I moved into Kaitlin’s apartment in Wilmington at the beginning of August.
Maddy, Kaitlin’s roommate, moved to Raleigh for a new job. She was going to adopt one of Kaitlin’s cats at some point. Bean.
Bambi would always stay with Kaitlin. They couldn’t be separated. No matter what.
Bean would be fine. She liked Maddy more anyway. Bean and Bambi never got along. They fought constantly. They chased each other all over the house. They cut each other’s faces and necks up all to hell. When Bambi laid in our laps at night we picked scabs out of her fur.
We told her, “Mean Bean won’t hurt you no more, baby.”
But while Maddy got settled up in Raleigh, and we looked for jobs up north, Bean stayed with us. And she needed our attention.
She climbed into my lap and pushed her head into my face. And I kissed her forehead and pushed my face back. And we repeated while Bambi watched, disgusted.
Bean didn’t know how to pull her claws in and I didn’t wear a shirt around the house because I was finally getting over my body image issues, so her claws dug up stomach.
Bean could never relax. No matter how much love she got. She always kept her feet stiff and close together. Like stilettos into my stomach. I wanted her to stop hurting me and I wanted to not be so sensitive. I wanted to just be the scratching post she needed.
I needed to stand and take it and bleed in silence.
Sometimes it wasn’t even her claws or stiff legs that hurt. Sometimes it was the way her whiskers touched my face when she pushed her head into mine. It was almost like they were too soft. Too gentle. I panicked at that kind of discomfort too.
One afternoon while Bean was awkwardly standing on my chest, I put my hands together under her and held her like a little baby. She rolled onto her back against my arm and push her head into my shoulder. She stared up into my face. She never let me hold her that way before. She was always so skittish. So nervous to be contained by anyone. She seemed to be in the beginning stages of trust.
We laid together for a few minutes. I thought we had finally figured something out. She just needed some more pressure. She needed to know she was alive and the world could affect her. That something could pick her up and hold her down. Have her back.
Bean didn’t know how to make her face say please.
Bean didn’t know how to ask the question, “Will you hold me?”
I kissed her head again and hugged her body to my chest and pulled her paws away from my stomach so they wouldn’t cut my skin anymore. She looked up into my eyes like the sky was opening. Like she was dying and seeing god.
Right then would have been the perfect time to shed a single tear. Me with my perfect peaceful child. Nonverbally communicating under the ceiling fan. Because I regretted that Maddy was adopting Bean. I wanted her to come up north with us so I could hold her every day when I got home from work. And again every night before she fell asleep. I wanted her to need this ritual and need me to perform it.
But I couldn’t cry no matter what. No matter how I thought about our intertwined lives coming together too late and falling back apart.
I couldn’t stick the landing.
Then I shifted my weight on the bed and Bean jumped down and ran out of the room. I called her name. Made a clicking noise. But she didn’t come back.
I wiped a few drops of blood off my stomach.
Maddy came back to Wilmington a few weeks later to pick Bean up. Kaitlin and I had to scruff her and put her in a car kennel. She was quiet in the little cage. Stress turned her off.
Kaitlin and I looked into the car kennel and talked quietly to her.
“We love you, Bean,” we said. “We’re going to miss you so much.”
“This is better,” we said. “This will make your life happier. We promise.”
Bean stared back at us.
The sound our mouths made didn’t mean anything to her. It was a whirring that meant Scruffing and Cage and Long Car Ride. It meant she would drool nervously for a few hours before falling asleep in a strange place.
And we didn’t know if it was going to be better for her. We wanted to believe it as much as we wanted her to believe. The same whirring sound with almost the same meaning.
When Maddy left, Kaitlin sat in the living room and didn’t say anything. I stood behind her and put my hand on her back. Just below her neck. We stared into the empty hallway where Maddy’s bookshelf used to be. Where Bean would sit and mew at light reflecting on the ceiling.
Bambi walked out of Kaitlin’s bedroom. Where she had been hiding before. She was afraid the same thing would happen to her soon.
“Not yet, Baby Girl,” I said to Bambi. “You still have some time.”
She walked around the house. Low to the ground. Through the living room to the back bedroom and kitchen. She looked in the bathroom. She still smelled Bean but couldn’t find her. She moved uneasy. Her shoulder blades were high up. Her ears were back. It could have been a neutral expression of searching or the beginning of longing. Maybe it was the first time she realized she needed Bean.
“Am I alone?” Bambi thought. “Did she get better at hiding? If I’m not alone, and she is hiding, then she is getting good. This is best she’s ever been”
Bambi said all of that with her worried green eyes.
“What’s worse?” I said. “Bambi missing Bean, or Bambi being happy she is finally gone.”
“Missing Bean,” Kaitlin said. “She has wanted this for years.”
I didn’t like thinking that, though. It wasn’t a good answer for me. I wanted to believe that our cat was pure. Better than we could ever imagine to be. I didn’t want Bambi to hold a grudge or feel bitter toward another being.
It was a waiting game, I guess. Kaitlin knew her cat better than anyone. But I would keep an eye on her. I would teach her how to forgive and forget and grow emotionally. To let go and breathe. We were going to do it together.
I looked at her and tried to make my face say, “I promise to be a good dad.”