Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nestle's Story

Nestle at 4 months, the day after her long walk down the stairs....

Friday, June 20, 2008

Nestle's Story--Story of an Angel--memoir Part III

by Rachael Z. Ikins

We sometimes traveled short trips, for instance to several doll and teddy bear shows New York City or Pennsylvania. Nestle’s condition relapsed often when the weather became cooler. So I would leave her with the veterinarian to board. I was not willing to trust her to a neighbor.
After one such trip when I went in to pick her up, the techinician, after telling me what a love Nestle was, asked me to wait to speak to the vet. The vet explained to me that because of the human eye-level of cage she had been staying in, one of the girls noticed a shadow in her left eye and brought it to the attention of the doctors.
They led me into the exam room to show me. Sure enough when the penlight was shined into her eye I could see a network of fine blood vessels behind the cornea. Nobody knew
why they were growing there, only that it would take her sight.
Thus began a seemingly endless series of visits, medications and procedures to save her eye. Nothing worked. Eventually, she developed a cataract there as well. Theory had it her eye was susceptible due to the damage from the old URI. We ended up driving her to Cornell to see a reknowned feline opthamologist. One trip down, I could not stand to have her shut up in the carrier. She laid on the dashboard basking in the heat from the defroster. She smiled at me.
He told me that cats’ eyes are very unforgiving to injury. A horse, on the other hand, can get a scratch that heals in just a few days. Cats' eyes develop endless complications.
I had to leave her at teh Veterinary School Clinic for surgery. They

sewed her eye-lid shut, left it open on each end for inserting ointments from various tubes several times a day. Their thinking was if they used the eye’s own lid as a natural bandage to protect and lubricate it, the cornea would heal better.
Well, I don’t remember how long she had her eye shut this way. I remember her riding on the dashboard of the car down to Cornell basking in the heat like a little princess..I remember the veterinarian at Cornell and his students being absolutely capitivated by her..she played “pounce and chase the twistem” in the darkened radiology lab.
Her eye never recovered fully. In the proper light it was possible to see the film over her bright green left eye the rest of her life. The cataract did not worsen and at least the abraded cornea healed over.
Her sight was compromised but she wasn’t blind.

In summer of 1998 my therapist retired. At that time, I was still being given multiple doses of mind-numbing drugs for everything from bipolar disorder to OCD, psychosis, to anxiety and on and on. A tossed-salad of diagnoses and prescriptions and malpractice.
The psychiatrist who had first begun writing prescriptions at the request of my therapist moved away. He referred me to a new man, just finished with his residency. This was a time period in mental health treatment history when medication was seen as the new frontier. Talk therapy was considered old-fashioned.
This new psychiatrist and I had formed kind of a bond. He was a cat lover, too. He also was a gardener and a lover of poetry. He developed and offered some negative opinions

about a therapist who would treat a patient as mine had me. As soon as I mentioned her retirement and that once again, whatever the newest drug was “it
was not helping” he suggested maybe I would like to stop taking meds...none them seemed to have made any difference over time. Maybe medication just was not for me.
Immediately, I concurred! I was very excited.
Over Labor Day weekend the week of the big”Labor Day Storm” of ’98, as it was called in our area, when we were without power in a large city for 8 days, I stopped all my meds. except one. I had not asked anyone how to reduce dosages. I did not know that with some of them abrupt withdrawal was extremely dangerous. I was simply ecstatic to be free of the chemicals that had so altered my life.
I descended into deep depression.. I was very irritable and anxious. I’d believed my feelings were a result of the power outage. Now, I know it was drug withdrawal symptoms.
I had also believed that my massive weight gain over that decade was due solely to drug side effects, not behavior. Many of the medications contained appetite stimulants as side/effects and others caused weight gain. In combinations, lots created fluid retention and swelling. I decided that September to go on a weight reduction diet too, to accelerate the weight loss as the drugs were removed. I chose the Slimfast plan..

