Friday, August 10, 2012

A Journey to the Real Pottawatomie

Peep looked around, feeling very confused.  She'd been stalking a mole in the grass along the side of the road.  It was a youngster; otherwise he wouldn't have been so far from his family's system of mole tunnels.  Now there was no road and no mole and it wasn't even dark out.  There was grass as far as she could see, and the sunlight looked like it was late afternoon.  She looked around for a familiar landmark, but she didn't recognize anything.  Actually, there weren't any landmarks, just grass.  She sniffed the air, hoping to smell her home or the Daddy's truck since both had very distinctive smells.  The truck smelled like gasoline, and home smelled like, well, home.  This place smelled like plants and dirt and kind of like the scent that remains after a rainstorm.

The Peep started walking.  The grass was soft, yet springy under her paws.  As she walked she looked for a landmark - trees or rocks or anything but all she saw was grass.  Finally she just sat down.  If she wasn't going to get anywhere she wasn't going to waste the energy to walk.  She lay down, pillowing her head on her paws and dozed off.

She awoke to find a beautiful Persian cat sitting in front of her surrounded by an aura of light.  Was she on Candid Camera?  "Hello, Peep," the Persian said in a musical voice.  "I'm here to answer your questions and invite you to join us."

Looking around, Peep still didn't recognize anything.  The only thing different from when she'd fallen asleep was the Persian cat.  "Invite me to join what, and where the heck am I?"

The Persian looked skyward.  "Why do they always start with the hard questions?  Well, these are the nether lands..."

"What am I doing in Holland?  It's not even on the same continent as New Jersey."

The Persian sighed and began to explain.  This was the place-in-between.  Something had happened; she was no longer alive and had been brought here to give her time to adjust.

Peep jumped up and began to run.  She had to be alive, and this must be New Jersey. Maybe she'd just fallen asleep and the Daddy had carried her home, or wherever she was now.  No matter where she ran it was the same, only grass, no trees, no rocks, nothing but unending grass.  And every time she stopped running so that she could look around, there was the Persian sitting calmly a few feet in front of her.  Finally she collapsed crying, "I want to go home.  Send me home to Rudy and LT and the Daddy and the Mommy." 

The Persian shook her head.  "That's the one thing I can’t do for you, Peep.  No one can ever go back, only forward.  From here you’ll go on to Pottawatomie.  The weather is lovely there, and there is plenty of food and water and things to play with.  You'll never get sick or have to go to Tibet."  The Persian smiled.  "No more shots." 

Peep had to smile at the last thing the Persian had said.  Her annual visit to Tibet was the least favorite part of her life.  Then she shook her head.  Did that cat say Pottawatomie?  She must be dreaming.  She'd chosen not to go to Pottawatomie last month with Rudy and LT, so why was this batty cat telling her she was going there now?  "You have to be kidding me.  LT and Rudy went to Pottawatomie last month, and it wasn't so great, let me tell you.  There were the same kinds of problems that we have in New Jersey, although LT and Rudy actually did meet some nice folks there."

The Persian smiled.  “That’s not the true Pottawatomie, at least not for cats.  Didn’t you ever hear cats talking about how great Pottawatomie is?  Every cat has their own home unless they choose to share one with other cats.  The food is always fresh, and you have your choice of crunchy or squishy food whenever you want it.  There are tiny little mice with golden combs to brush your fur and…”

Peep broke in, “T-t-tiny mice?  Golden combs?”  Peep had dreamed of tiny mice combing her fur for years.  She thought it was just a dream.  Peep sat down and curled her tail around herself, taking up the least possible space.  She needed to think.  Most of the cats in the Cat Club had heard about Pottawatomie from their mothers, and the stories were like what the Persian had mentioned.  She couldn’t remember her own mother telling her those stories, but then she hadn’t been all that close with her mother.  The poor cat had enough to do with trying to keep herself fed well enough to have milk for her kittens to tell them stories.  Peep looked around again.  This certainly wasn’t New Jersey.  She decided to give the Persian a chance.  If this was what she had to do, she should at least find out what was in store for her. 

