It was 2003 when you sauntered into the front yard of my first house. The house I bought as a young, single woman. You strolled up in mid February at that little single story on Kilmer Lane. You were skinny and scraggly and begging loudly for food. You were obnoxious and I did not need a pet. More importantly, I did not want a pet. Most importantly, you were very much a cat.
And I very much hated darn cats.
Harsh? Probably. But as a girl, the only cats I knew were quick to swipe at ankles. They seemed aloof and soulless, content to sit on the back of a couch licking their fur all day. Only to hack it up in the form of a ball on the carpet. More over, I was a dog person and as stated earlier, I did NOT want a pet. Not even a dog….and definitely not a cat.
I was 24 years old with zero responsibilities outside of work and I didn’t want to care for another living thing. But you wouldn’t leave. I blame your Aunt Katie who lured you to the porch with the smell of her Oreos and chicken nachos. Likely not the best food for felines but you did not object. Nor did you leave. You’d appear from underneath the daylilies as I got into my car each morning, causing me to run, fearing you’d swipe at my ankles.
As the week went on I did all I could to get you to move on. Hoping you’d wander off to find some old lady who liked cats. Or some young lady. Or some man. I didn’t really care…..I just needed you gone. But you would not leave.
I was in the processing of selling my home to move south to be nearer to this guy I’d been dating who seemed to be an okay cat. (See what I did there with the feline humor, Kilmer? I thought you’d appreciate that.) Well, as we neared the closing on the property, I let the new homeowner know you were around and wouldn’t leave, but that you also seemed to be an ‘okay cat.’ His response, “You’d better take him with you because I won’t feed him and I’d hate to watch him starve to death.”
I didn’t like cats but I sure didn’t have the heart to leave you with Heartless Harry and let you die. (Little did I know you were a purveyor of neighborhoods and likely would’ve been fine.) In the week that followed, I purchased a cat carrier and made calls to find you an appropriate home near Evansville. Surely there were people in Southern Indiana who would like a cat. Even one that ate chicken nachos and was starting to prove he had quite a dog-like personality. You came when called and allowed for lots of scratching behind the ears. You were still skinny and had some weird eye thing going on but you were growing on us. Even the guy I liked, the one who also detested cats, agreed to help me get you back to our hometown.
Actually, the agreement was that if we returned to the Kilmer house the following weekend and you were still hanging around, then and only then would he agree to drive you home. When we arrived you were gone. The guy, who assured me you’d be gone, chuckled knowingly…..until we heard your crackly meow from under the daylilies.
So, Matt drove 3 1/2 hours with you in the front seat of his truck. Amazing what young love will do.
When you got home, we figured a vet visit was in order. We were young and clueless but we were certain this must be what responsible people did. So we called our family vet. Our initial ‘cat home’ lead dried up and we were stuck with you for a few more weeks. Just until we could find you a new home, we told ourselves. Because we didn’t like cats.
So, we took you to the vet where it was discovered you had some weird eyelid issue that resulted in a rather costly surgery. Lucky us. Proud new TEMPORARY owners of a stray with bad eyes. We began to call you the ‘Joan Rivers of the Cat World’ as your eye surgery and potions cost us a small fortune. But we were prepping you for whoever would be your new owners. Again, we were doing the responsible thing.
As time dragged on we realized you were cute and much sweeter than our idea of a ‘normal’ cat. Your grandmother Pam would administer drops in your eyes and snuggle you until you were healthy again. She always held a special place in your heart. Years later, when we were neighbors with her, you’d show up on her doorstep meowing for a scratch. Or meowing loudly from the porch begging to have a sticky mousetrap removed from your back. Or meowing REALLY loudly for freedom from the crawl space where you’d gotten yourself trapped.
Over the years, you would remain a roamer. The cat who wouldn’t leave now wouldn’t stay. You’d disappear for days at a time, returning to eat and fill your quickly growing body. The lean stray cat was long gone and in its place- Garfield. We often wondered where you came from and pondered whether we had accidentally stolen you from another home. However, remembering how skinny you were and how neglected your poor eyes had been reminded us you weren’t well cared for.
As did your man parts.
I am sorry to address something so personal, buddy, but I grew up believing some asinine information I’d heard as a young girl. Someone told me that you couldn’t tell female and male cats apart and I believed them. I didn’t have a cat. My friends didn’t have cats. So how was I to ever debunk this info?! Well……after the tenth person commented on your parts, I realized I’d been given misinformation. And that people are much more inclined to discuss cat manhood than I ever knew possible. The vet even marveled at your…..err………magnitude. He suggested a quick surgery that assured there wouldn’t be little Kilmers populating the neighborhood.
You eventually forgave us.
Your Pop tells a story about going to the recycling center one Saturday morning just after you’d shown up in Newburgh. (I was back home living with your grandparents while waiting to get married to that guy.) Pop opened the trunk to unload his trash and out you popped, heading for the hills. He retells the story and says, “Well, that’s the last we’ll see of that cat.” He finished unloading and decided to call your name, the one we’d given you just weeks before. Calling out, “Kilmer” he noticed you come running and jump into the front seat.
Smart darn cat.
