Even after all of these years I believe it was Rupert who swaggered in and saved me. A cat as ordinary as any other who shifted the balance of scales swayed so massively wrong.
With his simple need of me, a fluffy tail, and his silly tiny meow he walked into my life and changed me. He spoke to me in the daintiest of meows, surprising in relation to such a massive body, 18 lbs of purring mass in all.
Those yellow eyes of his glowing with good humor and wisdom combined, fixed on me. Eyes that locked on mine, and even when blind with great age, refused to let go. A cat that followed me even when I had nowhere left to go. It was he that changed the fates. For the love of a cat I rose up to save him in a way that I could not save myself. A cat wandering probably as lost as me, or was he? Sometimes I wonder. Was he?
I was almost 16 and wandering lost somewhere in the South Bay area of San Diego. I had left in his socks. The man I was living with. They were wet and stretched out soggily beyond my toes. Each step I took made a wet sucking sound as the soaked fabric slapped down and lost contact with the pavement again.
The sound was always followed by the wet smack of the other foot touching down. 20 years later I can still hear the sound so clearly. Wet socks echoing on pavement will always trigger the memory as the sound of my despair. It was cold and gloomy outside. And rapidly becoming dark. And I had long since learned that girls did not do well after dark in this neighborhood.
Without much thought I tucked my long hair into the back of my shirt, squared my shoulders beneath my loose shirt, hoping to escape the notice the night might bring. I had become very thin over the last few months and had little resistance to the cold of the wind. I really had no idea of where I was going, where I’d end up, and I had lost the will to care very much. I just knew I had to get away. Leave behind the angry words, thrown fists, and the swinging saloon doors of the adult section in the video store.
The doors I huddled behind on the slow leaking air mattress every night. Locked in alarm set. There I lay for so many nights afraid to roll over one too many times and trip it. I huddled there holding my breath while he went out and sold drugs and lived his dented life. One of the prices I paid to have a roof over my head. Of course there had been others, but the desolation of those nights will never fully leave me. I was in the end no match at all for things like these. I had not even the barest capacity to even begin to recognize the disparities between the man and me.
It had been a high price for a kid like me to pay for one moment of flight. I’d not calculated well and it had led me here. A not quite 16 year old girl who’d tried to make it on her own. Who had failed and given up way too much along the way. Who had not even bothered to sell herself and who had instead freely handed over all her shiny potential and the vast expanse of her dreams away.
My once witty and sprite- like snapping brain now just wavering listlessly hardly registering the freezing cold, dark streets, and floppy wet socks as anything more than the next fully due installment in a life I deserved. A dull reflection with barely a trace left of who I’d meant to be. Blinded by tears I really didn’t even feel. Just a response of my eyes an old reflex of a brain that had forgotten to shut them off. Sobs would escape occasionally startling me by the sound bouncing off the canyon walls of the alleyway. Sometimes they would roll into a laugh on their own. Lost. Broken and damaged. That was me.
I had no plan, and worse no cigarettes. It was then that Rupert first stalked out of the shadows and into my life. He was not thin and didn’t look as if he had any need in the world though a quick glance showed no collar. He had medium long multi colored fur. He had the mark of the Tabby, the cat favored by Mary. Smack in the middle of his forehead he had stripes that came together to form the perfect M that was said to be her mark made that night in the stable by her touch upon her favored cats.
He did not look special except for his big size. He fell in step right behind me and at regular intervals as the plop suck sound of my socks made their tune he would come in with surprisingly delicate mews. I walked on ignoring the quick burst of interest his arrival sparked. Pleasure at anything was bad. I was determined to ignore him. But, he stayed perfectly in step behind me. For a long distance he kept pace offering his voice as if to let me know he knew my sadness.
At some point his persistence annoyed me and crystallized into outright anger. I do not know why he angered me so. Except for the fact that he was determined to be something good in what was a very bad night. He became the object I turned on. I yelled at him. He responded by twisting through my legs and offering a rub of silky fur upon my legs. Far from leaving he continued to make physical contact with me. I bent and picked up a rock and flung it at him. Hard. He took the hit and crouched back for a moment. Only to walk back up to me and twine through my legs again. Really angered I kicked out at him and yelled for him to go away.
He avoided the contact and waited until I started on again. Once more he stalked up and twined through my legs. I yelled inarticulate words and bent down to push him away. But, the strength completely drained from me and instead of the hits I had intended I crumpled to the ground. I cried. Huddled there I absently ran my fingers through his thick silky fur. And I called him a stupid cat. Over and over again I told him to go away and called him names. All the while clutching his warm fur. So warm and so alive. So comforting his simple presence. I could feel his steady deep rumbling purr. I no longer wanted him to go away. Though every part of me expected that he would.
