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Ya Gotta Have Friends

I don’t mean all the great people out there that I’m proud to call my friends…I sure do treasure them, but today I want to talk about the two who live with me. They’re definitely people too, though they’re a bit smaller than most and are on the furry side.

I’m talking about my two cats, of course. Say what you want about animals, they have strong personalities, they have moods, good and bad, and they definitely have a sense of humor. You might not pick up on this even if you’re a cat fancier. I’m not claiming to have some kind of prescience or ESP…I’m just at home most of the time. A healthy and active person isn’t.

I’ll start with Archie, the older of the two. I first met him as a mere stripling in 2003. The lady across the street from me has this thing about taking animals in and Archie was her latest acquisition. Being an inquisitive and friendly youngster, he got in the habit of coming over to visit, which I encouraged, being quite taken with my new neighbor.   He was aware that I already had a pair of cats, one of which was very territorial, so contented himself with hanging out on the stone wall in my driveway, and would often greet me at night when I went out to work, or in the mornings when I returned home. We became fast friends, and we spent a lot of time enjoying each other’s company when the weather was fair.

Time passed, and I noticed that the lady across the street, while eager to take in animals, didn’t seem too interested in actually taking care of them, and after his novelty wore off, she quit taking care of Archie. He became a street cat. He also grew mistrustful of people, and rarely came over any more. I’d see him occasionally, hanging out on the corner with the other neighborhood street cats. There’d usually be a bunch of them sitting there, glaring suspiciously at the world just like JD street toughs…all that was missing were the Marlboros dangling from their mouths and the black leather jackets.

I hated seeing this change and grew to detest the sight of my neighbor. She took in dogs as well, but never let them in her house…I’d see them morosely huddled together on her small patio in winter, trying to keep warm. She must have fed them, but it couldn’t have been that great a life, and once in a while the dogs would get out and roam around, likely looking for a handout. One spring day I came out of the house and found a trash bag I’d put out ripped open, the contents scattered all over my driveway. The culprit, a medium sized fellow, stood there wagging his tail proudly as if seeking praise for the fine job he’d done. He was moderately skinny, but my neighbor, though she couldn’t seem to be bothered with such banalities as actually taking care of the animal, had gone to the trouble of tying a colorful neckerchief around his neck, hippie style. How cute. I so admire people who really have their priorities straight.

Archie must have discovered warm spots during these winters that kept him from freezing; I rarely saw him, but would occasionally catch a glimpse of him as he slunk around bushes and trees, looking awfully skinny with his ribs showing.

Even then he clearly remembered me. I’d go out sometimes at night and there he’d be on our old stone wall, like he was waiting for me to hang out with him again, but he’d turn and run when I approached him.

This situation was heartbreaking, and I actually made plans to kidnap Archie, fly him to our hub in Atlanta, and deliver him to a friend of mine at work who’d be sure to take care of him. I never quite worked up the stones to carry out the plan though, having vague worries about getting caught in the act and what might happen to me as a courier pilot if I got a felony trespassing/theft/whatever conviction on my record. Yeah, I wussed out, but even that worked out well in the end, as you’ll see.

Fast forward to the winter of 2007. One day I was standing on the recently built ramp giving access from my porch door to the driveway, smoking a cigar and in a dismal, foul mood, and who should walk purposefully up to me but Archie! He stood there looking at me gravely a moment, then hopped on the wooden handrail, came to me as if nothing had ever been different, and allowed me to pet him. I was shocked…what had changed? He was looking healthier than when I’d last seen him, lean but not actually skinny.

I had just been denied for the second time for the permanent disability status I desperately needed by the Social (IN)Security Administration, even though by then my walking had deteriorated badly enough that I needed the support of a four wheeled walker, my left arm and hand were fast losing their usefulness, I was experiencing the nasty fatigue and cognitive issues that have never abated, and my insides were getting as spastic as my outsides. If you think a spastic bladder and bowels are funny, you just ain’t wired right. I haven’t needed a friend at hand so badly as I did at that moment, and Archie picked that precise time to appear.

He hung around for a while and we enjoyed each other’s company, just like old times. After a while, having evidently decided he’d cheered me up sufficiently, he took off. I didn’t see him for a couple of weeks and by then things had changed a lot.

That week, my cat Samantha nosed open the connecting door separating that part of the house from my then-housemate’s dogs. They were surprised and curious but didn’t go after her. She retreated, then apparently turned to do battle, but at that moment she suffered a brain embolism and dropped dead on the spot. I was out having lunch at the time (I think that was my last visit to a restaurant, in fact) and discovered her when I got home. Needless to say I was horrified and furious at the same time, thinking the dogs had killed her, but quickly found out that wasn’t the case.

For one, the first thing we found was my housemate’s female dog standing over Samantha’s body…but not to harm her; she was licking the body, trying to revive her. Ye gods.

