Memoir

The cat with no name

June 2011

Today I had a cat killed.

The phone rang. It was my friend the veterinary nurse.

The test came back FIV positive.”

I had asked her to make sure his blood was tested. Now I had to say it,

I know what I have to do. And I hate it.”

She argued a painfully false hope,

He’s healthy now. He can live a couple of years.”

What about my cat? My neighbour has four. What about them?”

There is no vaccine or treatment or cure. All it takes is one bite; fighting or rough and tumble. Transmission is saliva to blood. Toms infect females when they bite the scruff of the neck while mating. When cats fight…..

Tara was fourteen when she died. I told the vet,

But she’s neutered.”

He shrugged. You don’t need to mate to catch it.

I had brought her in that morning. She had collapsed yet again. I had thought it was her thyroid.

The nurse phoned. The vet had to speak to me. A friend drove me up.

We have to put her down now.”

I collapsed. I was on the floor in the foetal position. My friend talked me to my feet.

Let me hold her.”

Her bladder will go.”

I’m sorry Tara….”

Tears ran down my face. They should have let me hold her. The vet shaved her paw, slid the needle in…..

It was like switching off the light.

They put her in a cardboard box. She was wrapped in a towel.

I sat on my bed and cradled her limp form in my arms. Patti Smith’s Gone Again album blasted at me…..

I never mourned her. I could not allow myself to grieve.

She’s buried in the garden of a church, which is ironic considering her owner’s atheism.

Every spring snowdrops emerge and then bluebells; a little commemoration of the purity of her love. She nurtured me through my breakdowns; sitting atop my curled form; sometimes wrapping herself around my head as if she were the mother cat and I her kitten. She saved my life; more than once.

I spoke into the phone,

Can Cats’ Protection not take him?”

No.”

Can he be rehomed?”

You would have to take care of that.”

She had other patients to think of; and her own cats.

I swallowed, then,

I know what has to be done.”

She had collected him that morning after I’d rescued a little stray tom and endured a night of caterwauling. My own cat had kept his distance from the creature locked in the bathroom. My lazy, soft, quiet, cuddly neutered male could not be doing with this deranged young one who would rub up against me one moment then snap at my hand the next. He was a feline teenager flooded with testosterone and stress hormones. I sat on the floor beside him and he understood. I was in charge and he would shut up. I was angry at him, so much so that I had not given him a name. That would wait till he was relieved of his testicular burden.

I’m glad he made me angry. It’s harder to let them go when you’ve give them a name.

 

Postscript

It was a holiday. The church café was closed. I liked these days. I could visit Tara in peace. The pile of soil was a cause of concern. I’d told them time and again where she was buried; look for the square of brick set into the ground under the linden tree. I couldn’t find it. There was nothing but a hole. Some piece of denial told me they hadn’t done this. I fumbled in the bare soil looking for the outline.

A brick.

Is it the outside or inside of the square?

The earth was dry as it flowed through my fingers. And then;

A bone. From the hind leg. The longest in a cat’s body. I dropped it and walked away.

Alcohol.

I tore the wrapping from the cork and poured myself a glass of brandy. Then another. By the fourth or fifth it was taking effect.

There was a time when this would have broken me. I had hardened up.

Or perhaps merely died inside.

 

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Words of Thanks to a Soul Surgeon

I’ll never be what I

Should have been

Because I fell

Under your spell

Your Madness is

So Seductive

And

Like an endless stream of drink

It blocks all of

Reality’s efforts

To make you see

That the people who love you

Have to carry your pain

And be crushed

By your Outbursts

And blame themselves

Because You

Are

Never

Wrong

 

I believed that too

And blamed myself

When you

Reached into me

And crushed

The frightened Child

That I allowed you

To see

I felt that my filth

And my madness

Was polluting your home

When all along

It was

Your head that was

Overflowing with

An insane

Messianic

Infection

That sent me

On a

Kamikaze Mission

 

Now the person

That I was

Is dead

Killed by You

 

And you will never

Accept responsibility

For any of your

Filth and Madness

Or the damage

That it Causes

To other

People’s

Lives

 

