When things started to collapse for me I was walking home from work one day. I found this little kitten stuck in a chain link fence. I could tell the poor thing had tried to move through it, gotten stuck, had been there long enough for a pile of poo to amass behind her. The cat had probably been eating whatever it could find crawling by its path to keep it fed. So, I knelt down, pulled a wine key out of my back pocket (I was a server, remember?) and twisted this way and that to loosen the chain link and let the cat free. I patted it on the head and said, “There you go, little one. Take care,” but that little kitten followed me. “No, you need to go chase mice and……”
No, the little bugger found its way to my front door. I called a friend and said, “So, I saved this kitten and it followed me home. It’s just a kitten. I mean, maybe 8 or 9 weeks old.” He said promptly, “Keep it! That cat trusts you. He’s being loyal. He knows you’re good. And he wants to help you the same way you helped him. He will always be by your side. No matter what. Name him Mario.”
I let the kitten in and said, “Your name is Mario. We’ll get you a cat box and food tomorrow. I’m off to bed.” It plopped under the covers with me, in the crook of my knees.
It was six months later that the little kitten was rolling around on the ground with belly up that I realized Mario was actually a Maria. But, the name had stuck and I never stopped calling her that. She answers to it. She responds to it no differently than had her name been Charlotte.
Then things took a turn for the worst. I was vacating my apartment and I was going to be homeless. I had a duffel bag filled with my clothes and a back pack that had my laptop and some other personal things. I had resigned myself to knowing that cat would be fine without me. She’d find a way to survive. She seemed like a survivor.
And just before I left that apartment I stared into those big golden eyes and realized what my friend had meant. She was going to be loyal. She was going to save me. You see, I snagged that little cat and stuffed her in my duffel bag and went on into my uncertain future. But, there was a lesson learned. You NEVER hit rock bottom, when something relies on you. You always find a way to prevail when there is a mouth to feed. And you NEVER EVER feel like you’ve lost everything when you have something to hold, to comfort, to shift your sadness from yourself.
That little cat and I went through hell. People telling me they wouldn’t take me in because I had a cat, and I would refuse. People telling me to give her up, because she’d be better off in a shelter. I telling them that was going to be the last conversation we ever had.
And when we lived alone in the woods, we protected each other. She killed rats and snakes. I gathered pennies to be able to buy cat food for her. She was companionship in the woods. No voices around. No people. She was all I had to talk to. To spend a Christmas with. To fight off loneliness. She clung back when I cried in fear and worry.
We became a team. She reminded me of how strong I needed to become in order to feed not just me…..but, her, too. It would be ok in some way if I fell through the cracks and disappeared, but no……I had something that counted on me every day. Not just for food, but for compassion. For companionship.
It has been a few years now and we’re doing so much better than we were when we were homeless and she was tucked in a duffel bag….and that little cat is still the thing I can’t stand to be away from. We stay out of each other’s way when we need to, and cling to each other when it’s necessary. Had I lost that little cat, or given her up, I would have admitted to losing everything, for which I was not prepared to do in my darkest of moments. I had her. I still had something. I had nothing and no one…..but a simple little cat proving its loyalty.
So that’s the simple version of how Mario came into my life and why she means so much to me. Had I lost her? I really would have lost everything.
I have everything.
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