Monday, September 03, 2007

From Charlie, With Love

Growing up we had a lot of pets. Recently I read a very disturbing story by the author of Violent Acres, where she described how her own mother abused animals. She told this story in relation to the Michael Vick scandal and it ended with her mother viciously kicking a sick kitten. It made me very sad. Let me tell you V, my mom would have knocked your mom out for that shit. There are sadly, a lot of animal abusers in the world, but for every V’s mom there’s a My Mom, who understands that as the most dominant species on the planet, we need to take care of all the lesser species.

So in addition to taking in a bunch of lost, sick people, we also took in a bunch of lost sick animals. That’s how at one point we ended up with three monkeys, four cats, three dogs and two human boarders. Over time we’ve had owls, rabbits, squirrels and heroin addicted schizophrenics. At least I can say it doesn’t get boring.

You can imagine some of the characters we’ve had, both animal and human. One of the most interesting pets we ever had was a cat named Charlie that my lunatic friend Amalia found in a dumpster and insisted we take because her own mother wouldn’t allow her to bring another cat home. I remember the phone call going something like this:

“I just found a cat in a dumpster and he’s really hurt and you need to come get it because your mom will take care of it!” Amalia said.

“Ok, let me ask.”

“Why do you have to fucking ask?? You’re an idiot you know that? You’re an idiot and I know you want to fuck my boyfriend so stop thinking about my boyfriend and come get this fucking cat!!!!! I know you don’t like me! You better not hang up on me. Do you know how much I love you? You’re like the best friend I ever had. Now come pick up this fucking cat!!!!! No, don’t hang up on me!!”

I told you Amalia was a lunatic. One day I’ll tell you how I had to get a restraining order against her and then I’ll explain about the time I picked up a stick and knocked her in the head with it because she wouldn’t shut the fuck up, but not right now.

When we got Charlie I was barely sixteen and in the eleventh grade. It was the first year we lived in Florida and things weren’t going well for our family. My dad was trying to work a deal in Eastern Europe and ended up getting stuck in a Romanian hotel room with a mattress over his head while bullets flew outside, ringing in the fall of Communism. He couldn’t get a flight out for a while and we didn’t have enough money to pay the electric bill or water, so my mom borrowed money, bought a close-out load of Chinese flower pots and tried selling them at an auction on the weekends. Her crippling depression and panic attacks made this pretty difficult because she could barely get out of bed, but we managed because the neighbors were starting to suspect that we were borrowing water from their spigots at night so we could wash up and boil Minute Rice. Shit sucked all around.

But like I said before, there’s always someone whose shit sucks worse than yours, so Aunt Kiki ended up in the spare room and got a job as a cocktail waitress on a riverboat karaoke cruise. Shortly thereafter Motorcycle Boy ended up homeless when his parents kicked him out. Most nights Aunt Kiki didn’t come home so Motorcycle Boy slept in her room and on the off chance that she did come home Motorcycle Boy slept on the couch and it all worked out because everyone slept somewhere.

Now Motorcycle Boy was a year older than me and just wanted to graduate high school. He worked in a record shop and had a crazy mother and an alcoholic step-dad who beat him up, but he was a good kid. I didn’t even know him. He was a friend of a friend and when I heard he had a black eye and no place to go I volunteered my house because that’s just what we did. We named him Motorcycle Boy because, well, he had a motorcycle.

Motorcycle and I weren’t even friends, but every night, under cover of darkness I slipped into his bed and made out with him, although he definitely wasn’t my boyfriend. I had a boyfriend whom I had left behind in New York. I’m all free love like that. I always have been because I figure everyone needs to have at least one vice and that’s mine. I didn’t drink or smoke, but I really liked to kiss and Motorcycle definitely benefited from that. I think that when people’s lives are awful that they seek out affection or sex because it’s free, instant feeling good and it temporarily makes you feel special. I guess this is why poor people are always getting pregnant. Their lives are so bad that they just want one easy thing that feels good and since everyone can fuck, the solution to feeling bad is easy – get laid. Then because they’re ignorant they get knocked up, make themselves more miserable and create another big vicious cycle of people whose lives are hell and who want to fuck just because it’s the only pleasure they can attain. Thank the Lord above none of this happened to me, because although I was poor I was not ignorant and plus I didn’t fuck Motorcycle anyway. We just kissed for hours on end. Once he held my hair while I threw up, but of course, he was not my boyfriend.

