************************************Denial covers the pain of the past * A blanket over the world * Lift a corner * Don't be afraid * Your life awaits you*************************************

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Kitten's Prayer

In a breath, I’m there. 

I’m wearing the striped jumper with the uneven hem. The teacher stands at the front of the room, her blue eye shadow raccooning her eyes. I’m too fascinated with her long, red nails to be bothered by the squeak of chalk against black board. We are to write a poem, she says. We are to write it from the perspective of an animal.

I pull my yellow pencil from between my teeth, noticing the marks of my uneven bite. The skin on my small hand is smooth except where it’s bitten to the quick, around each stubby nail. I write my name at the top of the wide-lined page.

“Try to get inside the animal’s mind,” she suggests. “What is it thinking? What is it feeling?”

My mind skips over all the most interesting animals. There are elephants and rhinos and ostriches... no, how about dinosaurs! They're extinct... but they still count. They were animals, once. 

I write a word, but immediately erase it, leaving a gray mark on the once perfect page. Suddenly, I know I don't want to write about dinosaurs. I want to write about one, very specific animal - a little kitten; all black except for one irregular spot on the side of its small face. 

To me, the little blotch was interesting, but I wonder if it was this one, tiny imperfection that kept the small being from being chosen. He stayed with his mother, in a towel-lined box beside my bed, long after his siblings had found other homes.


Tabby, an experienced mother, purred proudly as the last of her litter snuggled in for a snack. “Why can’t we keep him?”

“We can’t have a male cat and a female cat in the same house.” Mom looked at me like I was crazy. 

I didn’t understand what the big deal was, but I didn’t pursue it. "I don't know who else to ask." Already, I'd carried the litter, secured in a shoe box, all over the neighborhood. "And besides, Tabby always seems so sad when her kittens are all gone."

“She’ll get over it.” 

That much was true. This was the third time my cat had managed to get outside and get pregnant. I knew that when all the kittens were gone, Tabby would comb the house, searching with a pitiful mew for a week or two, but eventually she would go back to her pre-maternal self. That part of it baffled me as much as any of the rest.

Is it really that easy for a mother to move on?

"You need to find a home for that kitten before we leave for vacation, next week." Mom turned her attention to her ironing, closing the subject for the night. 

The week passed quickly. I played kickball with my friends and watched The Brady Bunch on TV and scavenged refrigerator boxes from the new condos that were going up on the next block so we could build forts, but I did not find a home for the little kitten. Even that last night, as I tried to fall asleep with both cat and kitten in my bed, I avoided thinking about how I'd failed. In the morning, it was impossible to ignore.

It was my fault the cat was pregnant in the first place. I was responsible for making sure she didn’t get outside. I don’t know how she got out, but since I was responsible, it was all my fault, and so I was supposed to find homes for the kittens, and I had not done that either. 

I hoped the little kitten might be forgotten. My father was busy loading up the station wagon with everything he could fit inside and on top. My mother was cleaning out the refrigerator and leaving last minute instructions for my brother. He would be home, watching the house and going to summer school. He would be taking care of Tabby. He wouldn’t hardly even notice another little kitten in the house.

My father was always in a foul mood when we were getting ready to leave, and this was no exception. I stayed out of his way, hoping to avoid any trouble, and also thinking that if he didn’t see me, he might not think about the kitten.

"It's time to go!" Mom's voice rang out from the front hall, and I thought, it worked! We all headed out to the car on that hot, July day, and the kitten was still upstairs, in my room. Once we were on the road, we wouldn't stop for anything and it would be too late, by the time they remembered and maybe, by the time we got home, Mom would change her mind.

“Where’s that kitten?” My father’s impatience was clearly audible in each word.
I fidgeted.
I swallowed.
In a very soft voice, I asked, “What are you going to do?”

“I’m not going to do anything. Go get it and bring it here.”

“But… why? We can't take him with us... can we?”


I went.

When I returned to the silent car, Mom looked at me in the rear-view mirror, from her usual spot in the driver’s seat. I wanted a smile, but her eyes and the gear shifted simultaneously into drive. The tiny, terrified kitten dug it’s claws painfully into my arm as the car moved forward. I held it against me, tight enough to prevent it from scratching me again. Its heart tapped a staccato rhythm against mine.

