Cleopatra was my mother’s cat, or vice versa. Hard to tell. When she was perhaps 10 years old she was hit by a vehicle and her pelvis shattered. My mother was the most frugal of persons in most things, but she poured more money into saving Cleo than she had put into buying a car for most of her life. I was stunned at this. When I first saw Cleo after the accident, she was immobilized with her entire hindquarters and legs in a cast. I must say it was extraordinary work by a master veterinarian. Nonetheless, I hardly expected her to recover at all, much less fully.
Well, she did. Even though I saw her several times a year over at 15 years, she never paid me…or anyone…other than my mother any attention. She didn’t run away, she simply ignored everyone. So I was not really attached to her and wondered why my mother had spent so much money on her.
My mother was an incredibly active woman until (literally) the day she died. One thing I dreaded when visiting was knowing that sleeping past 8AM or so would never happen. I have never eaten breakfast for at least an hour after awakening as I have no appetite at that point. But I loved her so and never said a word. I’d drag myself in there and she’d place two perfectly fried (basted with bacon grease just to set the yolk) eggs with bacon, grits, and toast in front of me as I sat. I’d dutifully eat it, and expressed gratitude all the time wishing I was still in bed. Oh, to hear that soft knock again and hear her intone “David Alan, breakfast is ready.”
In February, 2002 my wife and I took our 6 week old son Thomas to Texarkana for mother’s approval. Thomas represented the only male born to my dad’s generation to survive. Of my father’s 5 brothers, not a single one had a son who survived or produced a son. My older brother had two beautiful daughters, and my first child was also a girl. Then came Thomas. My mother was ecstatic. We were only there for the weekend, and we stayed at her home (which I was raised in and currently occupy) while she stayed with her last husband and love. We took pictures of her holding Thomas and beaming with pride Saturday evening. Sunday morning she was at the house and shared Nutter Butter cookies with our daughter Jennings and goo’d and coo’d over Thomas some more. Then, she jumped up with great purpose and said she had a lot to do and must get to the gym for her workout. I put my arms around her and gazed into her steady and loving eyes and said “sweet mommy” as I kissed her good bye, and she returned “sweet baby.” Then she swirled out the door and left as she waved goodbye.
We drove back to Flower Mound and turned in. The phone rang early the next morning and my brother-in-law James was on the line. He said “Your mother passed away last night.”
She’d gone home, made a scratch peach cobbler, cleaned the kitchen and put everything away, leaving it spotless as always and the table reset for breakfast. As was her norm, she then went to her room and turned on the TV and piled up pillows to watch. She was a special fan of “Touched by an Angel,” and I’ve always liked to think that as she watched she felt a touch and looked up to see someone who looked a lot like John Dye tell her gently “Lillian, your mission is complete and it’s time to go.”
Her husband had peaked in on her at around 11PM and she was propped up looking contentedly at the TV. It is quite likely she was not there as she went without a twitch. She had always told me in times of inexplicable loss that “God never calls anyone home until their mission is done.” I always found this true, even in the case of the soul-trying loss of my 13 year old daughter Jennings. And it comforted me to know that my mother had spent her last day holding her last grandchild, the grandson she’d waited on, tidied up behind her and slipped into eternity.
So, what about Cleo, you are asking after all this sidetracking? My older brother approached me after the funeral and said it had been decided I should take Cleo. I was not thrilled. I knew she needed a home but having a cat who ignored you didn’t seem like much and I wondered if she wouldn’t just wander off. But I hauled her and her possessions down to our country home in Flower Mound. The first night home as Kécia and I settled down in the TV room, me in my customary Roman triclinium repose propped up on my left arm, she jumped up and curled up right under my head. From that night on, if I was not in the TV room by 7PM or so she’d come looking for me as if to say “It’s our time together.” When my son Thomas was about 5 or so Thomas brought home a wild and feral kitten Jennings and he dubbed “Lollipop.” Cleo totally ignored her and she stayed well clear of the queen’s presence. Popsy NEVER passed the door to the TV room when Cleo was on her throne holding court. However, one night she decided to see if she could make it over to Kécia’s lap. Almost. Cleo had made no sound or movement, but I could see she was tracking Popsy across the floor. She was around 17 years old at that point and I was stunned as she seem to simply rise straight up and arc across, coming down with a scream on top of the hapless Popsy who disappeared out the door with equal speed. Cleo simply looked in her direction and then deliberately came back and resumed her position on the throne. Other than that one time, she had never previously shown any hostility to Popsy and she never did again.
Cleo never showed any real signs of her incredibly advanced age. I’d always been concerned that eventually the damage repaired to her pelvis and hind legs would begin to get her down, but it did not. However, there came the last week and she suddenly stopped eating and wouldn’t go more than a few feet out the door. I knew her time was coming and was considering having her euthanized, though dreading it in my heart. One Saturday afternoon she approached as I sat at the kitchen table back the back door and stared at me. She suddenly seemed much better, and appeared to have purpose. I asked if she wanted out and she approached the door. As I opened it, I felt a sudden strange feeling of communication from her. Halfway out the door she stopped and looked up at me with those eyes that suddenly reminded me of my mother as I hugged her that last time. The tears came to me and I reached down and rubbed her neck. She pushed back with affection, then turned deliberately and went out the door and kept walking. I never saw her again. I’d like to think there was another cat walking with her I didn’t see that was showing her the way.
My mother’s cat, indeed. Her mission accomplished and all left in order, leaving quietly and with no angst. May they rest in peace.