Monday, October 7, 2013

Einstein: A Tale of Cats and Eschatology

by JaneAnn Kenney

Now, I’m not one of those Left Behind sort of eschatology nuts, although not having read the books or watched any movies (are those movies out yet, Nic Cage?), I don’t suppose I can say for certain. I am pretty certain though. In any case, I’m not a Chicken Little or anything. What I can say about eschatology is that sometimes in the now we get glimpses of the not-yet. These glimpses fascinate me and fill me with hope, and often with tears. One such glimpse was given to me by a very old man and a cat.

Whether consciously or not, I have avoided writing about cats. I do not think I’m a crazy cat lady in the making, but I admit that my sister and I have a plan for our widowed days. This plan alternatively involves hiding neighborhood baseballs found in our yard in the dark recesses of our old house and forbidding their young owners into our yard, or else inviting the ball players onto the porch for freshly-baked cookies. The non-negotiable in either scenario is the cats. We both adore them—for entertainment value, for snuggle value (when they so decide), for not having to walk them or take them outside in a manner akin to the Postal Service’s sun, rain, or snow policy value.

I’ve avoided writing about them for what I think are now obvious reasons. It gets a little intense. Since I was born, there has not been a time when my family did not own at least one kitty, and most of the time we’ve had at least two around. Needless to say, we have all kinds of stories about the critters. However, I’ll only tell one, and then I’ll give you my pithy proverb, and then I’ll be through, at which point you can decide whether I am a crazy cat lady (but not before, please).

Our cat Einstein was the proverbial scaredy cat. Mom always said he was born near a big, mean dog under a porch, but now that I’m older and wiser, I suspect he was born inside a meth house (this was West Virginia, after all; Go ‘Eers!). In any case, he spent most of his life afraid. I think that my energetic nature was terrifying to him, being rather reminiscent of his chaotic kittenhood, which is why instead of being my kitty, he adopted my brother, Scott, as his human.

He became a big, beautiful cat, all dark stripes with white accents at his feet, the tip of his tail, and belly. Though never fat, he was a solid cat. Unlike fluffy cats who sometimes look quite heavy, Einstein looked deceptively light. He was built. As a result, it was ironic that everything terrified him. Any natural predators to be found would have to think twice about such a heavy beast, and—let’s be honest—we weren’t in the wild parts of West Virginia, i.e., no bear spottings for days on end.

Life was sometimes hard for Einstein. He didn’t much like other cats and got into the habit of spraying pee inside the house whenever new cats arrived, marking his territory. This made him an outdoor cat. Following a family move, he hid underneath our new clawfoot tub for three days. (We both miss that tub…) When his human went away to college, no one was willing to sit with him calmly for hours and deal with his slobber and claws.

Then my family made another move, this time to Indianapolis. For months my parents lived in a rental apartment and couldn’t keep any of the cats with them. So they got farmed out to family. Einstein went immediately to live with my grandparents in Columbus, Ohio.

Now my grandparents in Columbus are—unsurprisingly—also cat people. They used to have exclusively Siamese cats but became more equal-opportunity with the years. Einstein entered the house as the third cat and was meant to stay until my parents found a permanent house. When they found it, however, he did not leave promptly.

For the last years of his life, my grandfather suffered a lot and in many ways. He had emphysema from years of smoking. He had dementia, which eventually robbed him of his independence. He couldn’t remember how to drive home from his usual haunts around town, and he relived painful war memories he’d spent years avoiding. Once quick-witted, he would now repeat the same questions over and over, circling back to what had already been said. He even began watching football. And enjoying it. All those years in Buckeye country and he didn’t care about football till 2011.

You think I’m kidding. I am not kidding.

It progressed to the point that Grandpa would leave the house for doctor visits and not much else. It was at this time that Einstein came to be fostered in his house. My brother and I were nervous; the cat didn’t like new situations and definitely didn’t like new cats (the spraying bit again).

I think Einstein lived in Columbus for about a year and a half. In that time, he and my grandpa became inseparable. They were old men together. Grandpa would lie in bed watching TV or sleeping while Einstein lay beside him, being constantly and carefully petted, purring, and leaving only for the litter box or food.

My grandpa died last October. We had expected it for a long time, and he’d been predicting it for maybe my whole life. I held myself together pretty well for a little while, talking on the phone to my mom and my grandma. It wasn’t until I heard about Einstein that I lost my cool. It was my grandma who told me.

That cat lay by my grandpa’s side to his dying day. Einstein stayed by his side even after Grandpa had stopped breathing. He was the warm spot when Grandma found Grandpa in the morning. With Grandpa’s bed empty, Einstein wandered the house looking for his person. He cried. He was lost.

I’m not saying that we adopted Einstein eighteen years ago so that he could go comfort my grandfather in his twilight. I’m not even saying God orchestrated a move for my parents so that the cat would have to go live with my dying grandfather. What I am saying is that when my grandfather’s body and mind betrayed him, the cat gave him comfort, day in and day out. I know it’s not a lion and a lamb story, but for me the tale of Einstein and my grandfather is an echo from eternity, whispering about what will be.

Now I take care of Einstein. When he’s stinky, or he tracks cat litter through the house and leaves dirty paw prints all over from sneaking into my brother’s bathtub, I remember the happiness Einstein brought to my grandpa, and I go pet that old cat. I deal with the slobber and the claws, because he did a good thing for a man who needed him.

You can ask JaneAnn about: Nashville, theology, cats. Baseball. Glacial rivers. Her stance on the color purple, and then again the existence of the word "purple." General frivolity and terrible music (for the DANCING!!). Old Stephen King novels, time zones, and toll roads in Oklahoma. She will not, however, answer any questions about that thing living in her fridge. You can follow her on Twitter @JAKof3Ts.

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