I Always Wanted an Orange Kitten

What people call serendipity sometimes is just having your eyes open. (Jose Manuel Barroso)

Since college days, my life has been filled with cats. There’s Phoebe, a tortoiseshell cat who napped atop my turntable; StarBaby, a calico who cleaned out the bottom of my yogurt cartons and then lined up the empties in the bathroom; Maggie, a stray I “adopted” from the Boston pizzeria that fed her; Tia Maria, an opinionated, affectionate gray with a “hint of beige”—also mother of Brutus and Jasmine, both brown tigers. And Francesca, a tiny, gray long-haired kitten who was terrified of most everything, but loved Brutus and followed him everywhere.

Most of these cats had been rescued from one kind of immediate-need situation or other. I didn’t set out to choose them. More like our paths crossed serendipitously and I’m a big KITTEN Tia CROPsucker. But when Brutus died at age 17 and Frankie followed four months later, I found myself catless for the first time in 27 years. After the worst of the grief subsided, I knew what I wanted. I wanted an orange kitten. I had always loved that color (too many “Morris the Cat” ads, perhaps), and now I could take myself down to the local animal rescue shelter and pick one out.

Most of the cats at the shelter were, like me, no longer kids. One heartbreaking duo, ages 12 and 14, had belonged to a woman in her nineties who had recently died. I considered them because, obviously, like all aging orphans, they were not going to be most people’s first picks. But then I thought maybe they weren’t really up for life in a house with two teenagers (mine).

“If you’re interested in a kitten, we have four brothers here, eight weeks old,” the shelter attendant said.

And there they were, four little kitties romping about a boxy cage, tumbling over one other, each more heartbreakingly cute than the other. And none of them orange. Not even close. Not even a speck. KITTEN CROP tibby and coosh babies

You know how this story goes. I chose a little gray guy, white-tipped tail, both spunky and sweet. I named him Mercutio on the spot.

Recognizing a pushover when she saw one, the attendant added, “It’s two-for-one month.”

Well, I had my daughter Lauren in tow, and between the two of them there was no way I was leaving that shelter with only one cat. I picked out a frisky black-and-white dude and christened him Tybalt.

So, no orange kitty. And yet, here I am 14 years later with gray Mercutio (Coosh) and black-and-white Tybalt (Tibby), and I know when they leave this world, as all things must, I will feel the kind of pain that just about does you in. Tibby is playful and good-hearted and would let you rub his belly forever. Coosh cuddles up on the bed beside me as I read each night to the strains of Mozart (he’s a big fan).

Two things here strike me: 1) It is in our nature to want particular things, to have definite plans, to map out pathways, goals, and 2) It is in the nature of life to divert most of these desires and plans.

The question is: How do we handle these detours and diversions?

When the Bottom Drops Out

Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes. (Hugh Prather)

Okay, it’s pretty easy to punt one’s desire for an orange kitten. But how do we deal with it when we love what we’re doing, and then the bottom drops out. The company closes. The funding evaporates. Our plans go up in smoke.

When my kids moved into the later elementary years, I enrolled in a competitive M.Ed. program at a local university. They only took ten candidates, so I spent the year prior to application substitute teaching and taking undergraduate courses like math for teachers. I was one of 50 applicant finalists interviewed, and I got in. But that was just the beginning. The program was a one-year intensive, and I do mean intensive. I did my practicum in the second semester while carrying a full load of classes and cooking/cleaning/ferrying my two kids to appointments, lessons, and friends. I did my coursework in the wee hours of the morning. I dreamed of sleep.

But then I got hired and taught six-year-olds for several years. First grade—teachers either love it or loathe it. I loved it. Those little guys are my chosen people. Whether we were immersing ourselves to the elbows in papier maché to make tectonic plates that became mountains when shoved together, or compiling lists of words where oa makes the long o sound: coat, goat, boat, float—we were into it. We grooved on observing and recording the life cycle of frogs. Bring a tank of tadpoles into first grade and you’ve got instant joy. Yes, we were happy campers.

