The Sword
The Cabiri Chronicles
     Life of a History
     Under the Hood

     Balancing Act

     I was just acting!
     Lucifer as a Player
     Player Types Defined
     LARP Boredom
     LARP Survival

     Economics in D&D 3.5

     Sept 11, 2002
     Columbia Disaster

     A Letter of Vocation
     Evidence of Evil
     In Defense of a Reflection

     A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

          Author's Comments: Not much to say here...this was composed for a writing class, but I found myself really exploring something that, at the time, I'd tucked away somewhere deep.  I still get very emotional re-reading it, even now.


          Love is a precious thing, as the saying goes. It is something of a Platonic "Good" to have someone in your life who loves you unconditionally, who will console you when you are ill or depressed, who will play with you when you are playful, and who will just be there when you need someone. I was fortunate enough to have such an individual enter my life and, though she is now gone, her memory still helps me persevere in those times when I feel as if the world were against me.
          When I first met her, she was only a few weeks old. She crawled into the dilapidated camper that my father owned and peered around through innocent eyes. She was not a pretty child, her body was covered in multicolored splotches, she was scrawnier than all her brothers and sisters, and her head was a bit too big for the rest of her body.
          When she waddled up the metal step and through the door of the camper, my father said "Hello" to her, and that became her name. You see, my love was a cat, a calico in the feline vernacular.
          To be honest, she was ugly as a kitten. Her splotches of orange, black, white and variations thereof were chaotically arranged across her body. She had a pock-mark like pattern of orange and black dotted across her right cheek and the only symmetry on her body was a mostly white chest and abdomen. She was the runt of the litter, most probably, and could not physically compare to her long haired white and Prussian blue brothers and sisters. However, she was friendly, which was rare among her litter. You see, she was born to country cat, that social echelon of the feline world that is born and lives in the outdoors, and generally fears humans, regardless of the fact that they partially rely on them for sustenance. They hide amongst the rafters and floorboards of dilapidated farm buildings, supplementing their diet with the vermin that are drawn to the rare point of civilization in the countryside. The tend to carry the torn ears and scabbed faces that are the battle-scars of combat, either with one another or with the vermin that are large enough to defend themselves. Perhaps it was the innocence of youth that made her brave enough to wish to socialize with human beings, or perhaps it was something more innately special about her. Regardless, we had been catless for some time, and my father finally acquiesced to the pleas of myself and my mother and said that we could keep the first kitten that crawled into our camper from my grandmother's back yard.
          The trip home, I recall, was a tense one for Hello. I lay down in the coffin-like bed of our camper, which is situated above the driver's cabin, and watched her during the ride. She was frightened, of course, both from having been abruptly ripped from the only home and family she had known, and from the unusual swaying and rumbling of the camper. When we got her home, however, she quickly adjusted to her new surroundings, after exploring every niche and corner, as cats are wont to do. Soon, she found that her favorite spot to sleep through the night was in my bed, either under the covers next to me or somewhere about my head or feet. Many a night I fell to slumber to the tune of her purring lullaby.
          Hello, apparently, came of age much more quickly than we had anticipated, and became pregnant before we were able to deprive her of her womanhood. In retrospect, there was something disturbing about imagining her having been held forcibly by the scruff of the neck in the passion-clenched jaws of one of the neighborhood strays as he penetrated her amongst her moans and screeches of pain (I was educated, at a very young age, about the sexual act, both among humans and among animals). She grew larger and larger and I, perhaps out of some early recognition of my masculine instincts, began to grow impatient with anticipation of the day that would come. Eventually, my mother discovered her wracked in the pains of birth in a corner next to my bed. We placed an old towel under her, and I watched and consoled her through the birth procedure. I was twelve years of age at the time, and it was the first, and only, time I witnessed that miracle that is birth (Gentle Reader, please forgive the usage of such a tired old phrase, but there is simply no other description more appropriate to the experience).
          Hello gave birth to four kittens, but only three survived the ordeal. One was a long hair calico, who's colors were subdued, as if she were painted with watercolors that were then muted by a layer of water. She had white feet, though, so gained the name "Bootsie" by my mother (ever the imaginative name-maker). Another of he kittens was orange and white in coloration, with short hair, who I named "Peanut Butter," because it was soon discovered that he loved the taste of the sticky substance. The third survivor was eventually named "Toe", because he enjoyed nibbling on that largest of pedal digits as much as his brother enjoyed peanut butter. Once they were of age, we gave Peanut Butter and Toe to friends of the family, but Bootsie remained with us.
          Once it was safe to do so, we had Hello fixed (a strange anomaly of our language, if she were broken), and were lucky enough to catch Bootsie before she experienced the pain or thrill of conception. A few years passed uneventfully and, as I experienced the pain and frustration of growing up, Hello was always there to help me through it. Certainly, my parents helped me when they could, but Hello's unconditional love always helped me through the roughest of times.