The day Amalia called about the white cat in the dumpster Motorcycle was at the record store, my father was by then at the Berlin Wall, my mother was in bed and Aunt Kiki was singing Purple Rain on a river cruise with Japanese tourists.

“Amalia found a cat.” I told my mother.

“Alright. Tell her to bring it over.” My mother groaned from under the covers.

Amalia begrudgingly brought the cat. It was barely alive, its back leg almost completely severed and very infected. It smelled like a dirty dish rag, which is not a good sign. When things smell like dirty dish rags that means they are infected.

“Oh my God. This cat is going to die if we don’t do something.” My mother said.

Remember, we had no money. By then the utilities had been turned back on because of the money we made selling Chinese flower pots at the auction. The remaining money we had was for groceries, the back rent we owed and the payback on the original loan used to get the pots in the first place. Vet bills would be hundreds of dollars.

My mother, having suddenly found a purpose outside of her own depression, got up, took a shower and for the first time in a week, got dressed. I too had been in a debilitating depression, hating Florida, missing my boyfriend in New York and dropping out of school. I didn’t even have the energy to start taking GED classes with the people from jail. Mostly I stayed in bed all day too. At night I made out with Motorcycle.

“We’re taking the cat to the vet.” said my mother.

Neither of us questioned how we were going to do this. She counted out her cash. We had $1,100. 600 of it end up going towards vet bills for this cat. The vet was convinced the cat wouldn’t make it through the night.

“Let me take it home.” my mother demanded.

The vet said we should just put it to sleep. My mother said we were not spending $600.00 to have the cat end up exactly as it would have ended up had it just stayed in the dumpster. The vet said the $600 would go toward the cat having a more humane end to its life. My mother said he obviously had plenty of money and didn’t understand the sacrifice that we were making so the cat could live, not die. The vet said my mother was nuts. She said “Give me that god damned cat. I’m going home with it and if it lives you’re treating it for free from now ‘til it gets better.” The vet agreed because he knew the cat was going to die and knew he wasn’t going to lose any money off that bet. Stupid white trash people thinking they can keep some mangy stray alive. Please. The vet, feeling great pity for the cat, gave it a shot of painkiller that caused its tongue to hang from its mouth.

“Good luck.” He said as we left.

I held the white cat while my mother drove. She was livid.

“Who does that bastard think he is? You watch. Doctors don’t know nothin’. I grew up takin’ care of animals and I know cat ain’t dyin’ on my watch. Motherfucker.”

We made the cat a bed in a cardboard box and set it on the floor of her closet. All night long we sat up with the cat. When the painkiller wore off the cat began to moan and if you’ve never heard a cat moan, I hope you never have to. My mother cleaned the wound on the cat’s leg and we both stroked its head. Our dog, who had been crippled a few years before came to lie down beside the cat and licked the cat for hours until he was clean. Then the dog licked the cat’s wounds.

“You remember when they wanted me to put him to sleep too?” my mother asked.

I remembered. The dog had been hit by a car. We rescued him and ignored the vet’s pleas to put him down. Now the dog was fine with nothing more than a limp and a bad case of hot spots. He was the best dog we ever had.

“You are not going to die!” my mother told the cat.

We began to tell the cat all the things it had to live for. Think of stretching in the sun that comes through the windows, of lizards with red fans flashing beneath their chins. Think of the water rats you will catch and napping beneath the pink hibiscus. We will let you sleep on our beds. You will have friends and a family and we will never drop you in a dumpster. We will feed you salmon and cheese. Cheese kitty!! Think of all the good things you will eat! This part was a lie because we barely had enough money to feed ourselves that well, but we really wanted to paint a promising future for the cat so that he would live. And he believed us.

The cat lived. The vet kept his promise and treated him for free from then on. Within a month the cat was healed. His thick white coat grew in and covered his scars. He began to eat and would spend long hours curled up on our laps purring his thanks. We decided to name him Charlie because that was the name of my grandmother, Memere Marie’s big white cat.