And then the Iraq war happened and with it, deep budget cuts in federal aid to public schools. With only two years in the classroom, I was a prime target for staff reduction. This was a serious bummer. I loved teaching. After two years, I felt I was really hitting my stride. KITTEN No-Jobs-300x300

So, what to do? Schools across the state were cutting staff. Getting another teaching job looked about as likely as a lottery win. The director of my M.Ed. program hired me to supervise student teachers in their practicum. I liked the work, but it was part-time for spring semesters only.

In the meantime, my daughter had graduated to studying with a new violin teacher, a faculty member of the music department at yet another local college (we’ve got tons of them) and an international recording artist. As we chatted at the first lesson, it somehow came up that he had come to England from Germany in 1939. Alone. Carrying nothing but his violin and several of his father’s paintings. An 11-year-old kid fleeing the Nazis. My heart turned over. I had to write his story.

I had done a cover feature for the local paper’s weekend magazine several years before, so I called the editor and she was enthusiastic. Over the fall of that year, I interviewed Philipp about his Jewish family’s life under the Nazis, his year as a refugee “orphan” attending a boarding school in the Midlands, and his family’s subsequent reunification in America. The feature ran just days before my M.Ed. director called to ask if I would be supervising the new interns for the upcoming semester.

KITTEN jewish refugee children arriving in LondonTwo roads diverged … in the nanoseconds before I replied, I thought I could make my life writing. I had earned a living from writing before as editor and main content contributor for a monthly business publication. I had completed two novels and was writing a third.

“I’ve decided to try my hand at freelance writing,” I said.

And that was what I did, pitching pieces and writing for magazines. It was the best career “move” I ever made.

 When New Facts Contradict Old Beliefs

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. (Stephen Hawking)

In the early ‘70s when the Watergate storm was reaching a full-blown tempest, the deeply conservative representative from my Michigan district made national headlines with these words: Don’t confuse me with the facts.

Sometimes, when we’ve invested a lot—years, dollars, hope, energy—we’re tempted to don blinders and ear plugs against anything that threatens our status quo and calls for a rethink. KITTEN Darwin 640px-Voyage_of_the_Beagle

Charles Darwin was a creationist when he first visited the Galapagos Islands as part of the HMS Beagle expedition to chart the coastline of South America. In fact, his father had sent him to Christ’s College, Cambridge to earn a B.A., as the first step to becoming an Anglican parson.

As a creationist, Darwin believed the particular adaptations of many species were simply proofs of divine design—that each species had been created for its special place in nature. Fixed. Immutable. What he observed in the Galapagos challenged everything he thought he knew.

Faced with a conundrum—sweep under the proverbial rug all questions raised by the variations he’d seen among tortoises and mockingbirds in the Galapagos OR investigate—he investigated. His Journal of Researches suggests it was a slow investigation, and likely painful letting go of old notions, but he could not turn away from the search for what is—for truth. Twenty years of conversations with zoologists and ornithologists KITTEN Charles Darwin the love of all livingfollowed that visit to the Galapagos. Two decades of exhaustive research. When at last he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859, Darwin was a true believer in evolution.

 

Frank J. Sulloway wonders aloud, in his article for Smithsonian Magazine, why Darwin was the only person to embrace evolution out of all those exposed to the evidence in the Galapagos. “In the end,” Sulloway writes, “it is perhaps a question of courageous willingness to consider new and unconventional ways of thinking.”