I had long since forgotten that I had once enjoyed biking and walking along the Canal. So, for exercise to help speed the weight loss, I walked the halls of the area’s largest Mall.
It seemed the size of two football fields, one on top of the other. I’d stop in Borders Books to have a raspberry mocha latte with skim milk, my one daily a reward for all the discomfort.
Each day, as we drove home and neared our neighborhood, I became very anxious as to where in the house Nestle was. If she was ok. If she was safe. I would end up running
from the car to unlock the door. Through the rooms of the house. As soon as I saw her my fear disappeared as if it had never been..
Meantime the last drug I was taking along with a bunch of varied herbal preparations was Klonopin. It is a relative of Valium. They are both derived from the family of drugs descended from the Valerian root. Way back in ‘91, I had been sure to tell the original prescribing psychiatrist that I wanted no Valium. Nothing addictive. He assured me he would not give it. It was only after months of swallowing the largest dose of Klonopin considered safe, that I looked it up one sleepless night in the PDR and realized I had been lied to.
I asked him next day. He said “Oh, it doesn’t matter really. Don’t worry about it. “
My new psychiatrist was alarmed at the Klonopin level. He decided the only safe plan was to plot a chart on a 12 month calendar of gradual reductions by half a pill at a time. One reduction on one end of a week, then half at the other end of the next week.

Another negative effect of all the medications had been to put my young body in false menopause. Periods stopped. Sexual desire disappeared or became impossible. Bone density decreased dramatically. Arthritis had set in. I was in constant pain. Nerve damage occurred throughout my body. Plagued by bladder infections, incontinence, and lack of coordination. My memories were erased.
One particularly strange adverse event involved gynechomastia or abnormal breast growth. As a young woman, before medications I had had large breasts. Enough so that I was self-concious about them. But then, everybody has issues about their own body—this too small, that too big, that not enough. Its human.
As the early drugs took hold, I began to “out-grow” my bras. I was so confused. I did not understand. Years went by and no longer was I able to find any bra on the rack that I could squeeze into. I developed severe neck and shoulder pain.
With one tiny thread of rational thought, I decided to seek breast reduction surgery.
My husband suggested we try a colleague of his. That turned out to be a mistake. The man was clearly bigoted toward those with mental health issues. He was also offended by my weight. He promised me he would “contact my therapist” to make sure my desire for the surgery wasn’t a whim. He never called me back. In the mean time, my breasts grew yet larger and while hurt from the humiliation of that experience, I tried another plastic surgeon whose office was near my house.

He had experienced his own hardships in life. He was a man of faith. He was kind. Five pounds of tissue were removed. In recovery, I almost bled to death. The nursing staff waited to call the doctor until I had been bleeding all day.
When he examined me at 10:30 that night and wheeled me into emergency surgery, I said to him “I don’t want to die.”
He replied “Oh, dying isn’t so awful.”
I understand now how very close to death I was. His gentle words were to prepare me if that was my fate.
I survived the surgery without anesthesia. Only a paralytic and a cover over my face ebcause my hematocrit or oxygen part of the blood was so low, the life-saving blood transfusion and two days later was home. It was the only time during her life that Nestle and I could not sleep together. The incisions on my chest were raw and painful. I went to recuperate in the spare bedroom. Night after night, she sat outside the door, often until dawn, meowing and calling to me. How I missed her!

She was such a funny little girl. She was no longer able to use her sense of smell as a legacy of her illnesses. Apparently this opened her palate to the world of vegetables. Her favorites included asparagus—she’d have her own spear on her own small plate, corn on the corn, and fruits, cantaloupe, and her absolute all-time favorite, bananas.
I ate a banana each morning at breakfast. She sat in my night gown extending a paw to bat at the fruit until I shared a piece with her. The vet and I figured her peculiar tastes might’ve arisen from her body’s need for nutrients in its compromised state.

Cats tend to find their food and eat it because they can smell it. Nestle had a small pot belly. Unable to smell anything, she ate by sight.. A miracle all by itself.