I stood and turned back the direction I came. Heading back to the life I lived. He followed me all the way. I left him outside the door. I went in and faced the man. I took my place on the mattress that night hidden from the windows by the saloon doors. Fitfully I slept. In the morning I wandered out and called and from the bushes the cat came back. He’d stayed all night. Listlessly I found him a can of tuna and fed it to him straight from the can. Petting his fur all the while. For three days the cat stayed with me even though he never came inside the store.
I decided to call him Rupert because it seemed a noble name. I had a really goofy bent for nobility in those days. I breathed in and out and continued on through what I now recognize was a deep depression. I found a tiny purpose in providing for Rupert. His small comforts became my mission. I used my own hair brush to painstakingly pick through matted fur and gave him one of my tee shirts to sleep on at night. I shared the small cash I was given to buy basic food to feed him. I hid him from the man I stayed with.
On the third day Rupert jetted in the door of the small video store I worked and lived in. I don’t know why he did this. But, it was the moment that in the end became the thing that saved me. The man I lived with spotted him and began chasing him. Rupert ran in circles and knocked videos off of the shelf in his fright. The man I lived with was angry and yelling at me and the cat. He caught him by the tail and swung him violently around knocking him stunned into a shelf of video cassettes. Rupert cowered in shock and the man I lived with picked him up by the tail again and threw him out the door. Rupert lay for a moment and then got up, looked at me took a step toward me, and then limped away into the bushes.
It was right then that something snapped, pop, in my head. I thought I would never see the cat again. I knew he had killed Rupert. And, I knew in a way that aggression to myself had never awoken in me before, that I could not stay. I ran. I ran out the door and away down the street. I was terrified beyond my capacity to contain. The man I lived with stood at the door screaming obscenities at me until I disappeared out of sight.
I finally slowed down. So exhausted that I leaned my face into a wall and clutched my sides doubling over at the cramps the run had caused. Raggedly I caught my breath and felt my heart hammering out of my chest. The loss of Rupert was so painful. I realized that I had to go back. I had to look for Rupert. Slowly I walked back thinking of nothing but the cat. I stood across the street from the video store and waited for the man to leave on a break like he so often did. People going about their bright productive lives dressed in their fine clothes left the sidewalk I stood sobbing on.
To get away from me and my crazy sounding sobs and puffy blind eyes. Not one person offered a hand, they ran from me in that age old socially acceptable way. Averting their eyes, looking at watches, digging for sunglasses and rushing by as wide of me as they could possibly get. The good people of San Diego could not get away from me fast enough. I will never forget those moments that I stood and waited for him to leave. After an hour or so he did. I slowly approached the bushes where Rupert had slept. I did not expect him to be there but I knew I had to try to find him.
It was then that I heard it. The ridiculous dainty mew coming from the gentle giant head of Rupert. He slunk out of the bushes and came to me. I dropped to the ground. I sobbed so hard I squeaked as I rubbed my face into his fur. I ran my fingers gently down his body and sure enough there was a terrible twist along his magnificent tail. I cried harder and that silly cat purred. Finally I scooped up Rupert and carried him away with me a few blocks down the road. I found a pay phone and for the first time in 8months I heard the sound of my father’s voice when he took my call.
He did not sound relieved to hear me. Nor surprised either. Just flatly neutral and carefully protected. I asked him if I could please come home. He asked me to call back in ten minutes he wanted to ask my mother if it was alright with her. I couldn’t breathe but I said I would. As an afterthought I blurted out that I had a cat and if I came home he had to come with me just before I hung up the phone. That would be it, I thought, they will never allow me to come home.
Those ten minutes all those years ago remain a stark fresh memory in my mind. I knew even in those moments that I was experiencing a most pivotal passage in my life. It was one of those rare situations where the direction of my life hung there in the balance of the moments that followed. All of these years later it remains as one of a handful of those spaces in eternity that truly did matter and it held the power to change the entire course of my life. I waited it out hands dug in Rupert’s fur. Smelling his good sun warmed cat smell. He purred. And I sat in pale frozen dry eyed silence. I allowed more than ten minutes. I was sure the answer was to be no. When I called back it was my mother who answered and she asked where I was and said she would come for me. I spoke very clearly and said I could not come without the cat. There was a pause. I felt her anger, worry, and pain crackle through the phone line. It was so alive that I could see the colors of it and smell it through the phone, an ozone scented shimmering ball of rage. I felt the exact moment that she let it pass away. I knew there had been a space when she had almost let it spill. And then she calmly said to bring the cat.