          One late weekend night, my mother opened the side door and Hello came rushing in. My mother shouted her name in an exclamation of horror and I watched as my love ran past me, her back right leg bouncing along with her in a revolting fashion. My stomach immediately knotted and I ran after her. She tried to jump onto the top of our trashcan, which, for some reason, had become her chosen spot of the week, and crumpled to the floor, meowing in pain. I picked her up carefully and my father and I examined her leg. It was dislocated at the knee. After a rush to find a veterinarian that was open on a Saturday night at 11pm, my father drove me as I held her in my arms to the Cary Street Veterinary Emergency Center. After a brief wait, they told us that all they could do is put the leg in a cast that would hold it in place until we could get her to her usual vet on Monday. They told us how much it would probably cost, and compared it to the much lower price of what it would take to put her to sleep. My father frowned and looked at me. You see, my father was also raised in the country, where an animal is "put down" (another strange anomaly of our language) when it is injured in such a fashion. I quickly told him, in a voice much sterner than I would have used with my father in any other situation, that I would pay for it if I had to, out of my meager savings. He nodded and paid the bill (without depleting my savings), and we took Hello home, her leg restrained in a bright red cast. She spent the next two nights in our cat carrier, periodically meowing in pain, and I sat by her when I could, petting her with one finger through the metal mesh that was the door to her cell.
          My mother and I took her to the vet that Monday, and, after an X-ray, told us that the leg had come out of joint again, and had torn her ligaments beyond repair. The vet carefully informed us that we could either have the leg amputated or put her to sleep. My mother, having come from a more urban environment than my father, asked how cruel it would be to have Hello's rear leg amputated. The doctor assured us that she would be able to live a relatively normal life, and we gave the okay to do it. The leg was removed at the hip, and even more of her feminine organs had to be removed, but she was given back to us the next day. She hopped strangely when she walked or ran after that, and her right ear, which she could no longer reach, quickly became scabby from dereliction. I would scratch her ear for her sometimes, and she would convulse in pleasure from the experience, the muscles of her right hip twitching in a vulgar way, as if she was scratching with her ghost leg. Strangely, though, or perhaps spectacularly, she adapted quickly to her handicap, and relearned how to climb trees and run as quickly as she had with four legs. If anything, she became even more affectionate as a result of the experience.
          The years continued on, and one night Bootsie came home with an inch of her jaw missing, and we had to put her to sleep. Hello gave no apparent display of emotion as a result of the loss, but she wasn't the sort to do so. If she had been human, she would have been something of an old Victorian lady, who did not show emotion and acted in the most respectful manner at all times (except, of course, when you scratched that ear). I must digress for a moment and explain, for those unfamiliar with cats, how they do, indeed, each have a very clearly defined personality. Hello was not the sort to involve herself in frivolity. She enjoyed playing with string, as all cats do, but wasn't the sort who would chase after it when it was pulled. Even we she played, she did so with a ladylike reserve. She never played with other cats, perhaps out of disdain for a creature she considered her inferior. We obtained other cats over the years, and each of them were unique. We had one who was clumsy and not extremely bright, who would happily debase himself by attempting to jump where he couldn't or forgetting how to retract his claws when he hung himself on a couch or piece of cloth he had been clawing. We had another that was only affectionate when cold, and avoided humans at all other times, yet another who loved only my mother, and meowed fearfully when any other human came near. Those individuals who do not have cats or do not like cats scoff at such remarks and observations, and explain them as personification of a "dumb" animal. This simply isn't true. It is not as if I am subscribing a blank facial expression for whatever emotion seems appropriate, cats do have a psychology, and can use their facial muscles to display emotion. Slightly closed eyes and forward whiskers display pleasure, as does the opening and closing of their paws; a wide-eyed expression displays interest in a subject, but a wide expression and slightly downturned face displays fear or apprehension; a tense body and a rapid twitching of the end of the tail shows displeasure of discomfort; a rubbing of the side of the face displays something akin to love, as they use the glands in the corners of the mouth to "stake out" an individual as their property. Cats do have emotions and behaviors, will display uncertainty after experiencing failure, and learn from their successes and failures. Most importantly, especially in this case, they can adapt; Hello, more than any cat I have had the honor of knowing, had the tenacity of spirit to adapt herself to any situation.
          The years continued to roll by. I moved away for a couple of years to attend college, and felt a certain loss from her absence. However, whenever I returned home, she was always there to greet me and renew old ties. I eventually moved back home, and our relationship continued.