We drove down the alley, then turned the corner and drove only two blocks before my father said, “Stop here.”

Mom, ever obedient, pulled to the curb next to Baker Park. This park was a little further from my house than the one I usually played in, but I’d spent many winter days here, when they flooded the field to turn it into a skating arena.

In Summer, it was like a different world.Mothers pushed toddlers in baby swings, while slightly older children scrambled up the slide and jungle gym. Bigger kids chased each other around the large field, which was covered in thick, short-mown grass, except where it had been worn away around home plate and the other three embedded, rubber bases.

“Put the cat out on that field.”

My throat went dry. “What? What do you mean?”

“You heard me. Put the cat out there, in the middle of the grass. It will be fine.”

The kitten, sensing my panic, struggled against my grip. “I can’t just leave him there...” 

“You sure can! You were supposed to find it a home. Now it will be up to one of those kids to do that for you.”

I searched for Mom’s eyes, in the mirror. I saw the glassy look which told me she was not going to be of any help. I opened the car door.

I crossed the street, the pavement hot under my flip-flops, the kitten clutched to my chest. At first, no one paid any attention to me, but then a boy looked to see what I was holding. I knew that boy. It was David Horner. He was in my class, last year.

"Hey, where'd you get the kitten?"

I blocked him out. I blocked them all out. I hurried to the very center of the field, disengaged the kitten from my shirt, and placed his tiny body in the grass.

“What are you doing?”

I turned and ran back to the car, the image of the black spiky tail sticking up from the grass, etched in my mind.

“She just left this cat here!” 

"You can't do that!"


My eyes and throat and the scratches on my arm all burned as I slammed the car door.


A poem. 
From an animal’s perspective.

I stare forward, as the poem forms in my mind. David Horner is in the desk in front of me. Although it might appear as if I'm looking at the back of his head, my eyes are actually out-of-focus. Do I have the same glassy-eyed look I saw on my mother's face, in the rear-view mirror? The title comes to me, first, and the rest fills in, of its own accord.

A Kitten’s Prayer
Do you hear me, God?
I want to be loved.
I’m a good little kitten.
I keep myself clean and I never scratch anyone,
Unless I’m afraid. 
Do you hear me, God?
I need a good home,
With a little girl who gives me milk
And sometimes pulls a bit of yarn
So I can play. 
Isn't she there, somewhere?
Someone as lonely as me?
If she finds me, I’ll be very good
And I’ll never ask for anything else 
Except, please, God
Don’t let my mother miss me too much
And if you would,
Please, bless all other purrers.


  1. I've felt so much shame for failing that kitten, Desiree. Isn't that ridiculous? As if I, at nine years old, could have made things happen any other way.

    My teacher liked the poem so much she read it to the class. I was mortified. It was too real, too sincere, to share with the class.

    Somehow, this memory is tied in to my recent inability to write. I'm still trying to understand how.

  2. Adults put burdens on children that are impossible. I am so sorry this happened in your life.

    Random thought have you thought about writing about the experience fully and completely from how you feel now. I suspect you shared only the tip of the iceberg. Journalling to yourself may unlock the connection between writing and this experience. Perhaps you are feeling over exposed again. (((Shen))) cyber hugs sent your way.

  3. Thanks Ruth,

    Yes, I've been doing some journaling on this, since yesterday when it came up in session, with C. You're right, of course. It is largely about the fear of feeling exposed. I have not been able to finish my novel, a piece of fiction I've been working on for years, because when I do finish it I will have no more excuses to keep me from writing this more personal, sincere, exposing memoir. While I feel it's a piece worth writing, as it's become more real, I've become more fearful about it.

    I only just realized this connection last night. My mind has been very effectively spiraling around the other novel, coming up with all kinds of reasons not to work on it, and thus preventing me from looking any deeper. I kind of forced the issue, yesterday, and now this memory - and one other - came out and smacked me in the rear. It may be the push I need... but right now there is still a lot of fear. I haven't identified exactly what the fear is about - but feeling exposed, that's a likely candidate.


Please feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment.

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