When you Least Expect it: Recognizing the Gift in the Moment Before You

We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance. (Harrison Ford)

In the summer after my junior year of college, I did a semester in London, studying Shakespeare and contemporary British theatre and poetry. I saw 27 plays in six weeks. I lived in a dorm on the edge of Regent’s Park. I reveled in the British Museum, the Tate and National Galleries, the Victoria and Albert, and Kew Gardens. I browsed the wealth of Charing Cross bookshops and enjoyed the camaraderie of the pubs, the remarkable kindness and generosity of the British people. In short, I fell in love with the city. London became and has remained the home of my heart. At the end of that summer, I hated to leave but I had two terms left to finish my degree. I vowed I would someday return for good. KITTEN pub 20131212yeoldewatling

Fast forward to 2007. Knowing that my marriage would bite the dust when my youngest finished high school, I was combing real estate ads for flats in the greater London area. I was going to make the move. Realize my long-cherished dream. Nothing would stop me.

And then, on a Friday afternoon in July, Ed happened. To riff on Casablanca: Of all the coffee shops, in all the towns, in all the world, he walked into mine. That day, as he was leaving, he tapped me on the shoulder and wished me a good weekend. I vaguely recognized him—one of the regulars who was often there when I arrived mid-morning to work on one freelance assignment or another.

Over the next two months, Ed and I started talking. I began arriving earlier. He stayed later. We ran the conversational gamut from silly to serious with total ease, even in our silences. We shared many passions. Travel, books, baseball, progressive politics, cooking, dancing, a fascination with language generally and word play specifically. A love of laughter. We were both freelance writers and editors. He was reading a book on Bletchley Park in World War II. I was writing a book centered on Bletchley Park in World War II. We began going out to lunch and taking long walks together. In between, we e-mailed constantly.

KITTEN Making choices 2 599d83c81900002600dd4ff7The time for filing my divorce was rapidly approaching. With it, the need to start putting things in place to make London happen. From the viewpoint of my plans, it was a most inconvenient time to fall in love, But fall I did. Over my head. Out of my mind. Passionately, joyfully, crazy in love.

London aside, the relationship was not without risks (is there ever a seismic move in life without risks?). Ed was on a transplant list at the time, waiting for a new liver to replace his rapidly failing one. Would a donor liver be available in time to save him? Was I giving up my London dream for a situation that might quickly devolve into a nightmare of hospitals and end in tragedy?

I remember standing in my driveway on a warm September night, summoning all the reasons that following my heart might be foolish. But I kept coming back to the simple truth: I loved him. And then I thought the only true foolishness would be to give up a man who was perfect for me in every way. Who made my heart sing. The liver situation KITTEN 129 Amy & Ed on Sidewalkwas a gamble, yes, but everything in life is a roll of the dice. A seemingly perfectly healthy person can suddenly drop dead of a heart attack or a ruptured aneurysm. There are no guarantees. But I knew what I had in that moment. I had Ed and he was the love of my life. Eleven years on, and one successful liver transplant later, he still is.

And now, we visit London annually. He has become quite a fan.

Carpe Diem

At one point or another in my life, I’ve wanted to master the hula hoop, be one of the popular kids, have string-straight hair like Mod Squad’s Peggy Lipton, and move to the desert. None of these things happened, thank god, because as it turns out the hula hoop “died”, there’s far more freedom outside the clique, I’ve come to love my wild curls, and I need lots of green in my environment.

We don’t always wind up at the place we started out for. The road curves. Circumstances change. New facts emerge. Unexpected opportunities erupt.

Yes, we don’t always get what we want, but that’s not the end of the world. Sometimes it’s just the beginning.

 

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23 thoughts on “I Always Wanted an Orange Kitten

  1. Great blog! I love cats, too, and I did have an orange one. We named him Lestat because I got him in 1995, when Interview with the Vampire was so popular. His brother was black and grey, and we named him Armand. LOL As far as getting what we want, I’ve learned that not getting I want sometimes turns out to be a good thing!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kyrian, for stopping by and sharing about your kitties, Lestat and Armand. As I said, I’m a big sucker for animals. I’m still fuming over Paul Manafort’s ostrich coat–GRRRR!

