It is the morning of 26 July, 2011. The sun has only begun to graze the tops of the distant mountains. I am not the same Man I once was. No, I am lesser, yet at the same time, greater.
And I know why.
As I write this, I am dreadfully anticipating the veil of this Earthly presence being lifted from the eyes of my most precious little cat and with it the subsequent cessation of function of her poorly designed little body. She has stopped eating her favorite foods and is only taking sips of milk now.
I found her only five years ago on a cool October morning. I remember it as if it were yesterday.
I was out on my bicycle and had stopped by my sister’s house to take measurements in order to perform some light carpentry which I’d assured her I could carry out. Only after dismounting did I discover that I’d forgotten my key and was complaining about having to turn homeward to retrieve it. This was going to be a setback in the remainder of my planned early morning trek.
Then I heard it. An almost imperceptible, ‘peep!’
I looked around for what sounded like a little bell. “What was that?” I asked myself aloud in order to attenuate my ears to a definite sound.
‘Peep!’ it came again, braver and more distinct.
Taking a couple of steps in the general direction, I called in my softest voice: “kitty, kitty, kitty?”
The corner of the house met with a stone wall and from there, where was tended a pie-slice shaped garden of various flowers and large-leafed fauna, cautiously emerged, little paws wet from the dew, the tiniest mottled kitten I’d ever seen. It stood there looking up at me with big green eyes, ‘Peep!’
I couldn’t believe that she had made it into the yard past my sister’s Border Collie. “Where did you come from, little cat?” I asked with a grin in my, still, childish wonder.
She strutted over and stood on my shoes, popping the nylon fabric with her little claws, looking straight up at me, peeping incessantly. She was risking everything on the chance that I possessed some sort of animal compassion. A soulless individual may have kicked her or worse. She was completely vulnerable. But her timing was right, for I was in the process of becoming a Human Being.
I reached down and lifted her up. “You don’t know how lucky you are,” I reassured her. “There’s a dog that lives here.” What was I going to do with her, though? My truck was out of commission as I had the engine hanging from a cherry picker back at the house. I didn’t have panniers or a bag on my road bike, and riding with one hand on the bars while holding her with the other was unthinkable. Road bikes are unbelievably nimble, but this makes them somewhat difficult to ride. Both hands on the bars are quite necessary.
I had on my cycling jersey, however, and it wasn’t long before my resourceful brain came up with a solution. I removed the jersey and put it on backwards. Cycling jerseys have three pockets sewn into the lower back in order for the rider to carry water bottles and energy bars and the like. I tucked the fur-ball into the center pocket, leaving only her head poking out and, reassuring her with a stroke on her little noggin, mounted my bicycle for the trip home.
After arriving and getting her washed, combed for fleas and collared, she was introduced to our other three, full-grown cats. The little kitten was small and non-threatening, thus harmony was maintained and the kitten, which I, quite naturally, settled on calling Small Frye, integrated seamlessly into our ‘family’. I had no idea how fitting the name was to become. In her prime, at about two years of age, she weighed in at 5.9 pounds. ‘With kittens’.
We had all kinds of fun with Frye as she grew. My wife developed a game with her in which she’d toss a piece of dry kitten food across the floor and Frye would chase it, clamping a little paw down to capture the morsel and, more often than not, using the paw to transfer it to her mouth. I soon was to discover that Frye took a particular liking to the rabbit fur mice that was sold at the pet store and we would find them completely disassembled behind the couch or under a dresser.
Frye also had palate with a taste for the unusual. She loved bread. It didn’t matter what kind it was, pumpkin bread, hotdog buns, biscuits or cornbread, she would get into any bread that was left lying on the table or counter and soon we had to ‘Frye-proof’ the kitchen. She also loved mozzarella cheese and milk.
Some time after reaching adulthood, Small Frye began exhibiting signs of gastro-intestinal distress. Trips to the vet proved to be fruitless for the most part, producing more questions than answers. She was prescribed various preparations which largely provided temporary relief, but Frye’s condition was obstinate and returned each time. It would become a source of frustration for myself as well as Frye. She would have ‘mistakes’ at the most inopportune times in all areas of the house. She would ‘tell’ Dianne and lead her to the place of the mishap. Many times we would fuss at her and threaten to start sequestering her to the laundry room. We never did, though. At some point, we accepted her fate as our own, and dutifully cleaned up behind her. Frye’s activity level slowed over a period of time and many of the hours in her day were spent lying alone. With the acquisition of two more cats and three other kittens of Frye’s manufacture, I admit that there were probably days that passed that I never even acknowledged her existence and all of this made me lesser of a Man.
