My upbringing & family life were difficult, at best, with an alcoholic father & an emotionally unstable mother. To further complicate matters, I was born prematurely & developed cerebral palsy (a form of brain damage that affects nervous, muscle, & motor functions) as a result. Throughout my childhood I wore an ugly, clunky leg brace, walked with a limp, & suffered petit mal epilepsy absence-type seizures. Worse, I grew-in some terribly crooked permanent teeth, & was painfully timid… And that was that. I was marked as an outsider; the kid to be shunned or teased. It didn’t help that due to the chaotic state of Mom & Dad’s marriage & my mom’s emotional fragility, which resulted in a few hospitalizations, that I was the “new kid” in three different schools during kindergarten alone. As I neared adolescence, I felt even more lost & alone. Thank God, one spring evening a feline ally stole into my life like a silver shade & salvaged my fragmented spirit; I was eleven & to this day, even though I know he needed a home as much as I needed a friend, I swear I got the better end of the bargain.
I can close my eyes & see it like it happened yesterday: It was a humid spring evening & I was sitting outside enjoying it with my parents. They were in lawn chairs & not arguing for once. I was sitting on the concrete patio watching moths & bats dogfight through the sulfuric glow of the street light across the street, sweeping my gaze over the oddly orange-tinted lawn, wishing for lightning bugs. Suddenly, from the gloomy black lip of the emptiness between our storage shed & the neighbor’s ramshackle, overgrown fence materialized a shy, sinuous form, frosted with pink where the street light danced upon it. Our porch light caught its eyes & set them afire as the hesitant animal made its winding way toward my parents’ voices; the eyes flashed wickedly bright, then dark as the creature blinked or turned its head. I was thrilled far beyond words, & sat hugging my bare knees, waiting to see what would saunter out of the gilded night to greet me.
The graceful little wraith came to a halt about fifteen feet away, still cloaked in shadows & its beaming, slit eyes looked more like cracks in a nuclear reactor than living eyes – which gave me a jolt of apprehension… Until I heard the unmistakable rumble of a cat’s contented purr filtering along the spring breeze. I hurriedly glanced up at Mom & Dad & saw that they were totally oblivious; with their folding lawn chairs angled another direction. I looked back at the cat & reached out a hand. I whispered the only thing I knew to say to a cat: “Here, kitty-kitty.” The cat responded immediately with a throaty, “Mi-aow,” rose fluidly & recommenced its trek toward me through the damp grass, this time with its kinked tail upraised. My initial anxiety melted away as the cat slipped from the darkness, proffering its vibrating purr before it through the air; reassuring me in the only way it knew that it meant no harm.