The guy and I got married and moved into a home where you became the mayor of the neighborhood. We’d go for walks and you’d walk with us. We weren’t aware that cats went for long walks. But you were no ordinary cat. As the years went by, there were several times we’d be on the porch or out for a stroll and someone would say, “Oh, you must be Kilmer’s owners.” They’d share how you had wiggled your way into their house, eaten their food and then you would mosey on to the next neighbor. We were often embarrassed by your status as a mooch but unsure how exactly to reign in an outdoor cat. You had no desire to be indoors and we had no desire to declaw you. So, as the years and years and years went by, we allowed you to roam. And make friends.
You got tubby. You ate and ate and ate. We took you back to the vet who suggested special food for fat cats. We had no children and therefore still had two dimes to rub together so we bit. And bought. We carefully measured out your food, allowing only the limited amount suggested by the vet. But you didn’t shed a pound. In fact, you might have gotten chunkier. It wasn’t until many weeks later when another neighbor commented on your frequent visits to their house to clean out their cat’s food dish.
Darn fat cat.
Our dear friend and neighbor Mary Jane showed up one day to say that when she had awakened that morning, her cats were on her feet and she wondered when one of them had gotten so fat. Grabbing her eyeglasses, she realized it was you who had slept on the end of her bed all night.
One of our neighbors further up the street had a young daughter who would give you baths. You’d show up after missing for a few days with beautiful, shiny fur. Looking more plump than usual. As usual.
We eventually brought Eddie, your wild yellow lab brother from another mother, home to invade your space. Oddly, you two got along fairly well for two species known for hating each other. We tried a few times over the years to get you to stay indoors but Eddie’s presence insured you wouldn’t stay inside for more than five minutes.
When the first two babies in our home were old enough to become scared of the dark, we convinced them you were “Kilmer, the Super Cat.” Your dad assured them that you kept watch over the house at night, while Eddie monitored the situation during the day. It worked like a charm and brought everyone a chuckle and some peace of mind to see you walking through the dark front yard.
After you had been with us for ten years, we moved to a new neighborhood. We took you over several days in a row while we were unpacking, hoping to get you comfortable with the area. However, after we had officially moved in, you disappeared for such a long time that we feared you had lost your way home. We spread the word and notified neighbors. We worried you’d adopted a new family. Then one morning we heard the familiar crackly meow. Kilmer was back.
We pondered your age. The vet estimated you were five years old when you showed up on my porch on Kilmer Lane. That made you somewhere near 19 years old. So. Old. Buddy. Yet you were still good for a ‘splayed out on your back’ nap in the front yard. Or a climb up the first few feet of the tree trunk when you were feeling rowdy.
Your eyes always looked rather droopy and we know neighbors who didn’t know of your ‘Joan Rivers’ status probably thought we were neglectful owners. One new neighbor took you to her vet because she was concerned about your eyes. The other neighbors gently broke it to her that you not only had a home but loving owners who had fairly extensive work done on your eyes. Your owners just didn’t know how to keep you around the house short of locking you in. Which is maybe what you’re supposed to do with a cat but it seemed rather cruel. Even to people who didn’t like catsOr so they said.) We just didn’t know any better so we let you roam. And make friends.
We still laugh about the time years ago when the long lanyard that held our house keys was accidentally dropped and hooked onto your collar. The noise startled you and the continued clanking of keys hooked on your neck sent you running in circles. You looked like you need a box of Valium to settle your frazzled nerves. If you only knew of the four young hyenas that would eventually invade your space.
They did adore you, those offspring of two people who ‘didn’t like cats.’ You got more than your fair share of tummy rubs and ear scratches. Not to mention the constant feedings from four kids who were confident you were ALWAYS hungry. No wonder your belly nearly hit the ground when you walked.
You came and went as you pleased, most recently taking up residence with our new neighbors one street over. Three sweet children to dote on you and two kind parents who made it known that you weren’t an imposition or nuisance but a friendly old cat. They enjoyed you hanging out on and under their deck and we let them know that when the food dried up you’d return to your old house. More plump than usual.
But, Kilmer, you didn’t return this time. Shillawna, our gracious neighbor with the three kids called while we were on vacation to say you had not been seen by a passing car. We made arrangements for Grandma to get you to the vet. Shillawna, bless her heart, went with you. Our desire to let you roam ultimately hurt you and has broken our Kilmer-loving hearts.
The kids took the news with varying emotions. The older two were heartbroken and quiet. Louise, misunderstanding me through my sobbing and stuffy nose, asked “Who’s Kilber?” Thaddeus just systematically asks if we can take you to the doctor. Your old man and I are sad. Sad that we weren’t here when you needed us. Sad that time passes so fast. Sad that you’re gone.
But so happy we decided to transplant you from Indianapolis to Newburgh in an attempt to give you a good home. We just didn’t think it would be ours. But we sure hope you found it to be good.
We appreciate you letting us work out our nurturing kinks on you. Thanks for being our first pseudo kid and for forgiving us for accidentally shutting the garage door on your tail.
Tonight we wrapped you in a blanket with the setting sun as a backdrop. We all told stories about your cat adventures. We placed you beneath our favorite shade tree.
And we cried. Over a darn cat.