Charlie had a blue eye and a yellow eye. The yellow eye represented his normal, regular old cat side. This was the side of him that laid around all day, coughed up hairballs and begged for food. The blue eye was magical. When Charlie showed up all sorts of mysterious things began to happen.

My mother was no longer depressed. She got up every morning and cleaned the house. She sold more Chinese flower pots than ever before and paid back the loan. She started buying up more and more junk - mostly old furniture, and fixing it up herself. Then on the weekends she’d haul it all to the auction and make a killing off it. She would even drive through fancy neighborhoods late at night and pull stuff out of rich peoples’ trash, bring it home, clean it, paint it and patch it and then sell it. Whenever she came home Charlie met her at the door, meowing his approval.

“He makes me get up in the mornings.” She told us one day. “If it weren’t for that cat I’d stay in bed all day but he gets up in my face and hollers and bites me until I get my ass up.”

Soon after that Aunt Kiki said she had to stop drinking. Several nights in a row she had stumbled in drunk off her ass and Charlie had attacked her, tail all fuzzed up, hissing and spitting. On the nights that she wasn’t drunk he laced himself through her legs, chirping and rubbing against her affectionately.

Aunt Kiki had not given my mother any money for rent, food, bills or anything in a few months. She claimed she had no money.

“Kiki, you gotta help me out.” My mother asked.

“Sissy, I can’t. I’m hard up. I’m not makin’ any tips on the riverboat. Shit sucks this time of year. You know it ain’t Season yet. I’ll give you money when Season gets here.”

Before she could finish, Charlie, demon possessed, flew down out of nowhere onto Aunt Kiki’s purse. He kicked it with his back feet, bit and scratched the pleather and didn’t stop until he had the whole thing open wide with a big wad of cash, all wrapped up in a rubber band, hanging out. Aunt Kiki gave my mother the entire thing.

“You better not lie to me again Kiki or Charlie’ll rat you out!”

Shortly thereafter someone started pooping in the toilet and not flushing it. We blamed it on Motorcycle because this seemed like something a man would do. Motorcycle was mortified and swore he was not behind this heinous act.

“It’s fucking Kiki!” my mother said. “She’s drinkin’ again and forgettin’ to flush. God dammit!!”

Aunt Kiki hadn’t had a drink in months. Charlie sat on her lap and blinked his one blue eye and one yellow eye contentedly.

Of course then the blame fell on me. I was pooping in the toilet and not flushing it. It had to be me. Everyone else swore on their grandma’s lives that when they took a crap they flushed the toilet.

“Why is it me?” I asked, outraged. “You think after 16 years all of a sudden I’d just up and decide not to flush the toilet?? Of course I flush the toilet!! What the hell is the matter with you people??”

No one believed me. I was an easy scapegoat I guess. The poop was small. I was the smallest person in the house. It had to be me, because of course I had no shame at all and wanted everyone to see my poop.

“If you shit in this god damned toilet and don’t flush it one more time that is it!!” my mother yelled. “I did not raise you that way! You are going to be grounded for six months if I find one more turd in this toilet!!”

She found more turds in the toilet and I decided to solve this mystery once and for all. One morning before the sun rose I heard a minor ruckus going on in the bathroom. Aunt Kiki hadn’t come home, my mother was in bed and Motorcycle snored next to me. I got up and crept into the bathroom to find our big white cat, perched up on the toilet seat, tail in the air, taking a dump. In the toilet. A cat was taking a crap in the toilet. I thought I had lost my ever loving mind. A cat was pooping in the toilet?? Really?

“Charlie is pooping in the toilet and not flushing.” I announced.

“I should smack you.” My mother said. “You must think I’m a damn fool. You expect me to believe a cat is taking a shit in a toilet?”

Two days later she saw it with her own eyes. The cat was taking a dump in the toilet. She called us all in to see. No one could believe it. Charlie was very offended. He wanted his privacy back.

My mother called my father in Berlin.

“You have to come home. We found this cat and he has two different colored eyes and takes shits in the toilet!!!” she told him.

Three days later my dad was home. In his words he came home because A. my mother had once and for all gone insane and he had to get her help immediately, or B. she was telling the God’s honest truth and in that case he had to see this miraculous potty trained cat.

