My penance is never-ending • 09.08.14
I am no angel. I branded my sister with a spatula when I was 9 and she was 2. I walked out of a Pizza Hut on campus still holding my gigantic red plastic glass full of Pepsi. I borrowed a book from the bookstore I worked at and never returned it. And quite honestly, these indiscretions don’t exactly keep me up at night.
But when I was 13, and my parents bought their house, I helped my mom dump a cat in a cornfield.
My parents had just bought the house my mom had pined for her entire life, and the house came with a cat. His name was Retty, or Reddy, or Rashidy, I’m still not sure which – an elderly orange half-feral tabby cat who I had known for years. He was Meale’s cat, but Meale no longer owned the house – we did, and she had been sent off to a nursing home, which with her advanced dementia was a much better place for her.
Retty was my only real knowledge of a cat. I’d “owned” cats before – first there was another orange tabby I’d named Casey, and then some time later a white one with a black smudge on her forehead named Snowball – but our landlord didn’t allow cats so my mom found both of them homes with someone she worked with, that “owned a barn”. But Retty I saw in the back yards of Martinsville all the time, lying in the sun, chasing mice, and living a pretty good life for an indoor/outdoor cat.
And then Meale went to the nursing home, and my parents did not want this cat around. So one sunny day, we boxed up Retty, drove down Transit Road, turned down some random road to “farmland”, and all but tossed him out the door of the car.
At the time, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t realize how terrifying this would be to a cat, especially to an older cat like Retty. I didn’t understand how territorial cats are, and that there were certainly cats living where we had just dumped him, and those cats were not likely to just make all nice with him. I just believed what my mom told me, what I’d always been told about cats, that they could take care of themselves.
My 13-year-old self didn’t know how wrong that was.
But now I do. So I do my penance.
Every night they are out there, waiting for me to fill the food dish. When you care for feral cats, have them spayed and neutered, you give them names, and you learn their personalities. Rattail is a talker, chirping at me as I walk toward their shelter. Mackerel, the one we first caught and had spayed, using her 4 week old kittens as bait in the cage, looks a thousand times better than she did when first caught her now that she’s not leaving litters of kittens in our bushes 3 times a year. Sam-I-am is the newest in the colony and likes to think he’s the leader of the pack, lounging in the sun all day long.
And there are some we haven’t seen in a while – little all-black Licorice who was Rattail’s shadow until one day she just stopped coming, the tortie mama cat Sardine with a half-orange face, the impossible-to-catch and hated-by-the-entire-neighborhood tailless Kuro. Such is the way of life in a feral colony – some cats remain for years, and some are gone before the winter snows. Trying to stay detached is darn near impossible – even though they are feral and not 100% dependant on humans, they have made me even more of a cat person than I was before.
It’s a penance I gladly pay, for Retty’s sake.