      As for not getting things we want turning out to be a good thing, I personally can offer no better example to support that than the one I cited here: Wanting to move to London, but finding Ed instead. Best turn of events in my life.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was brilliant Amy. I started reading it for that orange cat and by the time I finished I was crying because this piece is about so much more. And what a perfect way to end… with Bowe singing “changes”. I can relate in so many ways. And like Mick Jagger says, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you find you get what you need. “

    Life is certainly filled with twists and turns. I never found my Ed, two divorces later however, I did find myself. Which is a great gift. To finally discover that I’m more than I expected, and that being considered weird or kooky is something I am finally comfortable with. Yes, I can now embrace dancing to my own drummer and not hiding my creativity any more. That is indeed a beautiful thing. Sure my kids still think Mom is a ball of unexpected energy, but that’s ok. I’ve informed them they better get used to my eccentricity because it will only get worse as I age! Lol

    Amy, your mastery of writing is inspiring, and your story telling quite flawless. This particular blog let me in to know you even better and I thank you for the privilege.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well you made my day, Lesley. Thanks for all the kind words. As for finding yourself, I’d rate that a four-star deal. Remember, one person’s weird and kooky is another person’s free and wonderful. And your kids are no doubt, perhaps secretly, hoping they turn out to be as cool as you. I always feel a little sad when I see people in midlife (or later) still desperately trying to “fit in.” It’s like being sentenced to junior high forever. Ugh. So wear that eccentricity proudly, girl. You’ve earned it.

      Like

      1. Haha! Yes, isn’t it sad that some people are still trying to fit in? Hard to imagine. Ya know, That actually could be a blog topic. I think, I probably always knew who I was. I was just distracted by so many life events taking me away from focusing on myself. Until now. (Something we women often do.) I don’t know about you, but I get the feeling that you’ve always had a true sense of self too. Funny how society views people in the creative arts field as eccentric. But, since they do, I’ll take your advice and wear my wonderful weirdness proudly. Keep on writing! 👍😻 you always make me think.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I prioritized my to-do list, checked my email, and suddenly your new post moved to the top of my list! I love your writing style! You have a gift for combining interesting imagery, welcome humor, perfect quotes, and wonderful messages. Serendipity is a favorite concept of mine, as well as unexpected detours. Thanks also for sharing more of your life story, Amy! I’m fortunate to consider you a friend and I hope we meet in person someday. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cindy, for stopping by and for your kind words. “Unexpected detours”–I like that phrase. Venice is one of my favorite cities. It has no street signs. I always tell people “Let yourself get lost in Venice.” It’s the not knowing what’s around the next corner that makes the journey so interesting–in Venice or in life.

      I share your hope that one day we’ll find ourselves in the same geographic space. That would/will be fun.

      Like

  4. I don’t remember how I came across your blog, but I’m very glad I did. Your stories, such as this latest, are superb reading.

    And by the way: on one of my stories you commented that Goodbye Christopher Robin is a real good movie. Because of that, my wife and I watched it a few nights ago. We liked it a lot. Thanks.

    Till next time —
    Neil

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Neil, I’m glad our pens have crossed paths, too. Writers are wonderful folks, aren’t they? Glad you and Sandy enjoyed the film. Ed tells me RBG will be out at the end of this month and then we’ll (finally!) watch it. Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read and comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Each cat that has adopted me has been different from the plan I had before I met that cat, and every one has been wonderful. “Orange cat” is going to be my new phrase to remind me to let go of previous ideas of what I want or need. Fabulous photo of the two of you.
    Elaine

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment, Elaine. Always appreciated. I like that I’ve (unwittingly) coined a phrase “Orange Cat” for having the good sense to let old notions go and embracing the unexpected. Because it’s all unexpected. I mean, seriously, who knew?😄

      Like

  6. Wow Amy – nice pice of writing! Three (at least!) big stories explaining how you ended up where you ended up. We all have them, but you have the ability to weave these words like a tapestry. Thank you for the investment of time and heart you made in creating this.

    Liked by 1 person

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