I began to think – if a cat can learn to use a toilet then surely I, a human girl, can get up off her ass and get a GED. Motorcycle considered this too and said to himself, if a cat can defy death and crap in a toilet, then most certainly I can stop smoking weed, sell my motorcycle, graduate high school and do something with my life. Motorcycle envisioned a new life for himself wherein he stopped blaming everything on his mother and stepfather. He realized that if a cat, who had an almond sized brain, could survive being abandoned in a dumpster with a nearly severed leg, that he, almost a grown man, could survive a fucked up family and do something wonderful with his life. The first thing he did was tell me off for being such a tease. Then he went and got a girlfriend. After that he decided to get into computers. He now has a very successful and respectable career.

Aunt Kiki did not fare quite as well as Motorcycle, but she did stop drinking for a while and she realized that she had to be responsible and get her own place.

“If I don’t, that cat will tear me to shreds.” She said.

She moved in with her eighteen year old boyfriend (she was 29) and went on to rescue several stray animals herself. A year later she was back living with us again, in our new pink house on the beach which my mother got because she did so well and made so many business contacts selling junk at the auction. None of that would ever have happened if she stayed in bed wallowing in misery. By then Aunt Kiki said she thought she might like to sell cars. If a cat could use a toilet she could sell a car. She became one of the top sales people and ended up doing commercials for the dealership because she was very pretty. The commercials were local legends. In them Aunt Kiki, probably half-lit, invited customers to drop in and “have a cuppa coffay wit meh!!” People all over quoted that commercial because of her funny accent and I was like “yeah, that’s my aunt.” I bet some of my local readers still remember these commercials. At that same dealership Aunt Kiki met her current husband.

One night, the summer after Charlie came to us, I went to the auction with my mother. By then I started my GED classes with the people from jail and I planned to go to Community College in the Fall, because although I thought I was stupid and could never get through college, I knew that my brain was bigger than an almond, and if a cat could learn to use a toilet then I could learn the quadratic formula. The night I went to the auction to help my mom, she gave me $20.00 because by then we had a little extra cash. Shit didn’t suck nearly so badly as it had. I liked making beaded jewelry back then and I loved old costume jewelry, so I placed a bid on a big box of junk jewelry that had been removed from a very old woman’s house when she died. I won the box. It was like Christmas.

At home I sorted through the box, untangling chains and pulling out unique pieces. The man who ran the auction told me there was nothing worth a damn inside that box, but it was worth something to me. I found the heart shaped charm to a very old locket. It was tarnished, dirty and looked well worn. On top of the heart was a rose made from gold. In the centerof the golden rose was at least a two carat diamond. I figured it was a fake. I flipped the charm over and engraved on the back, in faint script read the words “From Charlie, With Love, 1932.”

I showed my mother.

“It’s fake right?” I asked.

“I think it’s real.”

We confirmed with my Uncle Mendel the jeweler. The diamond was real and it was worth a lot. I told my mother she could have it and sell it if she wanted.

“I would never sell it. It’s from Charlie.” She said.

She still has it.

43 comments:

Mia said...

Magic!

I can so relate to caring for strays. Throughout my childhood my mother picked up stray dogs. We stopped counting after the first hundred. Picked up is probably the wrong term - they were coming to her, she didn't do much apart from walking around our block. They seemed to come in droves when the hard times hit, and made things better.

gulfsidebo said...

I remember Charlie! What a great cat! Dave had the best hair. I think it took him at least a tube to get it to stay the way he wanted it. Even though those times were hard for you, there were some good memories that came out of that short era...me hopes anyway.

GoingWiddershins said...

That was lovely! Had me in stitches! I love cat stories.

When I was a kid we used to rescue baby birds who fell out of the open siding in our house, and then let them go. Most of the time the birds survived, but this one time we had a sparrow and my mother said that the bird wouldn't live.

It looked all right to me, and I didn't believe her.

We put the baby sparrow in a bird cage and set it outside on our old splintery picnic table and a whole flock of sparrows came by and started to sing and flit their wings at the baby sparrow in the cage.

The next day the sparrow died. I like to think that if something as tiny as a sparrow can ease the suffering of a baby bird in its last moments, then we as humans with so much resources, can do the same.

