By Dr. Steve Best -
In 1999, Scooter came into my life in the most
unpretentious packing, brought to me in a plain paper bag. He was one of
three tiny kittens held by a volunteer working at the local "humane
society" who told me that they would all be killed the next morning if
no one took them. Already having 14 cats at the time, I was most
reluctant to take more, but as everyone around me made excuses I
acquiesced. You could say I was left holding the bag. I thought I would
be their guardian just until I could find others to adopt them. Little
did I know that the kittens in the bag, Scooter above all, would prove
to be a blessing and not a burden.
Scooter, Shag, and Willis, as I named them, were like
unruly human babies. Being a lifetime member of the club of Non-Breeding
Bachelors, I was not accustomed to waking every 2 or 3 hours to bottle
feed. Each tiny body fit snugly in the palm of my hand. As will surprise
no animal lover, with each nursing period and every passing day, I grew
increasingly attached to all my new babies, despite the constant noise
and messes and overall chaos they brought into my peaceful world. After
two weeks of bottle feeding, I put them in a box and took them to every
house in my neighborhood in an effort to find them a good home and to
prevent even larger tumbleweeds of cat fur rumbling through the hallways
of my house.
As it dawned on me how difficult it would be to adopt
them together to a loving home, it hit me like a thunderbolt that I
already had fallen in love with all three and I suspect by then they
felt I was their lumbering, ill-shaven, two-legged mommy.
And so it was, they entered my family as my own children, not temporary
adoptees, and I joyfully embraced my new found responsibilities while I
awaited the return of nights of unbroken sleep.
All three kittens and I shared a deep bond, but Scooter
stood out from the rest, indeed from all my cats, even though I was
loathe to admit I had a favorite. Scooter was an orange and white,
short-hair, striped tiger cat. He was always skinny, not because I
didn't try to feed him enough but because he was the most finicky eater
on the planet. If the dice of the I Ching rolled right, Scooter might
not turn away from the food offering on a given day. And he had another
trait: he scooted a lot.
The intuition behind the name proved sound as Scooter
loved to run throughout the house. He cherished his time on the roof,
often standing still on the front corner like the wise gargoyle of my
street. Every day I heard him thunder across the rooftop as though
Charlton Heston were running a chariot race. It was a comforting sound,
Very early on, Scooter assigned to himself the role of
being my shadow. He followed me from room to room, he glided across me
as I tried to read and write, and, most poignantly, he slept with me
every night, if not on my chest, nestled within the crook of my knees.
Every morning, without fail, I repeated the same ritual. I stirred to
consciousness, felt Scooter's warm body next to mine, sat up, stroked
him, and said matter-of-factly, "I love you, Scooter." The day was born.
If I woke too early and went back to bed, Scooter always returned to
assume his rightful place.
Scooter was aggressive in his need to give and receive
love, and he had no respect whatsoever for my work deadlines. If he
jumped on my lap, I would counter by lowering my book to block his move
to my face. Scooter easily evaded that by maneuvering around the
obstacle or climbing under or over it to get to my face. Checkmate.
Scooter rubbed his face against mine while his vibrational purr glided
past my cheeks like an electric razor. Typically, his will was stronger
than mine. All work ground to a halt, and it was time for a Scooter
Scooter had a perverse sense of humor. Whenever I lay
prostrate watching TV or reading a book, he would leap onto my upper
chest, slowly turn around, and then back his rear end directly into my
face. The best sense I could make of that habit was simply that Scooter
liked to play practical jokes on me. When I turned him around to face me
in a more pleasing direction, I could see a smirk on his face and smug
self-satisfaction while his purring roared.
Scooter's favorite game of all was to do everything in
his power to stop me from making the bed. As soon as he heard the sheets
snap before draping down on the bed, he tore through the house, flew
onto the mattress, and pounced onto the sheets to make it impossible to
complete the task. If I outwitted him with the bottom sheet and managed
to pull it over all four corners of the bed without trapping him
underneath it like the Loch Ness monster about to surface, he raced
about as the successive layers of bedding came down and then waited
furtively to attack anything that moved around him.
I played jokes on Scooter too. My favorite game was to
pick him up, hold him in the air, roll him over, and bury my face in his
stomach in order to feast on a delicious "Scooter sandwich." He endured
my face cheeks good-naturedly, just as I tolerated his butt cheeks.
One of my favorite mantras to say with Scooter was
"friend to the end." That was my way of reaffirming our special bond
everyday, knowing that nothing could disturb it until either he or I met
our inevitable end.
Not in my worst nightmares did I fear that Scooter's end
would come so soon, so terribly soon, after only three years of joyful
romping, creative bedlam, and soulful loving. An unimaginable
thunderbolt of grief shattered my world and for many days everything
stopped but the tears.
I remain the privileged guardian of nine wonderful cats.
There is not a place I can go in the house without seeing furry bodies
up to no good. Yet without Scooter, the place is eerily empty and devoid
of life. Space is haunted by his absence. The center is gone. The house
is not a home.
People ask me how I cope with his death without
believing in the postulates of God, spirit, and the afterlife and with
total honesty I answer: I cannot. I cannot comfort myself with the
belief that Scooter went to a better place, that there was a cosmic
reason for his death, or that I will see him again when I too "pass."
I will never find another Scooter in any skinny orange
and white striped cat and I will never see him again. I doubt his soul
is in heaven, but I know his body is buried in my yard, nourishing the
bushes and flowers he so loved to run through.
Without God or the afterlife as reference points, I have
only my memories of Scooter and the knowledge that we shared a profound
love and bond. When I sit by his grave and water the flowers with salty
tears, I do not bother pray to a void. The pain is pure, unrelieved, and
This aggravates the grief, but it increases my
appreciation of life. It means I can only live and love now, and
fulfillment and enjoyment cannot wait for another life or world. It
makes living, loving, and four-footed beings like Scooter all the more
special. Accordingly, I gave my whole heart and being to Scooter, as he
gave me his.
Friend to the end, Scooter. I curse the darkness that
the end came so soon and I miss you so terribly much.
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