She and I had both experienced near-death more than once. Our time together was precious to us. For my part, I would recite that children’s rhyme in my head with my own variation on the familiar words “I’m rocking my Nestle and Nestle’s don’t keep.”
I am so grateful to my common sense and awareness, bittersweet though it turned out, that whenever she came to me and asked to be picked up or petted or to climb down my clothing, I stopped what I was doing. I would set down the vacuum, stop typing, put the phone down, come inside when she called from the window, open my shirt…to the best of my recollection I was not once in to much of a hurry or too self-absorbed to respond to her. Looking back, I know I did not realize how few her days with me would turn out to be. I had thought I was simply mature enough to value the precious gift she was and the understanding that such gifts are rare. To savor them to their fullest.
It is good not to have regrets about this aspect of my life.

One of the first things the internist who was watching over my drug-reduction and weight loss suggested was estrogen replacement therapy. It was just when Prem-pro had come on the market. I tried it. Periods returned. Weight fell off me in spite of the remaining meds. Months passed. The other drug level went slowly down.

In 1998 after 3 heart attacks and two failed stents, my husband had quadruple by-pass surgery. In June of ‘99 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer that did not respond to treatment. I was in a very fragile mental and physical state from the combination of drug reduction process and the fear of his death. I was also recovering a few memories in bits and pieces.

I had not spoken to my mother in three years nor my closest cousin in 9. In August of ‘99, my psychiatrist decided I should take Neurotin for anxiety, and Ambien because I
could not sleep. By end of September, I stopped the Neurontin. Ambien did not work. I was on a very low dose of the Klonopin by this time and very, very uncomfortable-- skin tingling, pulsations, numbnesses, anxiety through the roof, shortness of breath, racing heart; many episodes of paroxysmal atrial tachycardia, a rhythm disorder, headaches, nausea, flu-like symptoms, sleeplessness..its hard to remember them all.
My body had also started to swell again with fluid retention. All the friends from my former life had drifted away. I was isolated. I was constantly angry and confused..stumbled through the days as lost as before. My house was a chaotic mess.
By the end of October, my physical discomfort was unbearable. My psychiatrist felt confident that after week or so when I was off the stuff completely, I would feel quite normal again. And most importantly, be able to sleep.
One Sunday night cold and rainy in November, I flushed the last of the Klonopin down the toilet and took a photograph of it . I assembled a photograph-collage with of a Barbie

doll, empty champagne bottles, pill containers and string, an anatomical model of a heart.and shot that composition for posterity with my Nikon F4.. Titled it “Nervous Breakdown”.
I began to have seizure-like activity those last days. Vomiting.
We went to bed that Sunday night. Nestle parked down by my left hip. In the wee hours around 2 a.m. I became unconscious. My husband woke up. He took my pulse. My heart beat was weak, irregular and thready. He made a decision not to telephone the ambulance. He said he figured my body would find its own way or not.
I came to at one point, drenched in sweat, covers thrown off. Fevered. I was paralyzed. I could not speak. Unconscious again.
Where I “was” all was black and stormy. I was as if in free-fall. I had no bearings, no self awareness. I was lost and hurtling toward death. And then, then… a warm pink light began to glow. In my altered state I conceptualized it as to my “left”. The ball of light grew bigger, more solid and clear. I ”clung to it”. The storm raged. I focused on that light. The light was all there was. Nothing else but darkness. I turned from the darkness. Hours passed. Nestle was there physically in bed next to my heart as it stuttered toward silence. She was the pink light. She lit that backness with the lamp of her soul, that I had an anchor to stay in this life. And so, because of her, I stayed.

When watery dawn light entered the bedroom windows at 5 a.m., I finally regained consciousness. I laid there a moment, disoriented. My husband spoke to me. I don’t recall what he said. I decided to go to the bathroom. I swung my legs over the side of the bed. Nestle was sound asleep next to my thigh. She opened one green eye and chirped at me. I touched her fur. My body was trembling. I stood up. I went to take one step and collapsed in a heap on the floor. The nerves to my legs did not work. I could not walk. I could not swallow. I could not urinate . But, I was alive. Most amazing of all, I was in my “right mind” intact for the first time in ten long years.
to be continued....

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nestle's Story: Part II

The Story of An Angel
by Rachael Z. Ikins continues....