Subservient No More said...

Of course! Some incredible memories came out of that time and most of them involved you! Charlie was the best. I'm trying to find a picture of him to scan.

gulfsidebo said...

I liked calling him Cosmic Charlie...after the dead tune.

Tina said...

Cats are funny, they know more than they let on. Great story, what an awesome cat! A bit ahead of his time too, now you can buy a book and kit to teach your cat to go to the toilet.

Anonymous said...

I have 9 cats, all rescues of one kind or another! So I so understand your story. Just tell me, how did you all move with all your animals? (We have to move across country next year sometime!)

Subservient No More said...

Yes I remember you used to call him that. I was going to put that in the story.

Anonymous - we moved a lot and I remember we just sort of threw all the animals in the car and went. We didn't have carriers for them or anything. The cats didn't enjoy this as much as the dogs. The monkeys flew all over the car or sat on my mom's shoulders.

I have 1 cat now and I wouldn't transport her without a carrier with some padding in it. A couple months ago I had to take her a few blocks and even still she peed all over the place. Cats are not good travelers.

maria said...

that is awesome. it made me yell out "aw that's awesome!"

breny said...

When are you going to get a book contract? Your writing reminds me so much of Jill Connor Browne, The Sweet Potato Queen. &our stories are as funny, if not funnier, than hers.

You have a gift.

Anonymous said...

This was one of your loveliest memoirs, thank you for writing it out.

Opening Stanza said...

Woo-hoo! Great story.

Kristine said...

I've enjoyed so many of your stories but I have to admit that this is one of my favorites! It's such a sweet story, and of course you told it so well. I even laughed out loud during a few parts. :)

Anonymous said...

Aw, much love to you and your mother. I've always subconsciously awarded people "points" in my head when I first meet them, and animal lovers get major plus-points. :) Your points are through the roof.

I've spent my entire childhood living with the animals my family's picked up from the streets. At the moment we have ten cats, five dogs and two birds. :D It was only last month that I skipped an important university class because some idiot abandoned a week-old kitten near my bus stop - I spent the whole day trying to feed it kitten formula without a dropper...

Thanks for your stories, it helps me remember that not all people are heartless. :)

Pumpkin said...

Phenomenal!!!

That just put me in a cracking mood...smiling like crazy!

Thanks.
x

Fairfax said...

That was just...fantastic.

MP said...

This story has it all! Love Charlie..love your mom's determination that he would live..always love an Aunt Kiki story... and as for making out w/ Motorcycle Dave..well, I get it, he was there!

Awesome find of the diamond. I'd love to see a pic of that as well.

So your dad was stuck in Eastern Europe BEFORE the fall of the Wall? Did he have a US passport?? That has to be a good story...

chasmyn said...

Oh my Goddess, this is the greatest story ever! I love this story - I cried, I laughed!

Subservient No More said...

The wall thing was sort of a joke. The wall fell on my birthday of that year. Then Eastern Europe was in chaos - some countries still communist, trying to have revolutions, etc. He went to try to do business in areas where you couldn't do business before. He was in Poland, Germany, Hungary and got trapped in Romania. He was there when they killed their leader and his wife. There really were bullets flying and everything. I think he was trying to sell a load of shoes or something. I'll ask him.

Mutha said...

See what happens when you name someone "Amalia"...

Anonymous said...

Sick cats are the best cure for depression. Our sick cat saved my DH's life by giving him a reason to live.

Anonymous said...

I love stories about your mom - she is proof that Karma works!

Chiada said...

Another good story from ya. It made me tear up at the end. In fact, I think all of your stories have made me tear up at the end.

Your mom must be really talented: to be able to turn junk into something sellable by cleaning it up, painting it, repurposing it, etc. That's a gift. Some people just have that vision; I wish I could do stuff like that.

I've also heard of other cats being toilet trained. Cats sure are funny beings.

Da Nator said...

I got here via First Nations, and I have to say: wonderful story, excellently told. And this is why I talk with animals. If we all allowed a magical cat to rule our lives we'd be much better off. Smelling faintly of salmon, but better off.

Anonymous said...

