Rescued By An Animal
Who Rescued Whom?Click thumbnail to view full-size
Pearl Jam has always had a knack for capturing the way I feel
I'd rather be with an animal
About five years ago I was in a real bad way. My wife had divorced me and quickly remarried. I took my parents offer of having them watch my daughter for almost a year so I could explore the dating scene, which I failed at miserably. I was working two jobs: the first serving summons, or as I liked to call it, "ruining peoples' days"; the second as a Flight Attendant, where it was a non-stop race against time, traveling by bus, to the El train, to the airport, across the country or up to Canada, then racing back again to Chicago.
I did enjoy the freedom process serving offered, but it weighed heavy on my heart making people angry all day. Also it was a pretty dark time, having been shot at once, in the immediate vicinity of a shoot out another time and just all the other suffering I'd witness on a daily basis: the drug dealers, the prostitutes, and all the children living in squalor on the West and South Sides of Chicago. The smell of ancient alcohol, cigarette smoke and urine reeking from all the withering abodes where I traveled to do my various dirty jobs.
I missed my daughter in the most heart wrenching way. She was up north in Wisconsin, living with my parents. Living her life without me. Her mother had passed on, dying at the horrendously young age of 29, succumbing to cervical cancer. Telling my daughter that her mother died when she was only four years old had been, and to this day still is, the most painful experience I've ever lived through. I felt like the Deity had stolen the light from inside of us. I was mad at the world. I guess that was another appeal of serving summons, it was revenge. It was a way for me to stick it back to everyone and cultivate the hate that was eating me alive.
So I walked the streets of Chicago in the usual way that I do. An artist with mood swings like a roller coaster on fire. At times my head planted to the sidewalk, in misery with alcohol swirling in my soul, a sentimental tide. At other times singing zipadeedoodah a Capella walking down the street as a mad man in the throngs of ecstasy and rapture.
It was in the midst of all this one, cold, gray and obligingly dreary day, that I was near my apartment on the West Side, about to walk up to serve some papers at a decrepit brownstone. I stepped out of my car, grabbed my scratched up steel clipboard, partially hid the papers inside. Looking over the various houses and vacant lots, I searched for the correct house number. I started walking towards the duplex. Just then a filthy little black and white kitten walked up from underneath one of the crawlspaces. She quickly walked up to me, purring and wiggling her little dirty but fluffy tail.
I reached down to pet her, "Hey there, aren't you a cute little thing." I've always liked animals. I've always felt a spiritual connection and kinship that I can't explain easily. Suffice it to say, it has to do with communication on a level that many humans don't understand. I stopped to pet the cat for a minute. I recalled the time in art school when my tough-guy sculptor and painting buddies would laugh at me.
One friend, a vigorous sculptor named Fred, put it best, "Ben, we just don't get it. You have all this insight during art critiques. You have all this conviction about the world. You literally throw paint on to the canvas and make huge visceral paintings. But what else do you paint? Cats! In a world of suffering and turmoil, a world that needs art to save it, and you paint cats!"
We both had a good laugh over that, but I knew what he was driving at. For some reason for a few years I enjoyed creating a few paintings of cats. On the outside I looked like some rugged Jackson Pollack ready to tear the head off of anybody that got in my way. On the inside I was a big squishy soft push over. Years later I remember trying to shed that combination even more by being the only guy on my flag football team that was constantly tackling other guys in friendly Sunday no-tackle games.
So I started walking towards the house, leaving the kitten to it's own devices. Seeing the dirt all over it's fur made me think she was probably a released stray, surviving on city mice and rats. As I walked away she started to follow me! I couldn't believe it. I thought to myself, stay away from me cat, you don't want any part of this! I'm trouble! I looked down at the kitten and said, "Go away! I don't even like white cats!" It was true, I was always fond of sleek looking gray and black mottled cats. White! Come on, I might as well buy a pink blouse and heals and start calling myself Shirley.
The kitten sat there as I walked up to the apartment. With the usual, "Hello is Mr. Abercromby there? I have a delivery for him." One of his roommates explained he was at work, so I served him with a nod to his roommate's abode.
As I started back to my car, there was that dirty little kitten again. With the queer black and white coloration on her back, like she had been spray painted clumsily. She started following me back to my car! She was going on about something, "Meow meow meow, meow meow meow, meeeooooww!"
"Alright I give." I declared out loud. "You can't be somebody else's cat, you're too filthy. Even if you were, they don't deserve to keep you since they're not taking care of you. I tell you what, I open this car door and you jump in, I'll keep you. If you don't, somebody somewhere must love you and I'll leave you be."
I opened the door to my scratched up and salty silver Dodge Stratus and wouldn't you know it, the bold little creature jumped right in! I hopped in my car and she sat looking at me in the passenger seat, as if she had belonged there the whole time. I thought, well I guess I'm going on lunch! I started to drive to the neighborhood convenience store to buy her some food. I looked over at her. She was full of mud and I could see and smell motor oil on her. She had probably been living in an abandoned vehicle. Just then as I was looking at her I thought I saw some of the dust jump! I cocked my head to the side, what the?
Then it hit me, fleas! Crap! I raced to the store, picked up some cheap cat food (I was surviving on hot dogs and Mickeys Malt Liquor, she wasn't getting much better) and I also bought flea dip. When I got home I sequestered her to my tiny little bathroom where I poured some food and water which she dove into ravenously. Then I drew a bath and to her horror proceeded to scrub the layers of sediment off of her fur. Then I ran the flea liquid through her fur. She showed her gratitude by piercing my skin with all ten of her razor sharp claws.
Once she dried off and I looked at her, she cleaned up pretty good. She purred and purred and slept next to me, after her three day bathroom flea-induced prison sentence was over of course. I always thought I was a dog person turned out I was wrong.
She was playful as all get out. Running all over my sunny little apartment like it was freakin' Shambala. I just shook my head and thought of how poor I was, how little my apartment was and how little food I had. I thought, it's too bad a rich person hadn't found her, they could've done so much more for her, I can only give her the minimum. The kitten was oblivious to my opine, running around, jumping and playing. I laughed! She thinks she's got it so good with me!
I told my Ma and she said I was in need of caring for something, sort of replacing my daughter. I hate it when my parents are right once in awhile! But she was. Soon after my daughter moved back in with me. But if it wasn't for Valentine, I sometimes wonder if I would have made it. I named the dirty little kitten after the distant orphaned relative in my family who was a Native American Indian, probably Ojibwa or Huron tribe. My Dad always laughed at the name, "Valentine, God that name. That poor man must've had a time of it living with that name!"
Well my cat was a girl, and I figured none of the other cats would give her grief for the name. I still feel blessed that the Great Spirit brought Valentine into my life to save me from myself. To bring love back into my heart, and to chase away the rodent of hate gnawing at my soul. Now I live in the country and Valentine has boyfriends out in the back woods. She is as happy as ever, and often sits on my lap when I write, or walks circles around me in the back yard. She's keeping an eye on me still.
This is the best version of Zip A Dee Doo Dah ever! Thank you Valentine & The Fabulous Thunderbirds! Mr. Bluebird is on my shoulder!!!
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If you liked this article, wait'll you get a load of my other caches of characters Coshise! Read on! Read on! Read on!
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