Examining the body, there wasn’t a mark on her. She had just…unplugged. I calmed down, figured out what had happened and a few days later with some help from a friend got her buried on the property.

A few days after this fiasco, Archie showed up at my door and made it clear that he not only wanted to come in…he now lived here. I was delighted, but puzzled. The timing was just too perfect to be a coincidence…somehow he’d known all this was going to happen. I have no clue how, and still don’t. He just knew. And when the time was right, he came home.

Later, Vya entered the picture. I’d survived the disability approval ordeal and managed to keep my house, and I had a different housemate, the daughter of a woman I knew. One day she asked if she could adopt a kitten, and I cautiously approved, reminding her that this was a big responsibility to take on and I expected her to treat the kitten well. You folks with kids have probably made the same speech, I’m sure.

Vya made her entrance a week or so later. I was charmed immediately. She was tiny, even for a kitten, obviously a runt, but with enough personality for ten cats.

I asked my housemate why she chose the name ‘Vya’ and she replied that it was a random nonsense word that occurred to her.

I wasn’t thrilled by this and tried Googling the name to check if it existed, with an interesting results. It seems that ‘Vya’ turns out to the the name of a rather upscale vermouth!

This was a lot better. As far as I was concerned, Vya was named after a fortified wine. An aperitif that could make the elusive perfect Martini. The name is short and sweet, and so is this cat. Here we have another nifty coincidence…out of my housemate’s random choice we get a name that’s logical and rather suave…see a pattern emerging?

Things don’t always work out like in the movies. Vya and my housemate were inseparable, best pals…for about three days. Then my housemate got back to what she considered her ordained function in the Universe, being Cute and Popular, and little Vya was relegated to the status of a stuffed animal once the novelty had worn off…loved and cosseted for about five minutes a day, then forgotten while her mistress went off to yatter on Facebook or go out with her friends.

She wasn’t even allowed in my housemate’s room, much less to sleep in her bed, for fear she would do something ‘icky.’ What is with people???

Of course she quickly became my cat. We bonded instantly, and when I went to bed she was there, ready to perch on me for a while, happily kneading away at the blanket as cats do before taking up station on a nearby pillow.

I should have seen it coming. One night my housemate left both my house door and the storm door to the porch propped open to cart some stuff from her car in, but before doing that, she flounced off to yap with her friends on Facebook. The cat, inquisitive as many are by nature, took this as an invitation to explore the great outdoors. I was horrified, but Ms. Popularity was unconcerned.

I badly wanted to go outside to look for her and couldn’t…I was moving slower than the average little old lady with my walker, and with it being dark already I’d likely lose my balance and take a header into the aggregate driveway. My housemate was of course far too busy with more important matters, so we left both doors open in hopes the cat would return when she got bored with exploring.

It wasn’t too long a wait. I was working at my desk when a short while later I felt a rustling at my feet. It was Vya, come home and curling up at my feet as she’d gotten in the habit of doing. I was relieved.

Then I reached down to pet her…and she screamed.

And my hand came away bloody.

Evidently this tiny cat had run into a larger animal, probably one of the dogs in the neighborhood that careless owners let run free. Whatever it was had torn her wide open on both sides, and I could actually see inside her, through the huge bloody gashes. Sick with horror, I called for help from my housemate, who tore herself away from Facebook long enough to fetch my pet carrier from the garage.

We placed Vya carefully inside the carrier on a towel, trying to make her as comfortable as possible, knowing we’d have to wait until morning for the nearby veterinary clinic to open. There are emergency clinics open all night, but I simply didn’t have the funds on hand to pay the huge expense that would certainly be involved.

I’ve been in pretty bad pain before, but it was nothing compared to sitting up with that cat all night. When I fell in my living room a year ago and waited three days for my power wheelchair to arrive, when I fell in my bathroom on hard tile and spent almost an hour and a half trying to get my mostly useless self back in that chair…neither can compare to that horrible night.

Vya was in agony, screaming in pain every few minutes, and there was nothing I could do but be there for her. Unlike most animals in severe pain that will bite or claw a person trying to touch them, she simply stretched her paw through the mesh door of the carrier so I could hold it, and I did just that for hours.

At one point I was sure I’d lost her when she let out another scream and fell silent. Looking inside, I couldn’t see if she was breathing, but I saw no movement.

I’ve seen some awful things in my time, but nothing so sad, nothing so tragic, as the sight of that tiny paw protruding from the mesh door, motionless.

I was beside myself, already beginning to grieve for my little friend, when I heard the thing I hadn’t dared hope for…Vya screamed again! What a courageous soul…evidently she’d fainted from the pain, but she was conscious again and letting me know it.

The waiting seemed endless, but finally the morning arrived. My housemate eventually emerged and got moving, taking Vya to the vet clinic, armed with only my credit card with it’s small remaining balance.