This is probably my favorite of all your stories you've posted, and I've read every single one! I would love to see a picture of Charlie and a picture of the locket he gave your mom if you could put one up.
When I went through a major episode of depression and anxiety my cat would snuggle with me and calm me down until I could sleep. He really took care of me...animals are so much smarter than we give them credit for.

P.S. I hope you come out with a book soon-I love your writing!

Anonymous said...

I do not know if these people
are real or not, all I know
is I love them.
Thank you
klk

Miss Kitty said...

SNM, you & I were sisters in another life.

God bless you all for taking in Charlie the Magic Ratting-People-Out Cat. I laughed AND cried reading this.

Please keep up your writing. You are getting better at this every day, and I would love to see a book with your name on it in bookstores. I'd buy a copy and make all my friends get one, too.

BY the way: I'm currently reading The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published--it's available on Amazon.com and at many local bookstores. A friend gave it to me when she heard my book idea. It's really filling me in on a lot of stuff I didn't know. Poets & Writers magazine might also be a good place to look for info; I really look forward to seeing my copy in my mailbox every month.

Here's to the power of CATS! [raises glass] Mazel tov!

Anonymous said...

Awesome story. I check for a new post every day and savor each and every one.

Joy said...

Ahhh. That was a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing your unique point of view with us. What a gift. I'm grateful.

The Wandering Author said...

There ought to be more people like your mother, but thank God for the ones there are!

booda baby said...

This is my favorite story of yours for ever and ever. Any of us wackos who love cats so desperately and believe without even trying in the enchantment of everything, even slumming, KNOW how true this is. (Even if you made the whole thing up.) LOVE it.

gulfsidebo said...

i can vouche for subservient no more that her story is true. i knew Charlie the cat, Dave, her mother, her aunt, etc. It all really happened.

NicoleinAZ said...

SNM - That was the BEST story you have ever written. I literally have goosebumps.

I am not a cat lover, one time I went to a meeting at an animal shelter and received a tour while I was there. Somehow, while I was on a tour a kitten stowed away in my purse. I didnt realize she was there until I got home and by then the shelter was closed. So I became a cat owner, by God she had earned it. And so was born, Sidney Bristow, secret agent (yes I was an avid ALIAS fan). To this day that cat brings me more joy than I can tell you.

I still maintain that I don't like cats. After all, Sidney is not a cat, she is undercover.

Sauntering Soul said...

Thank you for writing this. It's sweet, funny, sad, meaningful, and full of hope all at the same time. I love this story!

Anonymous said...

This is by far the best thing I have read on the internet in a long time. Please keep sharing your beautiful stores and thanks so much for giving me a peek into your lovely world.

Anonymous said...

what a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

Leonesse said...

The weirdest pet saving in our very odd family was baby skunks. Very odoriferous and very cute baby skunks. They were incredible fun to watch play, think ferret-like. All was well and good until one of them decided to crawl under the washing machine while it was running. You could smell that from the road, a good half a mile from the house down a looooong driveway. I am not sure what happened to them after that, but the smell lingered for a very long time.

JoeyJoJo said...

This is such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us.
I too had a cat who steered me out of depression by licking my tears in bed every night.

Mile High Pixie said...

OMG! What a wonderful tale! Sounds like Charlie was beyond psychic around that house. Thank you so much for sharing!!

staticwarp said...

SNM! you are so fucking awesome! awesome awesome spantabular! (use of profanity + positive adjectives^4)!

thanks for another good one. i hope you understand my equation.

you freakin rock!

Anonymous said...

Hey Sub no More,
Thank you for the tips on moving with animals. You'll have to tell a story some time in detail about moving with the monkey loose!
I've been thinking about what you wrote about people shagging with out thought. About how even people who are poor and homeless shag because it is the only thing that gives them joy. I think you hit the nail on the head. I just wanted to let you know that your comment stuck with me and is slowly adjusting my world view!
Hope life is good for you!! :)

Q said...

That made me sniffle and tear up a little at the end. I blame hormonal cycles and the fact that one of my rescued dogs is nearing the end of her life. But mostly it's because you have such a way with words. Thanks so much for writing these stories down so people like me can read them and marvel at the craziness of the world.

A said...

I love this story.

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