleven years ago when i first saw him. the wind is hitting my face but i don't care. it is hot out but i don't care. i don't know what i'm waiting for. i don't know why i'm sitting. i think my mom is going to call me in, but i just don't care. i hear something and groan, assuming it's my mom, and i raise my head. there is another noise, and i look into the bushes next to my house. i watch and it rustles, and something crawls out. it is a kitten. he is small, scared, and a beautiful colour. his eyes are bright and yellow, and they jump out of his head. i watch carefully and kneel down. cautious, i take my hand and wiggle my fingers.