This piece began solely for me. It was to be a sort of a healing. A short time ago I learned that a good friend, Sid Yiddish, lost his cat. Now this piece feels like something more. That is what community is all about.
Regular readers will recall that we lost a cat recently. We’d adopted a kitten from a small town shelter we’d been contributing to in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We named him Rocco. He was a mutt, but with stunning ochre and umber striping, brilliant onyx eyes and a captivating spirit. He was going to be a big cat, growing into this full, thick tail and oversized paws.
From the start there was something special about Rocco. He was eager, curious, and above all, fearless. And, he was perhaps the most free-spirited and independent cat I’d ever known. Not that he was arrogant about that. Rocco was just very confident and sure of himself, even at so young an age. He was still a kitten, two months old when we brought him home. Rocco, Ana and I became fast friends.
He’d sit comfortably with me in the car at night, driving to pick up Ana from work. In the mornings, without fail, Rocco would crawl under the covers and tuck himself cozily against my leg. And he was my cooking buddy, perching on the corner of the refrigerator, watching curiously as I prepared meals. For that, now and again, he’d benefit from the morsel or two that I’d pass him. Rocco was eternally fascinated by running water, batting at faucets, soaking himself and following bathtub water as it ran away down the drain. His eyes would get so big, and he would dark about with delight and excitement. He was Oliver’s wrestling buddy, the two of them going at it constantly before curling up together on the couch.
But always there was that unstoppable independent streak that ultimately cost Rocco his life. There was no holding him inside the house, which would have been another kind of death for the little scamp. Not that we didn’t try at first, but he would bolt through the patio door at any unguarded opportunity, racing at top speed down the alley towards a busy street, or chasing rabbits and birds on the hillside along the metra train tracks.
The day we lost him, picked up and thrown in front of me by a passing train, ending that spirit instantly, I was filled with 1001 recriminations. As Ana and I cried over his body, (but for the blood at his nose and mouth, he might have been sleeping) and our other cats, Smudge and Oliver perched dutifully beside the small towel where Rocco lay, I cursed myself for not doing something more to protect Rocco from the dangerous world outside. But if I subscribe to autonomy and freedom of spirit in myself, I must recognize and defend it for others as well. Rocco was no different.
Since then I have come to some terms with a realization that there are many kinds of death, the physical one that leads to any real and absolute conclusion, and death of the spirit. It is that death that seems the most terrible. Interwoven in the Rocco we loved, and which instantly made him such a beloved part of this family, and endeared everyone that contacted him, including Buddy, the neighbor’s Golden Retriever-whom Rocco adorned, was his unquenchable spirit and nature. He was free, without boundaries, and I cannot imagine now doing anything to temper that freedom. Would I want Rocco back? I would, but the Rocco that lived life at top speed, swimming in every precious moment. The alternative would be an imprisoned and ultimately a dispirited and broken Rocco.
Climbing trees, coming face to face with a raccoon twice his size, and thinking he could actually take on a hundred and fifty ton train was totally Rocco. Damned if at the end he nearly didn’t beat that train, as the run-in didn’t even break the skin on that tough little cat. No yard or house, or neighborhood, for that matter, was going to hold Rocco. It would have been unfair to him to try and imprison him, and we didn’t want him to fear the outside world either. For Rocco, he needed to learn the world on his own terms. We couldn’t rob him of that right and need. The heartbreak remains. Each Sunday, at that appointed time, when the train passes, I still feel that tug and lament.
And perhaps the greatest legacy to little Rocco, is that his passing helped save two other cats. A short time after his passing we adopted a rescue kitten from PAWS, a no-kill shelter here in Chicago. That created a space for another kitten from a kill-shelter. In that way, something good came from Rocco’s passing. The new kitten, a little black mook, is a very different soul from Rocco.
We named him Jinx. He’s curious of the outside, but is content to remain close to home. He likes to watch me cook, sits on my shoulder but hates water. He walks around the house with this odd little chirp, and purrs like a snoring grandpa. Jinx and Oliver wrestle, and we’ve discovered that Jinx is a bit of a dirty fighter, and can already bring down Oliver in a match.
Smudge and Oliver took to Jinx almost instantly. Smudge was the real concern. We’d rescued her after someone broke her legs, busted out her teeth and dumped her in the garbage. Smudge carries that, and isn’t comfortable, or can tolerate change well, particularly change concerning other cats. Smudge did not enter this world with any comfort or advantage, and lived in an austere shelter, segregated from other kittens due to a respiratory infection. But after Rocco, who incessantly would chase, tackle and pounce on her, even Smudge has turned a corner. Always alone, Smudge now cuddles, and even tries to play with Jinx, in her own awkward way. That is the legacy of little Rocco the cat.
And back to where we started, with Sid and his cat. It’s gonna hurt. It should hurt, and the pain of that loss, of all those we lose never goes away, but it does become tempered by time and perspective. The truth of it all is, when it comes to the heart, loss, well, sucks. For me, the perspective comes down to this: pain is for those who remain behind. Looking for the good from a terribly painful event is not a means of forgetting, but a toe hold that allows us to climb from the depths of despair and carry on towards that next sunrise that will come.
Catch 900poundgorilla’s WC Turck and Brian Murray each Sunday 8-9am only on Our Town with Mike Sanders, at Chicago’s Progressive Talk, WCPT AM and FM, and streaming online. Friend us on Facebook at Revolution and Beer. And if you have a cause to champion, please let us know as we work to become the grassroots support network for Chicago Activists and community organizers.
Catch the beer of the week review with 900poundgorilla’s WC Turck and Brian Murray each Sunday 8-9am only on Our Town, at Chicago’s Progressive Talk, WCPT AM and FM, and streaming online. Friend us on Facebook at Revolution and Beer. And find all of the great beers we review each week at Louis Glunz Beer Inc., http://www.glunzbeers.com