A couple of weeks ago, Frye began to act erratic, misbehaving more than usual, opening the cabinet door and ravaging the buns, eating doughnuts, and lying on the kitchen counter after repeatedly being told not to. I shoved her off a couple of times. She landed awkwardly once. I noticed and felt badly. She seemed weaker than usual, but it was summertime and all of the cats are acting lazy. Several times while I was cooking, she would get right under me, and I would admonish her but she would persist.
Last week, I noticed that Frye had lost the contents of her bladder in the floor. This is something which she had never done previously. I kept my eye on her and it happened a couple more times. Dianne noticed it and pointed it out to me and wondered if Frye was getting careless. I wondered if it all didn’t signal trouble. Two days later, it was clear that Frye was not feeling as good as usual. She’d began to lose weight and one of those evenings, when I had to bathe her clean, it became sorely obvious. I confined her to the laundry room and began feeding her all of the tuna that she cared to eat in order to get her protein intake up. I made electrolyte replacement water and offered it only for her to drink.
That was the day before yesterday.
Yesterday morning, I took her outside, a rare treat. She usually only wants to eat grass and then throw up, but I allowed her to do whatever she wished. Dianne and I took turns sitting with her and she wound up staying outdoors most of the day. She was in better spirits as a result, but she was beginning to have trouble walking and would become exhausted after a short distance and have to lie down. She kept wanting to head around to the back of the property, to the North. I couldn’t understand, as there was nothing back there besides woods, and she’d not ever wanted to go back there anyhow. Then it occurred to me: maybe she just wanted to see what was back there. I let her go. She wandered around aimlessly but went back in that direction several times throughout the day. By the end of the day, she seemed tired yet satisfied.
This morning, however, things were different.
Reflecting on her urge from yesterday, I gently picked her up and placed her on a towel. “Let’s go outside, Small Frye,” I said to her, “There’s something I want you to see.” We went out back and headed down the narrow, steep drive. The kudzu would have already swallowed it up, were it not for my occasional excursions out in the truck. Frye had not been given the opportunity to go down the drive since I’d brought her up nearly five years ago. We rounded the bend and from there looked down onto the road. The sun was not yet above the horizon and drivers were still using their headlights. As if on cue, lone cyclist was heading up the road. North, from where her life had begun.
“See that rider, Frye? That was me, five years ago, on my way to find you. After we met, I rode you right up this drive in my pocket, remember?”
“The road and those cars,” I went on talking to her, “those power poles, those buildings and all of those trees is how the rest of the world looks. You can tell everybody that, but it doesn’t matter. They’ll want to go look at the same crap somewhere else.” We watched in silence for a period that seemed timeless. Small Frye’s pupils widened as she looked out into a world I had kept her isolated from. Without a pane of glass between her and the panorama, the purple-blue sky and it’s deep orange hue must’ve looked awesome. During all of my subsequent early morning rides that I had ventured out on to enjoy this view, she had stayed behind. I had taken it all as given whereas for Frye, it was a once in a lifetime view.
I turned around with her and walked back up until the house came into view again. I stopped and nodded, “Here, however, is where our entire relationship has existed. I stuck you inside the house on the hill and the inside of it is all that you know and for that I’m terribly sorry, Frye. It was selfish and near-sighted of me. I’ve told you ever since that day that you’ve been living on borrowed time, but it wasn’t my time to give. This has been my world with you, Frye, and having you here has made my life richer beyond words. This house will never be the same after you are gone. This is the story of life.” I was crying by now. All of this made me a greater Man.
We walked up to the grassy knoll beside the house where all of Frye’s less fortunate kittens lay buried, having died in infancy. “This is where Frye Junior and Divot’s twin is buried,” I told her. “Uno and Wart are here, too. I am going to put you up here with them, and you all will be able to over-look the house every day.” Looking at her, I could tell that she was tired. “Let’s go on back inside now,” I said to her.
I laid her on the kitchen floor in one of her favorite spots and began to work on this piece. I have been writing on and off all day long. I have been using a medicine syringe to feed Small Frye milk and water throughout the day. Now, It is almost midnight and Frye is still clinging to life, still lying on the terrazzo floor of the kitchen.
It is the morning of 27 July, 2011. I awoke this morning and walked into the kitchen to check on Frye. I kneeled to talk to her and take her paw. Her little right eye was glimmering in the light of dawn, but her tiny body was cold. My beloved Frye had died during the night. In typical Frye fashion, it was like her to wait until we had gone to bed to do most of the things she did.
Her life had been full of symbolism and even in death, she could not be outdone: she had taken a step or two from her ‘spot’ before lying down for the last time. The kitchen doorway opens into the den, which was at one time a carport, so there is a step down and a threshold going into it. Frye was lying, as if in full leap; as though she were leaping across the threshold.
Keeping my last promise to her, I finished her grave only about an hour ago. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do regarding an animal.
Because of having Frye for a friend over the last five years, I am not the same Man I once was.
And I know why.