I had a bad moment when the girl phoned to tell me that the clinic intended to charge over $1500 for the surgery needed to save Vya’s life. I told her to beg, to plead on my behalf that while I couldn’t pay that amount, I would do anything they asked if they’d just help my friend. There must have been real human beings working the morning shift at that clinic, since my housemate called back shortly to tell me they’d agreed to perform the surgery for the few hundred dollars left on my credit card.

Vya came home the next day, stitched and stapled back together up both sides and with a rubber tube shunt protruding from her left side for drainage…but alert and happy to be home.

wounded but aliveright side showing stapled wound

She healed rapidly, and the shunt was removed at the end of that week. The staples were removed on a follow-up visit the next week, and Frankencat became just a convalescent and recovered fully in quite a short time.

After the excitement was over, my housemate told me that the vets and assistants at the clinic had told her that normally they would have just euthanized Vya due to the extent of her injuries, but she was so alert, clear eyed and downright lively that they went ahead and fixed her up.

Today, Vya and Archie are happy, chubby and content. Archie, ever the outdoorsman, still prefers being outside to in much of the time and I’d worry a lot more about him if he hadn’t proven he’s pretty bulletproof wih his time as a street cat.

The only thing unpleasant about his nature these days is that for some reason he absolutely hates my power wheelchair, and has since it arrived. My theory is that he sees it as a vehicle, and to him a vehicle inside the house just offends his sensibilities.

He’s made some progress: at first he’d just run away if I got near him, but he’s more or less okay with it now. He’s still surly sometimes when I’m petting him, and sometimes whines, growls or even hisses, which tells me it still gives him the creeps. He’s never acted on this bad attitude; when he can’t take any more love, he just gets up and goes to another room. I confess I’m still angry with my neighbor for abandoning him and screwing up his psyche.

Still, even when he’s feeling crabby, I notice he parks himself close to me, and a couple of times he’s even jumped into my lap in the chair, as he used to do when I was in my desk chair.

He’s definitely got a sense of humor, and often when he finds something hilarious, he rolls around on his back, tosses his head and laughs. Silently, to be sure, but there’s no mistaking the silly look on his face and the way his mouth moves. If you’ve never see a cat grinning and laughing, you might not believe it…but I’m here to tell you it’s true.

He’s almost unbelievably indulgent with Vya, even though sometimes his role as the Fierce Jungle Beast comes through and he’ll shove her out of the way when they’re feeding to eat from her bowl, or lightly cuff her in the face if she’s in the mood to play and he isn’t, but she’s fearless and despite her HO scale size isn’t afraid to cuff him right back.

She really does have a case of hero worship going on with Archie, and usually politely defers to his Elder Statesman status, but when she’s feeling feisty she can dish it out as well as take it. It’s a good thing he’s so protective and indulgent with her as he is, because he could just swallow her in a few mouthfuls if that wasn’t true!

I love it when they both get in that slightly deranged, manic mood that seems peculiar just to cats at the same time and get to chasing each other through the house or up and down the large cat tree in my living room, batting away at each other in a frenzied game of ‘got you last.’ Yep, I said ‘each other;’ it’s a sight to see Vya, who can’t weigh more than a pound or so, chasing a 13 pound Archie running from her at top speed and pretending he’s afraid of her.

These moments usually take place at odd hours and happen fast, so I don’t have any photos of them in action…yet. Maybe one day I’ll catch them when there’s enough light and my camera’s available…

As to Vya herself, what more can I say? She’s the most loving caregiver a person could ask for, doesn’t have a mean bone in her body and is unquenchably cheerful. I never had the urge to have children, but Vya is my little girl, my child, almost as much as a human kid would be.

Beyond this being a story I felt I had to tell just for its own merits, it again shows the kind of miracles I’ve seen over the last few years, the sort of almost unbelievable example of wondrous things emerging from horrible beginnings that’s right before me when I’m feeling really low, or when my faith that everything will turn out all right starts getting shaky.

Archie survived abandonment, near starvation and loneliness over three winters out in the street…but he still ended up coming home to me in the end. What’s more, he knew exactly when it was time.

Vya, the bravest soul I’ve ever encountered, dragged her tiny, torn body from my driveway up two ramps, my porch and into my living room to get back to me when she was wounded and bleeding, spent a night in such awful pain that Hell must seem a vacation spot by comparison, and came back from that to be the loving and playful little beast she is today, one who’s always in a happy mood that’s capable of putting a smile on my face even when I’m in the lowest state.

How could I look at these two and NOT believe that miracles can and do happen?

Like I said, ya gotta have friends…and I think can say without sounding hokey or fake that I’ve been blessed to have these two in my life.

This tale has taken me the better part of two days to set down, with a lot of breaks, caffeine, nicotine, and Coca Cola to help me along, but it was more than worth the effort.

You know what do do to let me know you agree. By donating, no matter how small an amount, you too become a part of this story, again illustrating that miracles can…and do happen. Thanks for listening!


Don't be fooled, they're just recharging their batteries...