“So, I’m not alive anymore.  After I adjust (and frankly, I don’t know that I will) you’ll take me to Pottawatomie and I’ll stay there forever, playing and eating.  That sounds like it would be nice for a while, but forever?  I’m a cat who loves being with people, especially my people.  The Daddy must be so sad that there’s no one to come in and snuggle with him when he goes to bed at night.  I need people….”

The Persian looked at Peep kindly.  “It’s hard for a lot of cats, especially at first.  We do have visitors from time to time, and although they’re not exactly people, they’re similar.  Sometimes angels come and see us.  They really like cats, you know.  They come, sit and talk to us about their concerns, and usually they figure out what the problem is and come up with a solution.  We can’t exactly talk to them, but I think they know what we’re thinking.  Every once in a while the angels need someone to help with a problem and they choose one of us who can provide the best help.  I’ve never done that myself and the cats who have don’t talk about it.  I think there’s some sort of oath of secrecy.  They do say that they were very happy to be able to help, and they seem kind of, well, serene for a good while.” 

Peep was partially reassured by this.  There would be some other types of beings around, rather than just cats and the mice with the tiny golden combs.  It just didn’t seem complete, though without all sorts of other beings like the bullfrog in the lily puddle, for instance or even those silly geese that lived down the street.  “Cats aren’t all of creation, and I beg your pardon if I’m being rude, but what about frogs and geese and bugs?  We’re meant to be part of a whole, aren’t we?”

This remark produced a beaming smile from the Persian.  “How right you are Peep.  There are other animals in Pottawatomie.  The only difference is that there is no predator-prey dynamic there.  All of the beings are there because they are no longer alive on earth, so they cannot be killed, and you’ll find that you don’t even think about snacking on those mice, even when they’re not combing your belly fur.

“It doesn’t have to be forever Peep.  After one of your humans dies, you will have the choice to join him or her.  You’ll be notified by the proper authorities, and if you respond that you wish to join that person arrangements will be made for your transportation.”  The Persian felt that Peep was accepting the situation well enough to tell her this now. 

Peep giggled.  “It sounds like what they say on game shows when you’ve won a travel prize.”  Laughing, the Persian explained that she’d taken that line from The Price is Right.  The two just sat and laughed softly for a few minutes.  Maybe it wasn’t that bad, Peep thought.  Still, she would miss the Daddy so much.  He’d been there for her since the day he first brought her home.  She hadn’t wanted to take that trip to Pottawatomie because she didn’t want to be separated from him.  The Mommy was important also, she loved her, but the Daddy….  Peep started to cry softly.  “It will be years and years until I can see the Daddy again.  He’s so healthy and fit, well aside from the smoking, I know he’ll live until he’s an old, old man.”   The Persian cat sat down next to her and slowly began to groom her.  The best comfort sometimes is purely physical.  Cats don’t hug to show they care, they groom.  Starting with Peep’s ears, the Persian slowly worked her way down her head, then to her neck and finally to her back.  Peep’s sobs slowed as she felt the care and love of the Persian seep into her body.  The Persian didn’t stop until she’d groomed the exposed parts of Peep down to the end of her tail. 

“There is one thing that you can do in Pottawatomie, but you have to be careful about doing it.  There’s a lake where you can go to look at what your humans are doing.  It’s very reassuring to some cats, because they just check in every now and again to see what’s happening.  Other cats can have problems with this, though.  Some go to the pond and never leave.  They follow their humans’ every move and their spirits begin to dwindle.  They don’t eat; some even refuse to sleep.  Those cats have to be removed from the lake and taken to a far part of Pottawatomie where you can’t even get to the lake if you try.  Once away from the lake they usually recover, but their spirits never fully return.  It’s a sad thing. 

“Other cats see their humans moving on with their lives, doing new things which often include getting another cat and they can’t handle it.  They become consumed with jealousy and anger and begin to lash out at the other cats, none of whom had anything to do with the problem.”  The Persian sighed.  “Those cats are also moved away from the lake, but their memories are altered so they don’t remember the existence of the lake or the memory of whatever made them angry or jealous.  Those cats may still miss their humans very much, but they never are allowed to go back to the lake again.  My advice is to take another cat who has been in Pottawatomie for a good while if you decide to look into the lake.  Tell that cat everything you’re seeing and how it makes you feel.  Pain shared is pain halved, and also they can help you walk away if they see you’re getting too upset.”

Peep nodded.  She’d probably want to go look in the lake right away, but at least she’d make sure she had some other cat with her.  It was a good idea, kind of like some of the wise things the Mommy or the Daddy would say.  Peep and the Persian talked for a while longer about what kind of a place she’d like to live.  Peep thought something kind of like her part of New Jersey would be nice.  She loved the idea of lots of evergreen trees, sandy soil, and seasonal variation.  There were so many choices.  As to what type of house, Peep said it didn’t matter.  Any house without her humans would just be a house.  It probably could never be a home again.  The Persian nodded wisely at that response, as she did when Peep said she’d like to live with one or two other cats.  It’s not right for cats to be alone all the time. 

After a little more conversation the Persian asked Peep if she was ready to go to Pottawatomie.  Peep looked down and sighed, saying nothing for several moments.  At least here she’d been just one remove from the Daddy and the Mommy and perhaps someone would come along and say it was a mistake and they’d take her back home now.  In her heart though she knew that wasn’t going to happen now.  Finally Peep looked up and said she was ready. 

The Persian gestured for Peep to follow her.  In front of them appeared a doorway with neither door nor frame.  All around it was the endless grass, but inside the doorway it almost looked like her yard.  Her spirit soared for a moment until she saw an unfamiliar cat looking out at her quizzically.  No, that wasn’t home.  The Persian gestured for Peep to walk through, and explained that she wouldn’t be coming into Pottawatomie with her, that her place was here in the nether lands.  Peep gave the Persian a quick nuzzle and stepped through into a different life. 

For the second time in what seemed to be the same day Peep was somewhere new.  It looked like it could be anywhere around home, but there was nothing familiar except the vegetation and the soil, oh, and the sky.  Even better, it was still summer here.  The cat who had looked at her through the doorway politely greeted her.  “Hello, my name is Daisy, you must be Peep.  I live here and understand you’re looking for some cats to live with.”  Daisy sat down and politely waited for Peep to answer.

“Oh, um, yeah, I guess I am, and this is the kind of place I said I wanted to live.”  She sighed, and thought she’d be doing a lot of that from now on.  “May I look around?”

Daisy agreed and offered to guide Peep around the house and the area surrounding it.  There was a smallish house, plenty large enough for a few cats, but not tall enough for humans to get inside without crawling.  There was a room with food dishes and a low table, a room with various types of cat beds and smallish regular beds, a room with cat toys and what she thought was a kind of bathroom.  Inside the bathroom there was a litter box and an open cabinet with combs and brushes.  It seemed nice enough.  The yard had lovely trees for climbing with branches low enough to get to and turn around if you didn’t like going down the trunk backwards.  There was something that looked like a playground, except that it was scaled for cats.  Peep was intrigued.  She’d always wanted to go to a playground.  There were no roads, but there was a broad dirt path that led past the house.  Peep looked in either direction down the path and saw other dwellings, some that looked cat sized and some that were smaller or larger.  Daisy saw Peep’s quizzical look and told her that it was a very diverse neighborhood.  There were several houses of cats; one house packed chock full of hamsters, and one house that had numerous goats.  Daisy added that luckily the goat house was pretty distant from the others, as the goats didn’t really smell very good. 

Peep laughed at that.  It wasn’t what she expected when the Persian had said that other animals lived here, but it made sense.  If there were houses for cats why wouldn’t there be houses for hamsters and goats.  She did dearly hope that there were no houses for snakes anywhere near, because she was afraid of snakes. 

Daisy asked if Peep would like to try out living here, and Peep replied that she would.  One place was probably as good or bad as any other, and at least this cat was polite and friendly.  The two of walked down the path and found that it met other paths, branching out in many directions.  Peep wondered how she could ask to get to that magical lake without actually asking the question. 

“Peep, are you wondering where the lake is so you can look in on your humans?”  Daisy said this hesitantly.  Peep was startled and wondered if this cat was a mind reader.  “No, I can’t read your mind, but I’ve been here for a good long while, and I recognize the look on your face.  It’s part longing, part sorrow and a little tiny bit of happy anticipation.”  Daisy smiled at that.

“Yes I would.  Do you think it would be a bad idea if I went there now?”  Peep wanted to see them, but didn’t want to blow it and be moved away from the lake or have her memories erased. 

Daisy said that she thought it was a fine idea, and that if Peep wanted she’d go with her.  The two cats continued down the path and the lake appeared to their left.  Peep slowed down as she got closer.  Fear was taking over.  What if they’d replaced her already, and how long had she been gone, anyway?  How would she feel if the Daddy and the Mommy were happy and laughing and didn’t even seem to care?  Worse, they might be crying over her and she’d feel terrible that she couldn’t snuggle with them to make them feel better. 

“Peep, I’m right here with you if you want to do this.  I can’t see what you see, but just tell me what you see and feel and we can get through this together.”  Daisy’s voice was matter of fact, not patronizing or authoritarian. 

Taking a deep breath Peep walked up to the lake.  She looked in and at first there was nothing but ripples and her reflection in the water.  A circle appeared as though someone had dropped a rock in the lake.  As the circular ripples widened she could see the Daddy and the Mommy walking in the back yard.  The Mommy was carrying something.  It looked like a cat, but it was too white, not furry and didn’t move.  She bent down at the edge of the trees and placed it on a small mound of pine needles with a hand-made cross behind it.  She stood up and the Daddy put his arm around her shoulders.  She heard the Mommy say very softly, “We love you Peep and we miss you.  You were the best little Peep anyone could ever want and no cat can ever replace you.  Rest well, Peep.”  The two of them stood in silence for a moment and then walked away. 

Peep turned her head away, crying silently.  She knew what that was.  It was the place that the Daddy had buried her old body.  It was one of a line of burials of all the cats he’d lived with and loved while he’d lived there.  She talked to Daisy about what she’d seen and how it made her feel.  Good, because they still loved her and missed her; bad, because they were so sad.  She felt almost proud because the Mommy had found a beautiful statue of a sleeping kitty that except for being white stone looked just like Peep did when she was sleeping.  The two cats talked for a while until the memory didn’t hurt quite so much.  Peep turned to take one more look.  She wanted to reassure herself that the Mommy and the Daddy were alright.  When the circle cleared the person she saw wasn’t the Mommy or the Daddy, though.  The yarn lady was walking across the yard with a small handful of wildflowers, well weeds really.  She bent and placed them between the statue and the cross.  The yarn lady said in a raspy voice, “Godspeed Peep.  I know you’re in Pottawatomie now with lots of other cats who can love you and that you can love.  We miss you so much, but I know that you’re somewhere you can be happy and cared for.  Until we meet again, Peep.”  The yarn lady walked away and as she followed the yarn lady’s path she saw her walk to the Mommy and give her a big hug.  Arms around each other’s shoulders they walked to the house. 

Peep sat back.  Her humans would be okay.  They had each other as well as the other cats.  Their lives would go on, and so would hers.  It might be a long time before she saw them in person, but that was okay.  She’d check on them every now and again and wish them the happiness they wished for her. 

Turning to Daisy, Peep cleared her throat and said, “Thank you Daisy for bringing me here and staying with me.”  She smiled a very small but real smile.  “Let’s go home.”

1 comment:

Judy Goddard said...

Beautiful and tender.