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.