My son wanted a pet. And since a new lizard or puppy or pet squirrel (you read that right) was out of the question, he wanted a cat.
So we went to our local Humane Society and got the only kitten they had at the time. He was found walking lost down the street of a local town. But it didn’t show. He was just perfect. He cuddled up right away. His eyes were soft and friendly. He was one of the family. My son named him Charlie.
It was the best of times.
Who said cats are not social? You can literally hear Charlie purr across the room when one of his humans is holding him. He greets us with a kiss when we get home. He plays fetch with us – we call him our Canine Cat. He comes to us when we call him by name. And he follows my son around the house like, well, a little dog. He brings us all together in a shared mission of joy.
It was the age of wisdom. The epoch of belief. The season of light. The spring of hope.
But when I look into Charlie’s inviting eyes, I remember another kitten, Moses.
We found this frightened little creature under our back porch. We guessed he was abandoned by his mother, but we couldn’t figure out why. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe she was in an urgent hurry to escape danger. But the fear of danger never left little Moses’s eyes.
It was the worst of times.
My daughter who is trained to work with victims of trauma coaxed Moses out of hiding with her patient and gentle ways. There may have been a little food too. She befriended him, but I don’t think Moses ever really trusted her implicitly.
We visited with him daily. We gave him food and water. Once my son brought him a fish he caught in the river. Moses briefly rejoiced over this gift, but he disappeared with it under the porch. We brought him into our sunroom, although he mostly just stared at us from the corner.
He was vigilant. Always. His eyes were scared, untrusting. He was ever on guard. He never purred. He had a wild look about him.
We gave him a little bed in our garage because it was a very cold winter that year. And for all his wildness, he needed no training to use the litter box. He was most polite and civilized in that way. But you could never get him to relax. To cuddle. To purr.
We thought all our love and longings would be enough to domesticate this forsaken feline. It was our shared mission of grief.
But it was the age of foolishness. The epoch of incredulity. The season of darkness. The winter of despair.
And one day, Moses just disappeared. He was last seen creeping out of our garage early in the morning. But he never came back.
When we were adopting Charlie, I told the lady at the Humane Society about our once feral cat. She nodded knowingly and said that some lost cats seem to always carry their ghosts with them.
That’s it exactly. That describes Moses.
Recently my youngest daughter (whom we adopted from a Chinese orphanage) asks, “Why is Charlie so nice?” (She’s comparing him to Moses, I think.) “Did he have a nice mom?” she asks slowly and carefully and hesitantly.
That’s a tough one. Because I’m not sure what’s behind that question.
Because people are a little like cats. They carry their wounds with them. And sometimes those scars make them hard to approach, frightened, skittish even.
And even the nicest mom in the world might not be enough if she doesn’t get to nurture her little one through the earliest months. Even the nicest mom may leave some ghosts to carry in that case.