Roger is my kitten. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2012 I walked with my parents in the empty lot behind their house, reviewing the disarray of sun-baked brush piles, firewood, and discarded fenceposts. Weeds rustle and a shape moves, the underbrush colors fooling the eye. Out in the stony open, the shape becomes a little form with a tiny kitten face. It jogs toward us, happy and interested, unexpected. Hello, little cat! my father says, stooping to it like an outfielder for a grounder. It follows us around on my first-day tour, hopping over logs, digging in leaves, running ahead, darting behind, a tight package of energy in pause and then release.
Then the confused adventure begins: of asking neighbors if they’ve lost a kitten, where a kitten could have come from, nobody knows, do you want a kitten. My father makes a box with an old towel on the back porch, and the kitten digs in the towel and meows, then charges through piles of freshly fallen leaves. He is brighter than the flat brown hulls Texas can produce, the orange of New England. He is a fall cat, and we have caught him.
For the next ten days the unnamed cat moves between the back porch and the garage at night, where he finds a perch on a coiled rug. My parents currently have four cats and they fret a kitten won’t be welcome. No problem: he likes the garage just fine, being the overcrammed American garage it is, full of hiding spaces between leaning and stacked things. My dad makes a litter box for him, scoops out the orange kibble from the steel trash can still bright from the store though twenty years old now. He munches and crunches and purrs and purrs. He is smaller than a package of English muffins. He likes to be held.
Nobody wants a little orange cat, even the teen girl who trusts me with her email, or her Facebook friends she has promised to post the emailed pictures to. My father opens the garage door and the little orange cat stares out into the Texas autumn, strangely bright and barefoot warm, and charges out into the drifts of leaves.
I see friends, have Thanksgiving with my parents. It’s clear the cat has the future of a war child refugee if I go home without him. The airline explains what to do. As a Christmas present, my parents pay for a vet exam and shots at the same vet I knew growing up, still at practice in the same little house off the same main drag, the same exam room where two dogs and three cats I grew up with were hoisted and held and checked and kept from decline as much as medicine could. Dr. Rice is a kind man, not slow but measured, country but knowing what city means. Three months is as good a guess as any for the age, he says, explaining about teeth. He asks me about Seattle. Well, I do imagine it must be spectacular to see. The paperwork name is Little Orange Cat.
Serendipity provides the airline-compatible carrier on an unplanned trip to Austin, in a pet store that is stereotypical Austin bohemian. The friend I haven’t seen in twenty-four years has six beers when I have one, and gets a blonde, slinky, and very Texas woman to give me a hug. He says I’m lucky, that I’m doing well. In my rental car back to Fort Worth, the sky is as clear as all the nights of all my growing up, the stars immutable, everything human underneath changed.
The little orange cat has no fear of the black mesh carrier, peeking out with sustained, quiet interest. Women smile at him on the rental shuttle bus, a woman heading back to Alabama unbelieving I would pay extra to fly some strange cat home. Oh, you’re such a good man. They’re all kill shelters down here. Ever’ one of ’em.
Departing is a long wait, bright with blue plains sky through glass, nothing to see but silver aircraft and a concrete sea. I find a corner where I hope he’ll stay contained and let him out, entertain him with the fuzzy pink and yellow toys my mom provided. He complies, batting them, look at me, standing up on the window lip and looking out at all the moving, shining things. Here, now, he is completely unlike me. He is all delight. He has no idea what sadness is.
At home, he tears through the house, throttle wide open up and down the stairs, in every room, leaping, flinging. If he is uncontrolled he is also unafraid. His little meow comes from under the bed and closets: yip! yip! Texas has been in a hard drought’s grip for many months, and I wonder if he has ever seen dark clouds and rain.
We are committed, he and I. Health insurance and a pet license want a name.
Not long after he took up in my parents’ garage, I was holding him, giving him as much attention as I could between visits and phone calls. He purred and looked out the window, bright and interested. His name came like he did: unbidden but somehow unsurprising. How about Roger. Roger cat.