I could not speak around the lump in my throat it was all encompassing. The tears flowed they were the first healing tears in months and months. My teeth chattered and my legs felt weak as my entire body shook. I knew it would be a long road for all of us but the first hurdle had been passed.
It was both of my parents who showed up an hour later. They pulled up in their car and we stared at each other. I could see them thinking about driving away. The pain and hope in their eyes. Probably mirrored mine exactly. My father then stepped out of the car and I walked over. He opened the door and Rupert and I got in.
And so began my life again. I wish I could say that it was all up from there. It did start out to be. I was so far behind in high school that I simply gave it up and enrolled in community college to work on a degree. I did try. But, there had been damage to me and I struggled into adulthood with addictions and a heavy all consuming self loathing. But, I did make my way, and time did pass as it always does.
All the while Rupert stayed with me. The vet guessed that he had been 1-3 years old when I brought him home based on his conditioning and his teeth. Aside from the crimped tail he was in good health. With the exception of repeated attacks with bladder crystals in his later life. He was twice sent home to die but each time miraculously, against what the vets said would happen, he survived. I loved him. I never doubted that God had sent him to save me. And that is just what he had done. He was my cat, my bed buddy, and my tissue for all the years I lived at home.
Later as an adult when my life was obliterated again, my grown up family shattered to pieces, and my choices led me to slink back home to my parents’ home again, Rupert was there still. As I filed for divorce and missed my child who was separated from me so much that I thought I’d never recover, Rupert stayed by my side. When my husband and child were gone there was my cat. And it was his fur I rubbed as I prayed and prayed for the strength to somehow put it all back together again. Once more it was his good sun warmed smell that soothed me. And I would dig my fingers into his fur. Though his eyes were cloudy and his stance slumped with age Rupert found it within himself to comfort me. We spent quiet hours on that lonely bed in my childhood room, Rupert and me. Any time I would become overwhelmed and tears would come Rupert would sense it from the high picture window in the hall. He would come from the warm sun and sit by my side. He had such a connection to me he literally felt my pain. There were times when I turned on him again during those very dark days. There were days when I pushed him away shutting the door, and I would not let him in. It was so painful for me to love anything. But, Rupert endured, and waited patiently and when once again I opened the door he was always there.
We guess that Rupert was 17 or 18 when he quietly slipped away. Slowly he lost his appetite and took to sleeping most of his days away. He would be found on the ledge of the upstairs window lounging in the sun. Dust moats quietly drifting down in front of him. We knew he had slowed down. He showed no signs of being ready to give up, though; at the end he went a couple of days without food. He never showed any distress but we knew his time was coming. By then he was balding, blind, and deaf and could not climb the stairs. He just slept on the window ledge. It was there that he was found by my parents one quiet day. Asleep or so it seemed, a cat peacefully at rest. But, Rupert would never wake again. Sleeping there in the good warm sun he drifted away from me.
I always knew that it was Rupert who saved me first. He was there time and time again to offer his back for me to rub. He lived to see my family repaired when my husband and child were returned to me. The hours he spent as my personal rosary while I prayed paid out in the end. I am happy to say that at the time that I am writing this I am peacefully at health. Solidly well. My family gleams and shines under my care.
I miss Rupert and will never forget what he did for me. He saved me from what I now know was an immediate danger when I first met him. He was there twice for periods that changed the course of my life entirely. My hope is that he had a good life. I hope I gave him that. And that he found it within himself to forgive my first and only attempt at outright cruelty. I pray to God he forgave me that rock! I loved him so. To this day I miss him and if I close my eyes when I am sitting in the warm sun I can feel his fur beneath my finger tips. I can smell his good sun warmed cat scent. I can hear the tinkling sound of his bell and the silly Mike Tyson meow. And it is good to remember him there.
God always seems to use another for me to find the worth in first. Starkly at times I have ignored the worth of myself. But, when push has come to shove, I have fought like a lion to save the ones I love. God gives me these loved ones, I am convinced, because He knows that for them I will survive. Every time I’ve come to the bottom or end of my rope it has been for the love of another that I have been galvanized to fight. And in saving the ones I love so have I saved myself. And it started with Rupert and the simple love of a cat.