Life is real. Bad things continue to happen no matter how much positive power is out there. My husband and I decided to adopt a few other new cats.
As any cat rescue shelter-worker or veterinarian or cat breeder knows, cats are very susceptible to upper respiratory illnesses. In large populations, they exchange germs freely. If one cat brings in a URI, soon it will pass through the entire household.

And so it was, eventually I adopted a cat who arrived with stuffy nose and medications for it. The person from whom I bought him, explained to me vaguely that he was not really responding to any of the medications, that it must be a virus-- but he was eating, and so” it didn’t matter.”

Research in recent years has shown cats to be very susceptible to calcii viruses which can affect any body part from the nasal membranes to the esophagus. However, back then I knew nothing and even if I had, was powerless under the influence of my own chemicals to make sound decisions.
Before she was 6 months old, Nestle had contracted the virus. Only, unlike other cats who had a mild runny nose, a few sneezes, and went on their way, she became deathly ill.

I took her to the vet’s day after day. She lost weight. Her little body became limp and weaker. She could not see through the mucus discharge from her eyes and she could not breathe. Her lungs were affected as well. Why the vet did not tell me to euthanize her, I don’t know. Perhaps he did tell me and I refused. I believe, another Power was already at work in our lives at this time. Protecting both of us—though our existences defied all odds.
We used up all the types of medication available to treat Nestle. We sat with her in the closed bathroom every night and left the shower running for steam to loosen her chest congestion. We used an infant's ear bulb to try to suction the mess out of her tiny nostrils. The vet gave her subcutaneous fluids. We fed her a food slurry mixed in the blender with a small syringe to the mouth. I washed her back end with warm damp cloths because she could not get to the litter box. I washed her body becasue she could not clean herself.
One late fall afternoon we returned to the house with this sick baby. I remember sitting at the dining room table crying..I had settled her upstairs. She was no longer able even to walk. I did not understand why after only 6 short months, she was dying. I could not make the decision to end her life because I could not imagine my life without her in it. I could not think beyond that.
My husband had cooked something for dinner and I was listlessly pushing it around my plate, wiping tears off my face with the back of my hand.
Suddenly he shouted “ Look!”
My eyes followed the direction he was pointing. Staggering as if she were drunk, on weak trembling legs, Nestle slowly made her way purposefully toward me across the living room carpet. She walked right over to my leg and began to drag herself up my blue jeans with her tiny claws. I scooped her into my hands. I kissed her. She began to purr under my hair, against my neck. She had climbed down thirteen, foot-high stairs, traveled through the long hall, through the large drafty living room to find me where I sat.

Nobody knows why she did not die that day.
I believe she fully understood, already, that her job was to protect me. I believe she'd made some bargain with the Power, to be allowed to stay on Earth. Ultimately, I believe that Power gave her three reprieves. But then one day, years down the road, her precious time was up. That is for later in this story.

Soon after this miraculous afternoon, Nestle began a habit which endured her whole life. She insisted I open my blouse or my shirt or lift my bra or nightgown so she could squeeze in against my skin and ride in there with me. If I was wearing a Tee-shirt she burrowed down inside, often with many “ouches” on my part, then turned herself around and popped her head out of the neck, our two faces, one above the other. I'd work at teh computer, Nestle snugged in my top, watching me type.
She slept with me every night. Not on the bed but down under the covers against my waist.
Often she would first sit on my chest, purring, with pupils dilated to wash my face, none too gently. If I struggled, she simply dug her claws in a tiny bit. I understood. Let her have her way, just to take it.
It so happened my facial nerves were damaged from all these medications, my face semi-paralyzed, numb, and stiff. Her mother-cat, vigorous stimulation with rough tongue washing, helped me overcome some of that adverse reaction. Today
I can smile, using the muscles in my face-- which often still feels numb, 8 years after the last hated pill was swallowed, in great part, I beleive, because of that rough, painful, beloved tongue.

