Whoever said "The world is a hard place for wee things" knew what she was talking about.
When well-meaning humans approached him, he bolted and found an opening in the leaky base of a Pollo Tropical and hunkered down in some dark cavity there.
After firemen arrived to hack his sick, terrified, starving self out of the wall, they took him to a bank next door where my large-hearted spouse Mindy saw him and brought him home, even though we already had two cats and weren't looking for another. He was burning up with a fever, panting, his head wobbling, so we raced him to a vet who recommended we put him down (i.e., kill him) and go find ourselves one of the thousands of healthy kittens looking for a home. (We no longer use that vet.)
Instead, we took the kitten home, christened him Paulie Walnuts, and he showed his first stubborn streak by refusing to die. Medical science told us there was no way to save him, but he raged, raged against the dying of the light. He wasn't ready yet. Plus, he was pissed off. Who can blame him?
|Beloved Paulie Walnuts|
Sure, Paulie Walnuts won us over, but not with his good looks. He was bony and bow-legged and his ears looked like the Gremlins from the 1984 film of the same name. Even when he became healthy, he was just a plain old black cat with clichéd white paws, and some white tufts sticking out of his ears. Nothing to evoke an “awww” from a teen-aged girl.
Okay, it was kind of sweet watching him first use a litter-floored shoe box. The little fart would not stop moving litter. He seemed annoyed when he either saw or smelled that his work wasn't done yet. It was like shoveling snow in a blizzard because dadgummit there was always more where that came from.
Finally, he was just too tuckered to go on, so while Mindy and I wiped away freakin tears of laughter, he clamored over the short wall of the box and stood on thin wobbly legs, his over-sized head still bobbling as he tried to get his bearings.
He quickly rallied. In just a couple of days, we learned the Paulie Walnuts philosophy of life: “When you’re tired, sleep. When you wake up, play as hard as you possibly can, without taking any breaks or slowing down, until you’re so exhausted you can’t go any longer. Then go back to sleep. When you feel like it, get up and do it again.”
Paulie Walnuts the kitten gave tangible meaning to such clichés as “bat outta hell” and “balls against the wall." He would run as fast as he could until he ran out of floor, then either continue straight up the wall or go into a long slide, turn hard on a skidding u-ey, and then just bust ass racing back the other way toward . . . nothing. Completely without a goal or destination! He did it all with a vengeance, as if he were venting some long dormant rage! Until he couldn’t do it anymore!
He quickly figured out the pet door into the garage: He’d run at it at full speed, just daring the damn thing not to open for him when he got there. BAM! He shot out of the opening like a greyhound out of a chute, disappearing into the garage for a few seconds before crashing back into our presence.
Another part of his workout sent him racing across the piano keys, producing a jarring postmodern mini-symphony which just pissed him off even more – and it didn’t exactly leave us jumping for joy when he made this music at 3:15 a.m. (Yes, we should've closed the lid.)
|Paulie Walnuts: Fearless from the start. Viedo not impressed.|
His ears would go back threateningly as he kneaded dough on my belly, and they stayed that way as he maneuvered himself, circling, lying down, getting back up -- all of this with feverish intensity -- until finally his high comfort needs were met. Occasionally he’d glare up at me with his beautiful but threatening copper eyes: “Hey jackass, please don’t do a damn thing to help!”
When I crawled into bed at night, though, he would become a scrawny little vulnerable kitten, just days after cheating death, and would pad tentatively, almost apologetically, up to my pillow and after a few brief cat rituals collapse or just flop into the curve of my neck and purr himself into oblivion.
One day after work, I fell asleep on the patio, and Paulie Walnuts nudged open the screen door and bolted to God knows where. He was not even full grown.
I went out and started calling for him, checking under all the azaleas in the backyard and all around the fence line. He wasn’t in any of those places.
That day I came to understand that there are varying degrees of absence, of not being someplace, and Paulie Walnuts was on the far end of not being. Not only was he not in the yard, he was completely, absolutely not in the yard. He was not there beyond belief, which is why I kept going back and looking under the same azaleas as if I thought he was just gonna pop up out of the dirt or something.
I went back around the fence line, then back to the azaleas again. I climbed the fence and fought my way through ridiculously thick brush, calling his name. Darkness fell, literally and figuratively.
What the hell was his hurry to leave us after all we’d done for him?
I wanted to watch this fevered, shivering, wobbly little wretch grow up and live a long, long time, well into his happy retirement where he would just lie around on his fat ass every day on the warm carpet beneath the skylight, half-listening to a DVR'd basketball game as he nodded in and out of sleep.
I wanted to see him grow up to be a dignified, regal cat that perhaps I wouldn’t love quite so much.