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...