For as far back as I can remember, I wanted a kitten. Farther back than that, I remember that my father hated cats. My father was a Vietnam Vet and a raging alcoholic. He did not mince words. He once told me what he wanted to do to all cats. It was clear to me that it was best that we did not get a cat so long as he was around.
I think I let the news of my parents' split rest for about 45 minutes before I started in about how now we could get a cat. Finally, the only thing stopping us was gone and I wanted a kitten. I'm sure I did the requisite whining and promising to care for it and clean up after it and, wait, what else do cats need?
One afternoon, my mother surprised me with a kitten. A neighbor had found a stray near her job but couldn't keep it. We got the litter box, cat food and some toys. We learned the hard way that we needed a scratching post. I named him Pumpernickel. He was gray with a white patch, so his name made little sense. I thought it was a cute name, I wasn't going for grain accuracy here. I took care of the cat, all by myself, just as I had promised, for one entire day.
I used to put him on a leash and let him roam around the back yard attached to the clothes line. I didn't want him to get away or anything. When he wasn't outside, he would sit in the kitchen window, seeming to long for escape. In his attempts to leave us, he would climb up the screen and get stuck in between it and the window. We'd have to pry the screen out, carry him back inside and then help him get his claws out of the mesh. It was far too long before we decided to start blocking the window so he couldn't get up there in the first place.
Pumpernickel was the meanest cat ever. He scratched and bit every chance he got. I tried to love on him and play with him, but he was 100% uninterested in human companionship. If I made him angry, it was simply in my efforts to win his affection. One Christmas morning, as my brother stood at the stove flipping bacon, Pumpernickel casually walked by, leaped into the air and bit the back of his upper thigh. We don't know why, it was completely unprovoked. If I hadn't watched it happen, I would never have believed that nothing had caused his attack.
One afternoon, just before my 12th birthday, he unleashed his fury on me. He was looking out the window in the kitchen and he looked so sweet. I went over, he looked at me and then went back to surveying our land. I put my arms around him and hugged him gently. Then I noticed that what he had his gaze fixed on was another cat who had wandered into the yard. He was not looking out the window pensively, he was giving the look of death to the intruder. I guess I must have scared him because he bit me in a way that I had no idea cats were capable of.
The next moment went so slowly. As I turned around to run, Pumpernickel was still attached. His front paws were wrapped around the wrist of my right arm. Even as I held my arm up at shoulder level, he kept his face buried into my forearm with his back legs kicking like a bunny. I managed to loosen his front-paw grip with my left hand and push him off of me. He stood there, on the kitchen floor, hissing at me, blood on his mouth. I grabbed a kitchen towel and fashioned a makeshift tourniquet, but not before I looked down and saw the inner workings of my arm. There was blood all over the floor, my shirt and now the towel. For the first time, I realized I was screaming at the top of my lungs.
It was then that my mother emerged from the basement where she had been doing laundry.
"Pumpernickel bit me!" I shrieked.
My mother, calm and seemingly oblivious to the blood everywhere replied, "Oh. It sounded like you were being murdered up here. That's why I didn't come up right away." To this day, I have no idea if she was kidding or not.
She looked over the wound and was angry that it was going to need stitches, which cost money we didn't have. We went to the urgent care center and I received 2 stitches to partially close the gaping hole. I was told it had to be left open so as to prevent infection and this was standard practice for animal bites. They cleaned out the Freddy Krueger style lacerations across the underside of my upper arm and across the palm of my left hand where I had peeled Pumpernickel's claws from me. I was told how lucky I was that we knew the offending animal and I didn't need rabies shots in the stomach. Yes, I felt lucky indeed.
Years went by and Pumpernickel had become even more antisocial. He never attacked again, but no one would get close enough to give him the chance. We thought he might be sick. He didn't do anything but sleep. There was some talk that maybe he needed to go to the vet. There was talk that it may be a one way trip for our feline friend.
It was a Friday night and my now-husband and I went out on a date to catch a quick movie. We returned to my house to find my mother, in her usual position on the couch, crying.
"Pumpernickel is dead," she sobbed. I looked around because, due to her disease, she was pretty immobile and if there was something dead lying around chances were I was going to have to clean it up.
"What? What happened? Where is he?" I was completely confused.
"I heard his ball with the bell in it jingling and I looked over and he was having a seizure. He's dead." She was gesturing towards the dining room.
Kris and I turned, there was no cat. Then, with the same calm manner as the night the cat went crazy she said, "Grandpa came over and buried him." There was a pause. "Oh, did you hear Nixon died?"
Kris and I were talking the other day, many years later now, about just how odd it was that in the span of less than 3 hours the cat died and was buried. We've talked about that night many times over the years, imitating my mother's voice, imagining my grandfather coming over in a huff to tend to the chore with his "get it done" attitude. I have never understood how my mother could transition to crying about the cat, whom we were all a bit afraid of, to asking us about current events.
I realized that I didn't remember when exactly this all transpired. The good thing about your cat dying on the same night as a former president is that if you ever forget the date, you can just Google it. I grabbed the laptop and searched "Nixon death."
April 22, 1994. Exactly 16 years to the day before my mother died. Now if that is not the weirdest of coincidences, I do not know what is.
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