Every night she would stand by my head, poke me with her paw. I lifted the covers. She would assume her washing position on my chest. Once that task was complete to her satisfaction, she burrowed down further, rotated herself a few circles and settled against me. I called this her “parking”. When I tossed and turned in my sleep, she kept pace like a leaf on a wave. We had a real rhythm, as if we were dancers. She always slept in front of me.

At times in her life when she was healthy, she would hunt down and capture twist ties and drag their “steaming carcasses” into my bedroom late at night before sleep. She would call to me in a throaty, deep voice “Look, Ma, what I brought you.” I sometimes thought of her as “the Twistem Fairy”. They must've been reminiscent of insects to her felien mind.

She was a very intelligent cat. I collected dolls. Nestle was able to recognize a bag or boxes which contained a new doll and would dash ahead of me up the stairs. I usually opened doll boxes on the bed. She would pace impatiently, chirping at me, and try to climb into the bag the box whatever it was, to

seek out the twistems she knew were there, binding a doll to the box's cardboard backing. As soon as I liberated one small wire, I’d say "Ready??" and toss it. Off she would streak to hunt and kill it. She made me laugh. It was our solitary, joyful ritual.

The years I was in therapy and under the influence of drugs totaled ten in the end. A decade of life washed away as if it had never been. Like Rip van Winkle, I fell asleep. Nestle stood guard.

Among the many nights and bad days, I had episodes of semi-clarity which would culminate in desparate anxiety and an overpowering desire to run away. From home, the therapist, my husband, at one point even as far away as Florida. I suppose in my heart I had some dim understanding that if I got away, I’d have space and time to clear my head.
And throughout one evening of mind-numbing TV, I was embroiled in an argument with my husband. I threatened and not for the only time, to pack Nestle in a carrying crate and leave home.
“How will you take care of Nestle?” he asked me. I told him that I would find us places to stay.
“How will you feed her?” he asked. I told him that I would carry as many cans of catfood in a knapsack on my back as my strength would allow.


“How will you keep her healthy?” I told him that I would get as much of her medication as I could carry now. Just a girl and her cat. Moving, moving.

Usually these arguments went on for hours deep in the night as I jammed on layers of clothes, dragged the cat carrier out of the attic, loaded cans of catfood into a back-pack..and then..the impetus would trail off…I remember one night he said very quietly “You know how fragile she is. If you take Nestle with you out into this winter climate, you know she will not survive.”
And so with great sadness, shoulders slumped hopelessly I succumbed to this real logic. There was never the remotest chance that I would put her in jeopardy. Never. Yet, as I laid in the shimmering insomniac darkness, I visualized myself stumping along the shoulder of the darkened road in cold rain, the carrier banging against my leg, her small face with its secret smile looking forward…it was only a dream of a trapped soul.
I have photographs of Nestle and me from those years. I never would’ve saved them if she wasn’t in the pictures. The woman in them is a swollen,stiff, handicapped mess. Ugly, balding, made into a monster in her own eyes by the professionals who were supposed to be healing her. Yet, and yet, there is that little cat standing on my shoulder, washing my face, or glaring at me

with all the outrage and self-importance a cat can muster, or cheek to cheek with me smiling more broadly than I was able. When I first found these old photos, after Nestle died and I searched every spot I could think of for one more picture, since I knew there would be no new ones ever again… I was stunned to discover in retrospect and with a clear mind, how sick I was. ..and how ever-present she was. In one shot I was wearing a men’s extra large button down shirt, food-smeared face with a somber angry expression and there is Nestle between my breasts her head peeking out and one “arm”, like a baby kangaroo.

to be continued...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Coming Out in 2004: A Memoir

“Coming Out”

When adolescence hit me in earnest with all its hormones in 1968, I began to have crushes on women. I dated several boys..never felt much for them-- okay guys, but my heart was not in it…I’d watch from the sidelines of a church dance or in someone’s arms-- the couples who were so obviously in love and wonder at how that happened.
I continued to have massive crushes on women teachers through out my high school career.
Unfortunately when I was 16, the Spanish teacher I fell in love with decided to seduce me. I was ill-prepared for the emotional and physical things that went with a “safe” authority figure breaching boundaries she shouldn’t have. This is a whole separate issue.
I recovered and went off to college.
My family had always teased me about my crushes..thinking them just a teenage phase I guess. In college I dated a woman. It didn’t go well. She was in love with someone else..I wondered about being a “Lesbian”. I looked it up in “The Joy of Sex,” but found little material to inform or comfort me.
I came from a small town and a small white bread kind of school. Looking back, I am sure there must’ve been others in my class..but who they would be I have no idea. I am also sure that that teacher probably seduced others. She certainly was no resource or role model on how to become a healthy lesbian adult woman. My mother’s response when I finally told my parents years later, was to” hush it up”.

When” The Joy of Lesbian Sex” was published, I was first in line at the local bookstore. I read it ragged.
Had a breakdown like many kids in college do and came home for awhile. Went into therapy to figure it all out. Of course, in discussion my crushes came up and sadly, the therapist chosen by my parents, believed gay relationships were immature and unhealthy and analyzed and dissected me to banish that part of me.

Eventually while attending classes at a local community college, I began dating another woman.
My mother overheard my conversation with my lover late one night on the telephone and screamed at me. I was “Sick and disgusting.” She was going “to tell my father!”
Don’t know if she ever did. He never changed his behavior toward me, supporting me as he always had.
Then another woman. This time I had the sense to keep my mouth shut in therapy. That relationship flamed out as young “loves” with hot pants often do. My neighbors who became my best friends, totally accepted me that way. I told my therapist only after my heart was broken. Same old-same old.

In my late twenties I had to have lung surgery. I fell in love with my male surgeon who was married and 30 years my senior. My father had died the previous year….I did not think much of the age difference or “Freudian” implications of this choice.. He was a kind man. I immediately asked him “Have you dated men?” since he seemed very desirable to me that way, reminiscent of my cousin’s Uncle Tom and his partner…. I told him about my own lesbian experiences. He treated that as nothing out of the ordinary and shared with me that several a young men in his surgical residency program had come out to him over the years. I married him. The “lesbian issue” took a back burner. Life went on.
I am a person who believes when I am in something, to be in it wholeheartedly. I tried the best I knew how to be a good partner and wife. Many bad things happened to us. Health issues on both sides, financial losses..enough to put a huge burden on our small coupledom.
In the end we drifted farther and farther apart. Through the last years, I avidly read any news in the papers on gay rights. When we’d mall walk I’d linger around women I was sure were dykes in Borders..hoping for..I didn’t know what…
We moved from city to rural countryside after he retired. Surrounded on all sides by woods and fields, this tiny hamlet was the last place I would’ve ever thought to come to terms with my sexuality and to come out.
But the neighbor’s 62 year old dyke daughter developed a huge crush on me. Sometimes I think of this as a Higher Power hitting me over the head so I no longer could escape the fact that I am gay. She was, of course, in a relationship and also lived under the belief that nobody knew she was gay. This created all sorts of weirdness. But I thought “Oh well, maybe that is just how it is.”
In any event, she pursued me so thoroughly I could not ignore it. After a Memorial Day weekend of lugging rocks out of the woods for a garden wall and thinking all the while, I told my husband I was in love with her and was going to follow it through.
He was wonderful. He said “I’ll do everything I can to support you.”

She was interested in just a fling and I thought I was in love. After the hurt died down a good friend said to me “You can’t go back to who you were.” No, I could not. Nor did I wish to. She was a key and a door opened. I finally walked through it.. All sorts of memories from my whole life fell into place and made sense to me. I was 51 years old.

I was so lonely! Since I lived in this small rural area the chances to mingle with other lesbians or to meet folks were nil. There was no community. I was starving for it. My friend finally urged me to sign onto Match.com. That day remains in my memory as a lost day—I sat down at the computer after breakfast and “came to” as the January sun was setting at 4 p.m…In between I read and read and read other women’s stories.

Now, I am in love and married to a wonderful woman. It took a year before I was comfortable coming out to my mother about us...that long ago fight haunted me. This time, since she had seen how much happier I was for awhile, my mom wrote a loving note welcoming Erin into our family. It made us both cry. We still have it hanging on the fridge. My whole family loves her. Happiness shouts louder than anybody can ignore it.

I write much lesbian poetry. Some has won contests. I am expecting the publication of my first collection of poetry soon. My partner designed a wonderful website for me where among other things, we market my lesbian and erotic photography. I moderate a poetry group and appear in art shows and at poetry readings. I am openly gay and open with my partner. I figure if a person is not okay with us being us, then they also are not my friend.
I will be 54 on my birthday next month. Took “the long way home”….as the song says.
Doesn’t matter how long that journey was, only that I finally arrived. If my dad were still alive, I can see him ... he’d pull up our driveway in his white Ford truck, back full of tools to help us repair whatever needed it and to teach Erin more of the woodworking and mechanical know-how she craves. Life is good.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Nestle Sleeping

The Story of An Angel

Nestle’s Story: A Memoir:

In autumn of 1992 my cat, Annie, had died a tragic death after a too-short life of only a year and a half. She had become ill with a rare disease, feline infectious peritonitis. After the veterinarian euthanized her, I carried her body home, wrapped in an soft old comforter and buried her under the privet hedge in my garden. Put a simple rock over the grave without any words. I was grief-stricken.

Annie was a Devon Rex. Curly coated, what cat breeders call a “black smoke” variation. Black ear and paw tips, a black masked face with gray body color, and gray tipping the hairs on paws and tail.. During the time Annie lived with me, I became a poetry columnist for the Devon Rex Newsletter, a breed fancier journal. I met breeders of cats from all over the world who loved this comical, unusual-looking kind of cat. By the time I had written much poetry about the cats I lived with, I was invited to attend a large cat show in Philadelphia PA and to give a poetry reading at the dinner after the first day.

A few months later, in March the new copy of the journal arrived in the mail. I sat in my kitchen browsing its pages. There was a column entitled “The Litter Bin” where any breeder who had a female delivered of a new litter of kittens could celebrate the good news with readers. Number, colors, sexes etc.
At the very bottom of the page, on this day was an announcement from Walt and Carol Richards of Universal City Texas. Litter of three—two black smokes, one chocolate smoke female. Born 4/19/93.

“Chocolate smoke female” those words caught my eye as nothing else would’ve, my being an extreme chocolate lover of the edible kind .
With my broken heart over Annie-cat’s loss, I imagined holding a ball of curly fluff in my hand, touching the fur against my face, with lovely chocolate colored ears.
I immediately telephoned Carol. Arrangements were made. As soon as she was old enough this kitten would join a Sphynx kitten I had already adopted from them, and the young cats would fly from far away Texas in a small cat carrier to live with me in New York.
It worked out that the arrival date coincided with my birthday. July 5 of 1993. I had decided before the pick-up-day to name her “Nestle”. Hershey sounded too harsh, Cadbury was out of the question as were Lindt and Tobler. Brownie was silly… I honestly was just so stuck on the whole chocolate idea I came up with nothing more original beyond it.
The weather was quite hot as we drove the 35 minutes to the air-port late in the afternoon that particular day..I had no sense of impending magic or wonder, only anticipation at getting a new kitten.
I was very ill at this time.

I was in psychotherapy. The therapist was not skilled at the type of therapy for my diagnosis. In frustration, after an unsuccessful attempt at having me hospitalized down state she had me on a mishmash of multiple and high doses of strong, dangerous medications for just about every type of psychiatric issue there was.
Consequently, I was numb, drugged, and ill from side effects and adverse reactions, I became completely disabled. I was constantly confused, clumsy, obese, and lost. I forgot who I had been and what it was I enjoyed doing with my days. I became unable to write poetry or do photography which had been my self-identities. I had been publishing and winning prizes off and on since I was a child. No more.
I became frequently suicidal. My medications had to be locked in the safe. I was no longer able to drive a car or do any type of physical exertion-- for example, I had formerly loved bicycle riding—the bikes rusted on the cellar floor now, mysteries to me as I stepped over them in the chaos and mess. I had no idea what they were for.

My garden disappeared under a mass of weeds. My day consisted of 5 pills at 6 a.m. given to me by my husband. This knocked me out awhile but also gave me terrible heart rhythm problems. Mid-morning we’d go to the therapist. Noon found me swallowing another handful of pills choking down lunch against the nausea, then trying to nap with


the pounding heart..getting up before dinner time- usually in deep depression..choking back more nausea to try to eat; watching TV from 6 p.m. till 1:00 a.m. then drifting off into a drugged restless sleep. I was only 35 years old. No one in my life challenged the treatment. That was just the way it was. I was too lost to string two coherent thoughts together and make a stand for myself. I was drowning alive in a sea of chemicals.

We made it to the airport on time and the flight was on time as well. I forget which airline. I had never gotten an animal this way. I was full of anxiety as to how two tiny kittens could survive such an adventure in the dark cargo-hold of a jet. We sat in the passenger debarking area and watched all the passengers climb down the steps and move on to the baggage claim area to retrieve their luggage. Last of all, when I had about given up, a smiling woman in airline uniform walked over to us and asked if we were waiting for the cat carrier. She handed it to me. I held my breath. There were papers to sign. I did not even dare look inside it!

Not until we had paid the parking fee and were heading for the on-ramp for the highway home did I peek. Then, in the cramped truck cab I lifted it awkwardly and whispered “hello” to its inhabitants. I recall I saw one sphynx face and behind him, a gigantic pair of ears in silhouette. I gave up trying to see. I would never have opened it in the car. The chance of a cat being lost under the seats or escaping out the window was simply too much. .
At the house, I scurried inside past the barking dogs, other curious cats and raced upstairs to the bathroom space I had prepared for the new arrivals. It was warm and cozy , away from noises of downstairs. I had a red beanbag chair to sit in and from which to offer a lap.
Litter pan, water, kitten food…I opened the crate and gently pulled out the round soft brown old cat bed Carol had included so they had some place to stay warm and secure during their travels.
It was late. I wanted to get them settled but also to leave them alone to find their bearings and sleep..and try to sleep myself.

The next morning I could hardly wait to go see them after I had eaten my breakfast. The sphynx boy who was named “Monkey” for his love of hanging off the shower curtain like

Tarzan and shinnying up the Venetian blinds, bounced around the room in a blur of motion. I had never had a bald cat. I was fascinated. I was constantly trying to persuade him to hold still so I could touch his warm suede like skin. He was having none of that…I sat in the beanbag chair and called him over and over “Monkey! Monkey!” and past me he’d zoom. In the meantime, Nestle curled like a snail in the shell of the old cat pillow and seemed to smile as she drifted between sleep and wakefulness. She allowed me to pick her up. She was so soft. She was so small. Three pounds I think. Maybe as little as one. She was only 8 weeks old.
Her body was mostly bald as occurs in infant Devons but her ears and tail were tufted with smokey gray hair. She had bright green eyes. She had been afflicted with a skin fungus that was healing ..so between her ears on her forehead were chocolate colored stains..like a birthmark in a human. I posed her on my lap for a photograph.
When I look at that picture today, I see how terrified she was in a new place knowing nothing of what life with this stranger would bring…

Every day I sat in the bean bag chair, frustrated, calling for Monkey to hold still for just one second and let me touch him. Every day while I was preoccupied doing this activity,

Nestle determinedly clawed her way up into my lap, and then up my breasts and under my hair. She would curl around the nape of my neck underneath the hair and go to sleep purring. The third day of this, I finally understood—while I was calling to Monkey, Nestle had chosen me.
The whole concept of being chosen—of having any living thing fall in love with me.. as sick and unattractive and lost as I was stunned me. Why ?
But once the idea connected with my confused mind, I clung to this awareness like it was a life jacket. She was so small!
But she seemed to hold my life in her paws. In the end, she did in the truest sense of the words. I understand today, that back then, I was dying a slow death of poison from the drugs. An angel had been sent in feline form, a form that even though I was sick, I would not fail to respond to. Whoever the Creator was, whatever the plan for me, I was not forsaken in the darkness of this time.