          One winter night, I heard my mother give an unusual shout, one mixed of horror and regret. She called my name in the same voice, and I ran into our den. You see, the door to our dryer was broken, and had to be held tight by a heavy file cabinet when in use. Hello had discovered that the dryer was a warm place to sleep, and we had often discovered her within when we had forgotten to close the door to the utility room. When I ran into the den, my mother quickly explained to me in a pained voice that Hello was in the dryer, and she had turned it on; her statement was punctuated by a strange, horrible, moaning meow that echoed from the dryer that still wets my eyes when I think of it today. I rushed into the utility room as my mother began to grow hysterical at what she blamed herself for happening. I gathered Hello up carefully and took her into the den as she squirmed under my grasp. I tried to feel her body for any unusual protrusions or lumps, and imagined that I felt quite a few. I did notice, with an unbefitting moment of humor, that her fur was fluffy and Springtime-fresh. Then, I noticed that she had blood seeping from her mouth, which was open and gasping for air. My stomach, already knotted, almost released its contents, not at the sight of her blood, but what I thought that meant. At that moment, I gave up and almost began to cry, believing Hello to be lost.
          It was then that she turned and bit my hand, hard. Her teeth clenched into the webbing between my thumb and forefinger and she did not let go. I carefully pried her mouth from my hand and felt, for some reason, that she was not going to die this night. It was as if she were telling me to believe in her, ordering me not to give up hope. I calmly told my mother to call the Cary Street Veterinary Emergency Center, and they told us to bring her there immediately. Thus we found ourselves speeding across Richmond to take her back to the same place that had cared for her all those years ago. The trip to the hospital was a frightening one, as I believed that my love hovered on the brink of death. I imagined her internal organs having been smashed by the blades within the dryer as she stared up at me. Her eyes were mere slits, and wide with fear, but I spoke as soothingly as I could, ignoring the blood, a mixture of mine and hers, that coursed around the wound on my hand.
          When we finally reached the location that was once the Cary Street Veterinary Emergency Center, we searched for their new location, which supposedly was nearby. We circled the block a couple of times, and I began to feel intense frustration from the possibility that Hello would die because we were too inept to find the place that might save her. Finally, I noticed a flag with the symbol of the hospital flying behind a large, leafy tree, and made my mother let me out of the car so I could rush Hello inside. I ran across Cary street, my feet bare, and to the front door. When I approached, I realized that, through some cruel architect's trick, that the doors needed to be pulled to be opened, and both my arms were busy holding the body of my beloved. I kicked at the door and called to the people inside, and a client came and let me in. With safety only a few feet away, I could feel my logical resolve failing me. My chest began to heave and I looked at the nurse through quickly watering eyes and whimpered something to the degree of "Please help my my cat..." A doctor came out and relieved me of my burden, and, after a few quick answers to the nurse, ran into the bathroom to get control of myself. I realized that my mother blamed herself for the incident and, though a part of me blamed her too, I knew that my breaking down would only make the situation worse.
          After parking the car, my mother came in and answered those questions that I could not. We sat and waited, and I told her that she was not to blame for the incident. The wait was excruciating, and any attempt to report a correct approximation of the period that seemed to take hours would be a lie. Eventually, the vet returned and told us that the outlook was extremely optimistic. She had gone into shock, and, at some point, bitten her tongue (hence the blood in her mouth), but she didn't appear to have any internal injuries. They would have to keep her overnight to see if any fluid collected in her lungs from burns that she might have received from the hot air, but she was showing no signs that this was the case. We departed, leaving my love in their care, in a much more optimistic mood than when we had arrived.
          When we picked up Hello the next morning, she was attached to a miniature IV which was supposed to help keep down the amount of fluid in her lungs and provide extra protection against infection, but the vet told us that there were no apparent burns, only a few tender bruises on her flesh. We took her to our usual vet, and they kept her under observation for the day, but we were able to take her home that evening. She had some medicine to take to further protect against infection, but she quickly recovered from the ordeal.
          A month later, I saw Hello basking in the sunlight in our front yard as I loaded my car for a weekend trip to western Virginia to visit my girlfriend. She narrowed her eyes at me in greeting as I glanced towards her, but I was too busy to stop and be affectionate. I sped away, not glancing back to watch her watch me leave. That was the last time I saw my love. Sometime during the weekend, she disappeared, probably to go off and die under a particularly heavy bush or a nearby dilapidated building (I prefer to think the latter, as it gives a pretty literary cyclical nature to her life). I asked around the neighborhood for her, and posted some signs (how many three-legged cats could there be), but something within me told me that she was gone. I still think of her at times, wondering if when I open the door to let a cat in if she will come hobbling in, as if nothing had happened. Sometimes I am saddened by the idea of her breathing her last alone, in a bed of wet and rotting leaves, worms squirming in anticipation of their feast. It sounds truly corny, but I truly believe that there will never be another being that will fill the hole that has been ripped in my heart by her loss. I only hope that one day, when this thing we call life is over, I will be able to rest quietly in a grassy pasture, with Hello at my side.
          This exploration of unconditional love is dedicated to the men and women of the Cary Street Veterinary Emergency Center, whose loving care and great skill have earned my eternal respect and gratitude.

          Veterinary Emergency Center
          3312 W. Cary Street
          Richmond, VA