Thursday, June 25, 2009

Secret's story

Secret was my first cat, and her story has almost become an urban legend in my family. Don't ask me what I'm wearing in this picture; it was the 80's, what can I say?

I've said before that I basically grew up on the street from The Wonder Years. Okay, not exactly the same, but still: a quiet suburban neighborhood, where you didn't have to worry about a kindergartner walking to and from school by herself. Infamously, I was on my way home from school when I found Secret and she "followed me home." I say it like that because truthfully I carried her most of the way. She started to walk behind me, I distinctly remember that, and I suppose she probably would have followed me the rest of the way. I hope. I wasn't taking any chances.

I'm certain she was homeless--I was five years old and walking home from school by myself. It's not like I could have taken her very far from where I found her. Plus, we kept her outside for a long time after we found her; if she'd had a home that loved her, she would have just gone back. But she didn't. She was starving, skinny, and very young--just a little bit older than a kitten. Maybe 6 months old?

I got home and showed her to Mom. No discussion was needed. The little, pathetic kitty needed help. Unfortunately, my dad was not very fond of cats, and we were worried about what he would say if he knew. I'm sure that had he been there when I got home, he would have insisted that we take her to a shelter.

Lucky for me, he wasn't. Not helping was unthinkable, and Mom and I were in love.

We kept our "secret" for what in my memory was a very long time, but in truth was probably only a few days. But then Dad came home (unexpectedly?) and caught Mom putting some cat food into a dish. His confused response was priceless, and a very distinct memory for me:

"But . . . we don't have a cat. (Pause) Do we?"

That was when I first observed How Women Get What We Want: Hahaha / eyelash bat / head tilt. Executed to perfection--unconsciously?--by my mother. I'll never forget that.

Officially a member of the family after that moment, it didn't take long for Secret to go from being an outdoor-only cat to an indoor-outdoor cat. Secret definitely decided that we were her family, but more than that: she decided that I was her person. For the entire time that we had her, she never really warmed up to anyone else as much as me. She did eventually learn to tolerate, I'd even say she liked my folks, but she was just a skittish kitty.

She would wait on the roof of our house for me to get home from school, and jump down as I walked up to the front door so she could come inside with me. And it wasn't because she was hungry. I was so little when she joined the family, Mom started feeding her as part of the routine of feeding the rest of the animals, and I never took over when I got older. I never thought that was weird until after I graduated college and got Blake.

I remember a particular grocery shopping trip with Dad. Cat food was on the list, and we were making our way through the entire aisle of cat food flavors. Beef with gravy, chicken hearts with gravy, salmon with tuna, turkey giblets, chicken giblets, duck giblets. What the hell is a giblet? And as we slowly walked down the aisle, Dad pushing the cart, he read off the names of each can, and started randomly (or so I thought) putting them in the cart 2 flavors at a time. But then I heard what he was saying under his breath: "Beef hearts with chicken . . . she won't eat that. Roasted chicken feast . . . she won't eat that either. Salmon feast, tuna feast . . . she really likes those, I'll get three cans."

I couldn't believe it. It still makes me smile, to this day. Partly because he knew her so well, partly because he cared so much he was making sure to get the food that she liked, and partly because I knew how lucky Secret and I both were.

Secret loved to sit in the cubby of the entertainment center that housed the VCR. She would actually sit on top of the VCR (probably because it was warm) and watch us watching her.

If she wasn't sleeping on the VCR and we were all watching TV and she wanted attention, she would RUN! down the hall, across the family room, and continue into the hallway on the other side of the room. It was a straight shot, but the second hallway went to the laundry room and had linoleum flooring, so the sound of her running would start out a dull patter and end up a loud thundering sound. She was a really small cat, but man! She could really make some noise. And we'd all be sitting there, listening to the echoes of her running die out, and we'd just look at each other and say, "What was that?"

And then, like a crazy woman, she'd RUN! back again. The sound effects would go in reverse just like Oregon Rain.

. . . any Girl Scouts out there? Remember the "Oregon Rain" thing we'd do at campfires? If you weren't a Girl Scout, or don't remember, then that's really sad. It was so cool. Picture this: you're in the woods, sitting around a campfire, a big group of kids. The bigger the group the better. Everyone has to be really quiet for it to work. One person (always and forever my mom!) would "start it." It's kind of like a song sung in a round. I hope I don't screw up the order, it's been a long time, but around the campfire, one by one, everyone copies the leader: first you rub your palms together, then snap your fingers, then pat your thighs, then you stomp your feet, pat your thighs, snap fingers, rub your palms . . . then silence. The sound crescendos and then decrescendos, and sounds for all the world like a short-lived rainstorm.

To this day, Secret holds the title The Best Cat Ever. God love Blake, but he really can be a horrible pet sometimes. I mean, he's really cool, but he can really be a pain too.

Not Secret. She was the most straightforward cat I've ever met. I was her person, no one else mattered. But she was polite about being indoors, and like I said: eventually warmed up to everyone else.

I say polite because: I do not remember one incontinent accident from Secret (except perhaps a random hairball or two, but you can't count that--it's the nature of the beast). And she never scratched any of the furniture. Ever. Furniture, in her mind, was for sleeping on.

If I was upset and crying, I would go to my room and sit on the edge of my bed, and she would always come and walk across my lap, around behind me, and back across my lap . . . circling, circling, circling. As she circled, her tail would brush across my face and dry my tears. Did she do it on purpose? Did she know? I like to think so.

She slept on my bed almost every night for 13 years, until I left for college, and then gradually she started shifting to my parents' room. Probably out of sheer loneliness. I'll never forget when my mom told me about one night when she and Daddy were getting ready for bed:

Secret was sleeping on the corner of their bed on Dad's side as they went through their nightly routine. It was still a surprise to them that she was comfortable enough to be in their room while they were in it; for so many years, she was my cat, and mine alone.

Mom climbed into bed first, and Dad finished up and followed shortly thereafter. Mom said to him, "Did you see Secret sleeping on the bed?" "She's still there," he whispered back. My very tall father, whose feet usually would hang off the edge of the bed, was all contorted and crimped up so as not to disturb her.

We had Secret in our family for 14 years--I was 19 when she died.

She didn't age well. She was always thin, and once she started to deteriorate, she went really fast. To keep her from suffering, Daddy took her to be put down, but unfortunately I was away at school.

I didn't get to say goodbye.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails