Almost immediately after graduating in the Spring of 2015, I moved to the central valley region to begin a life with my long-distance boyfriend of three years who was finishing his PhD in Northern California. Here, I have begun professional life, and beginning in the Fall, I will become a graduate student in tandem with my current professional responsibilities. One year later, I would alter neither the choices nor experiences which have led me to become the person I am today… and I owe much of who I am to someone who came into my life one year ago today: August 16th, 2015.
I had animals throughout my childhood: my mother and father were more than patient with my endless desires to assist injured wildlife, explore nature with our dog, provide a safe and loving home to stray cats, and accommodate exotic reptilian rescue pets with specific (and often grotesque) needs. Their indulgence in this area resulted in my arrival into the adult world with the knowledge that rescuing a kitten of my own was a mandatory component of a healthy life.
When my parents began their relationship over thirty years ago, this was a central requirement of theirs as well, and shortly after merging their lives together in the quaint carriage house conversion they still call home, they followed through. They had seen a sign for “free kittens” and went to investigate, where they were introduced to a still-young litter at a small house near the University of Connecticut where my Mother was finishing an M.F.A. in Acting and my Father a B.S. in Political Science after completing his service to the United States Army during the Cold War.
After playing with the kittens, they felt they had failed to make meaningful connection with any members of the litter. But just as they were leaving, out of the woods sauntered a scrawny gray and tan shorthair kitten with an air of maturity and independence beyond her weeks, a cream colored ruff about her neck. It was kismet, and both parties fell instantly in love with the runt of the litter, who, after my father’s insistence of it being a boy, they named Shakespeare — an appropriate name for my Mother’s field.
For nearly twenty years, the little gray kitten they acquired that day — who the veterinarian later confirmed to be a girl — transformed into the family pet. I remember Shakes only from her adult years onward, but from my parents descriptions of her kitten years, she was “odd” — behaving as though she had skipped the kitten years, playing only occasionally, but self-aware, intelligent, and all business. As the family acquired more animals in her later years, she maintained her trademark confidence, occasionally enjoying having a laugh at the family dog by jumping out from behind furniture. As I grew up, Shakespeare’s demeanor changed as we grew closer, and she became my best friend. During her adult years, we were inseparable.
When she was diagnosed with a degenerative disease, we made her as comfortable as we could for as long as we could, but eventually her level of discomfort and the frequency of her seizures indicated that we could do nothing more to alleviate her intensifying suffering. And so, in the back of the family car, I cradled a weak but still happy and loving, skeletal gray bundle, swaddled in a towel until our arrival at the vet’s office to send her peacefully to the other side — my world in many ways ending with hers.
When we began looking for our kitten this time last year, we examined several avenues before finding ourselves at the Sacramento SPCA in search of a special connection. Where some ‘pounds’ are just this — impoundment for unwanted animals — the Sacramento SPCA and all staff we encountered that day were respectful of their animals as though they were their own. Instantly when walking through the doors, one is met with the feeling of happy endings to come for each of the animals and bright futures for their new families.
All animals are deserving of the forever homes they so desperately want, making the decision one which must rest upon intuitive value alone. After traversing nearly the entirety of the cat floor, we had stopped at the very end of a row of cubicles to play with a calico who seemed to want nothing more than our attention (and our fingers under the door). But somehow in the midst of this interaction, I was overcome with the feeling of being watched…
I did an about face only to find my suspicions confirmed: there, in the cubicle across the floor, sat a tiny, round, gray creature who appeared to be sitting on her tail. Her head cocked to one side at a ninety degree angle, she watched me with active eyes passively but dutifully. Overcome with a feeling of certainty and an impulse to go to the creature, my soul enlivened and I bid the calico a polite adieu as I walked as quickly as possible to her side.
There she sat, examining me from behind the plexiglass door: watching, carefully balancing her head on her tiny, fluffy, round body — and apparently still sitting on her tail. She had an intelligent look about her and an almost werewolf-like appearance: blue-gray and tan fluff with two lengths of hairs (a short coat and a long coat), a tiny black nose, piercing green gold eyes with a well-defined limbal rings, and not unsubstantial paws to her tiny, two and a half pound frame. Upon provocation to play or otherwise interact with her, there was little more than continued casual and astute observation from her, acknowledging our presence but reticent to play.
Her information sheet told a sad story: shelter-given name: Bunny June. Born May 22nd, 2015 — just days after my college graduation. Found on a woodpile in the June heat at four weeks old with no other cats or kittens in sight. Was adopted just a few days before and returned — a girlfriend wanted to surprise her boyfriend but boyfriend said no due to allergies… No mention of tail-sitting in the file… Suddenly the reticence to interact with humans and apparent depression was starting to make sense, but it was clear that her trust in humans and fellow kittens never truly abated.
We saw her again as we made arrangements to meet her: in a communal kitten playroom: muscles occasionally twitching at an almost imperceptibly noticeable degree under her fluffy exterior, she wanted to play, to interact, to run. But there she sat (apparently again on her tail) throughout their entire session as we watched, unseen.
Shortly after, we met Bunny June: and onto our laps she plopped. The purring began immediately and has not ceased since. She looked into our eyes with a trust which amazed us both due to her circumstance — though she was tired, it was not by play as a kitten should be, but of the trials of her very short little life thus far. In our laps, she entrusted herself to us fully, putting her tiny frame in our hands to love and to cherish for whatever time we could give her, her demeanor making it evident that she required nothing more than just a few moments of love for the “odd” kitten out. It was during this time we discovered that she indeed had no tail — just a small stump where a tail might have been. We had fallen in love, and took her home the same day.
We quickly agreed upon a fitting name: Beckett, after Samuel Beckett, and just like that, another gray kitten named for a playwright entered my life… but she’s still called “Bun” for short given the lack of tail. Several days later, our veterinarian corroborated our suspicions regarding her taillessness with an excited “Oh! A Manx!” as an excited three-pound Beckett greeted her enthusiastically on the examination table.
One year later, Beckett has had more experiences than most people are fortunate to have. She has flown on planes (even charming her way right into first class once), loving each minute of the socialization; she has met numerous friends, receiving each with open paws; and has become a fixture in the apartment complex in which she has become somewhat of a celebrity. An absolute doll and a princess of the people, she is a kind, good natured, and dog-like family member who is always there to greet you at the door, follow you from room to room, or to talk about her day with a series of well-timed “frrrrp” sounds — and is one of the most playful cats I have ever known.
At the close of one of these adventures as my Mother drove me to the airport after a short visit home, Beckett sat staring out of the window at cars passing by, all the while demanding as much love and attention as she could get, purring all the way. There I sat in the back of the same family car, in the same seat in which I once cradled a dying Shakespeare in my arms — holding in them once again a tiny gray creature, swaddled in a towel for warmth and comfort, whose trust, love, and affections were placed in me fully.
While a great many things have changed over the year, I am still and forever will be grateful for our Beckett.