Opinions varied on the name’s suitability. Improv teaches first answer is the best answer, and this answer came first, from the beyond where all ideas come from. I stopped wavering. “His name’s Roger,” I said. Roger goes on the forms.
He has been here through the remainder of fall and winter, the dark, lonely, questioning, unsettled, existential days. There have been good ones too, but it has been a rough time. The SAD light only does so much, but I have been writing, finish a class that was a writing and performing challenge. A great friend saves me from Christmas alone, and it’s fun to come home and have a little Christmas for my cat, who bats his new toys around or curls on the floor with them, biting and tearing.
I’m old enough to know he won’t be a kitten long, his insufferable cuteness falling away by the week. The loss of his kittenhood is visible in pictures.
I wonder if childhood for him is like it is for us: understanding our lost world of long time only in retrospect. And my rueful understanding now that many of us didn’t have much innocence.
Does he miss tramping in the Texas backyard leaves? 2012’s bright autumn is all new for him, the only holdover whatever a kitten can remember from the first three months. Nobody knows about his life before he showed up at the neighbor lady a week before. I imagine a brown, late model pickup truck chugging to a stop beneath a streetlight, a door opening, the little cat being placed off the road, under bushes. Did a grownup do it? Did a little kid watch, bucked in, told to keep quiet or she’d get something to cry about? Nobody will know but him.
Early in January I am fretful, afraid, stressed. I am at work again and conflicted between it and writing, the important writing. I don’t feel light any more, but a collapsing, manageable anxiety. The friend on the phone is talking me down, explaining, being reasonable. It’s going to be all right. I hang up, ready to get to bed early. Roger tears a feather off his toy and gobbles it whole. I panic, thinking about the crunchy stem, it going through his bowels. I call the friend back; no answer. I struggle with a decision, any decision, collapsed by fear and doubt and then the silliness of the whole thing. I find a 24 hour vet and go. Safe than sorry. The friend calls en route. I’m almost there and we decide to go ahead, or I hear a confirmation I’m not insane. The clinic is beat-up, lost in fog. Inside there is a crazy woman showing the kinds of worms in the food she left out too long. She drops a can and the vet techs, struggling to be composed, tell her not to worry, they’ll clean it up. WHY IS THERE ALWAYS A CRAZY CAT LADY, I text my friend.
The vet is from somewhere in India where the culture is to always say yes. What should I do? Oh, yes, that can be done. What do you recommend? Yes, we can do these things. I agree to an x-ray, which ends up not showing much, maybe some small bits of feather in his intestine already. He can be kept overnight and given a barium x-ray and monitored. Yes, we can do that. My friend reassures me that cats eat birds and birds have feathers, that it will almost certainly be a non-event. The vet keeps recommending strange procedures and extra add-ons and I decide $150 is enough.
Roger was fine. I was a mess the next day at work, but my friend has a great story. The incident encapsulates my fall and winter, ever since getting back from New York City. Roger has always been fine.
Now it is spring, the short days replaced by long ones, the attention I had so focused on the early dark and tense cold walks while on the phone with friends now somehow disappeared with January, February, March. Bright warm days have sent the populace into a state of controlled joy. It has been truly warm. The windows have been open.
Open windows are new for him, and I realize spring is too. Passing traffic sends him under the bed, but slowly he emerges, first peeking through the bedrails, then hopping up to look full-on. I test that the screen is firm–it’s concrete below. For a moment I am afraid, the depressive mind launching into imagined branching futures of linked calamities. He doesn’t test it. I stand in the sun with him. Whaddya think?
Spring, like every spring, is new. There has never been a spring like it before; one like it will never come again: standard pop Buddhist stuff. The light does something I don’t remember it doing before. The light really helps.
Spring is a little stronger, things are a little better. Roger loves the windows and the exciting spring outside.