Have you ever been saved by the love of an animal? Saved by a Cat? I was. I really was…I’m alive today because of a stray grey cat (Simon the Cat). It was 1983. I was just out of college and living on Abbott Avenue, just up the road from SMU. I had my first miserable job at the NBC Affiliate, Channel 5 News here is Dallas. I was a journalism major. My internship was there, and they hired me. The day my internship started I arrived at 7am, by 10am I knew I had just spent four years at SMU, and a load of money on something that I didn’t like. I stayed a few years in hopes of convincing myself I hadn’t truly made such a yucky choice.
As you know, most of the time it takes bad news to make news. I was the person that pulled the report of Princess Grace’s car crash off the wires. I called the morgue three times a day for updates. By the time I added the fourth lock to my apartment door, I knew I needed a change.
The catalyst for this change was a private plane crash at a small DFW airport. It killed a father, his little girl, and their pilot. A cameraman went out for photos. We only needed photos for a one-minute-twenty-second story. However, I stood in the editing booth looking at photos of things no one should see. I was asked to phone the family for details. I couldn’t do it—now firmly convinced this was not my path…I quit.
Now, how does this lead to a cat, you ask? Well, the back story to this misery is that I also was very alone in the world. My father had passed away from a sudden unexpected heart attack when I was thirteen. I was an only child and unbeknownst at the time, my mother had Borderline Personality Disorder. What this means is that I was her sport—her target. Anything possible to make me fail, or feel bad about myself was her end goal.
I was a runner. I started the morning my dad died. As the funeral home carried him out of the house, I dashed out the door running up-and-down the street until my Aunt Mary arrived and stopped me. I kept running…every day…running. By the time I graduated college, I had worked up to running ten-plus miles a day—a day.
I would roll out of bed, pull on my spandex, kneel at my bed and pray: “Dear God, Please kill me today. If you need a body quota, take me, not someone’s mother or daughter or sister or wife—take me. I have no one. I affect no one. No one will miss me. Please Kill Me Today. Amen.”
Then I would go run three-plus miles, clean up, get dressed, expect to be killed, go to work, come home and run another three-plus miles. I usually couldn’t sleep, so I went to the SMU track between 10pm and midnight for another three-plus miles…only to wash and repeat the next day. Today I laugh and say, “I couldn’t get killed if I ran down the freeway holding a dagger point side up!”
Since I was praying to die, I was also trying to figure out how to kill myself, but efficiently, painlessly and well done. I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to stay.
I lived in an apartment building with all the doors facing an inside hallway. I saw this grey cat a few times when I would come in at night. He would peek at me from behind the stairs. I always stood and talked to him for a few minutes.
One night there was a nasty electrical thunderstorm. It was about 5am when I heard a racket at my door. I looked out of the peep hole and saw nothing, but the noise was still there. I opened the door, looked down, and there he stood—desperate, wet and spraddle-legged, braced for anything as he reached the point of needing a human.
We stared at each other, he said, “Meow”. I said, “Come in, your name’s Simon (I have no idea where that came from) and we’ll go to the vet.” I had no idea how to care for a cat. I think I actually offered him a bowl of milk! I couldn’t go back to sleep. I just stared at him. He was gun-metal grey in color, intense in personality, possessing a raspy deep voiced meow, thin as a bone, almost ghost-like, and awesome—he was home, and so was I!
I loved Simon so much, I couldn’t kill myself. I no longer prayed to die. In a complete reversal I started taking better care of myself. I was worried about what would happen to him if I wasn’t around. He hated everyone, but me. He hid in the drapes when my mother was in my apartment. One day he flew out—airborne—and bit her so badly on the thumb, she had to go to the doctor.
Simon slept on my pillow, followed me to the bathroom, sat on the counter while I cooked, rode in the car anchored between my neck and the head rest. He was a traveling, “Love his Mama” kinda cat. I was offered an opportunity to teach English in China, I declined. I couldn’t leave Simon. I married Mac because for the first time ever, Simon liked someone else, so I thought I’d better pay attention to his instincts. Yep, I married Mac because my cat liked him. Well, it was the starting reason.
Years later I had a visit with a Huna Shaman. A woman. She knew nothing about me. She mentioned that one of the greatest sources of help in my lifetime will be from boy cats. Well, I couldn’t stop laughing. I thought that was such a silly thing to say. A few days later I thought about what she said, and she was right.
…and now Harold
Roll forward to January 2017—up walks Harold (known at the time as “The Kitten with the Big Head”) and his mother. We watched as they ate from our outside community food bowl. Unable to get close to humans, they nibbled and hid, taking up residence behind pots and a bamboo screen in the courtyard of my studio. In February, Mac saw fur on the ground. We never saw the mother cat again. However, we could hear rustling sounds behind the pots, and the food bowl was continually eaten clean. In March, Kitten with the Big Head moved outside the gate, into hedges where he meowed to passers by, but was untouchable.
I began to worry about all the other kittens that would show up if I didn’t do something. So, I invested in a feather toy with a bell. Mac taped it to a long stick and I sat for weeks on the back steps waving it at KWTBH. He was cagey. I kept shortening the stick. Finally close enough, I got a head-pet…and a photo of the moment.
A few days later, April 8, the sliding doors were open. I heard “Meow, Meow” and KWTBH was standing in the center of my studio. I closed the door. I said, “Your name’s Harold (I have no idea where that came from) and we’ll go to the vet.” He walked under my desk where he fell asleep and never again returned outside.
Now at this moment in time, there’s no personal crisis. The last cat, Tibby, passed away in 2008. I just longed for a cat. I missed having a cat, and deeply hoped for one. I knew one day Mr. Perfect would arrive…and he did.
Once again I find myself saved by a Cat.
You may see lots of photos on my Instagram Account under my name, or you may go to his page on Instagram at #HaroldofGod.
From the book, On Cats by Charles Bukowski, pg. 87
“Having a bunch of cats around is good. If you’re feeling bad, you just look at the cats, you’ll feel better, because they know that everything is, just as it is. There’s nothing to get excited about. They just know. They’re saviors. The more cats you have, the longer you live. If you have a hundred cats, you’ll live ten times longer than if you had ten. Someday this will be discovered, and people will have a thousand cats and live forever. It’s truly ridiculous.”
Those after Simon and before Harold
What good is this post if I don’t bore you with photos of all the others; Simon, Sebastian, Sophie-Willow, Tinker and Tibby…a small dog named Fred, of course Poodle Henry and now, Harold-of-God.
The Literary CatCast Podcast is Coming Soon
The Literary CatCast is a bi-monthly podcast no longer than seven minutes. I will be reading sections of literature with cats as the featured character…stay tuned!!!
Phebe Phillips lives in Dallas. Her first book, Why Me? Positive Verse for Loss and Sadness is forthcoming May 2018. Her poetry has been published by literary journals world wide. She’s working on two podcasts: The Specialness of You and The Literary CatCast.
Also published on Medium.