Looking back

I like that kid

That I was

Before I met you

He never

Had a chance

 

You destroyed my faith

In Humanity

And my will

To live

 

I will never forgive you

Emotional Rapist

Mothers’ Day

I didn’t ask you

To inflict this life

And your Evil

Upon me

 

I live every day

And every night

In the shadow

Of your Madness

 

You have castrated me

And you know

It feels good

To say

I am to blame

 

My rage devours me

Your cancerous Gift

Humiliation

Invalidation

 

I want you

To die

Of Cancer

Slowly and painfully

I want you to lose

All hope

Of an afterlife

 

I want you to understand

That your life

Amounts to nothing

But other

People’s

Pain

 

You know how long

I have longed

For your Destruction

 

What you have done to me

You do to me

Every day

And every night

You invade my

Sleep

 

There is no end

To

This

Life

Sentence

 

The Tyranny of Terrible Choices

You know, the dead still terrify me. They live within, reminders of how close I came. Kenny, the schizophrenic, lit a fire in the hearth of a derelict house. I like to think he never woke as it burned down round him. Greg, the heroin and alcohol addict, choked to death on his own vomit. Perhaps. We’ll never know. He was too badly decomposed when they found him. Maybe it was his hepatitis. Robert hanged himself. So did Tam. This surprised me. He seemed more robust, tough minded. He was the only one of them I didn’t like, too brutal.

Sammy’s the one I feel the most. There were two members of staff who looked out for him, gave me money to get him a bottle of Mundies wine for when his withdrawal kicked in. I would share it with him. It was nasty stuff, but it didn’t take much to make me feel a little less awful. Sammy was a gentleman when he was sober; so meek and polite. And then the shakes came and relief from them released his private torment. So much anger and vitriol and savage words for women. I would calm him the best I could, listen to his demons; liberating Belsen, being driven from his home because he’d married a Catholic. So much for his service in the War. That clearly counted for nothing when the Troubles started.

I’d been moved to another hostel within the ***** *********. It bought me time, held eviction at bay. Some of the staff invited me to drink with them in the town. Outside the bar I found Sammy, drunk, incoherent, soaked by the rain. He’d been dumped in the streets yet again. I had to get him to a night shelter. He would not be persuaded. He wanted to go back to the Village, atop Sandy Row. It was where he came from. He would not be told it was not safe. I needed help and went inside.

It’s Sammy…..”

Never mind Sammy. Do you want to throw some money in the pot?”

I walked away from them.

I could not talk sense to Sammy.

A passing couple, veterans of the gutter, took him off my hands.

The moral pressure of those who cared always embarrassed the hostel manager to let him back in. She even tried “resettling” him in a mildewed flat owned by some Rachman. That didn’t last and back he came to be ejected time and again.

In the end, he made it back to his roots. They found him hacked to death in an empty slum in the Village.

********

Hostels are their own moral universe, magnets for predators. You get to play God, decide who stays and who goes. I survived in them for four years. How? It was out of my hands. I owe it to the kindness of others who saw someone worth saving. The residents in one house elected me to speak for them. I was informed after the fact and did my best,

You have to let her stay.”

We can’t.”

Those two are kids. What are they gonna do?”

It’s up to them. We’ve done all we can.”

Among the monsters, those turds who float to the top of the Human Sewer, are some who care. They tolerated my anger, and my outbursts were ferocious; all the more so, I think, when arguing on behalf of others. Don’t get me wrong, I was not promiscuous with my concern. Some people had to go, especially the violent ones. The truth is that you can’t protect everyone. There are only so many beds available. You have to do triage and I, it was clear, could not survive a return to the streets. Few can and therein lies the problem; who do you save? This is the Tyranny of Terrible Choices. People kept me alive because they thought I was worth it.

I’ve always felt I owe it to them to make something of my life. Every time I’ve been kicked into the abyss I’ve clawed my way back onto the ledge. I haven’t got very far. My hopes and dreams are ashes. So it goes. And the dead haunt me. But I’m still here, forever terrified.