Last night, I lost Hafer, a straw colored, chubby, fourteen year old housecat. He was a little piece of my past, from the time before I became a farmer. My first wife, Mary Ann, and I found him as a young kitten wailing by the side of a narrow country road, his eyes closed with infection, his fur matted and his prospects very bleak. We rushed him to the vet, nursed him back to health and then included him in our growing country household of cats, guineas and geese.
Mary Ann died over a decade ago and I am long past the bloom of middle age. I no longer wear a suit and tie and most aspects of my life are inexpressibly different.
Of course, Hafer changed as well. He grew fat and a little crotchety, but he retained his beautiful fur, his kind eyes and his pleasant disposition. Somehow, this sweet, fat cat reminded me of who I had been when he was a kitten and thereby helped me understand the man I have become.
The recent warm weather roused an army of fleas in the room where Hafer lived with another old cat, Ears, who is as skinny as Hafer was fat. The fleas ignored bony old Ears but tormented the soft and succulent Hafer. Noting his discomfort, I decided to take him down to the kitchen and spray him with warm water to dislodge the fleas and then follow up with a little flea spray.
As I washed him, I was shocked by the billows of red that flowed from his beautiful fur. He must have been covered with dried blood from hundreds of bites. He was placid as I washed his fleas down the drain and I felt good that I was helping him out of a bad fix. When the spray moved to his legs and belly, he suddenly yelped in pain and began to become agitated. Knowing that cats don't like to get wet, I just kept washing him.
A moment later, he shuddered, clawed at the sink and went limp under my hands. This bath was too much for a tired old cat. I pulled him up out of the sink and held him to my chest to comfort him, but there was no response. Angel and I took him over to the wood stove to dry him off in hopes that he would recover. He looked peaceful but lay like a small sack of grain on my wet arms.
For an hour and a half we waited for some sign of life. Finally, not willing to believe that he was gone, we took him back upstairs and made a bed for him next to the electric heater in the bathroom. We thought we could see him breathing ever so slightly, but had already given him up in our hearts.
In the morning, I found him exactly where we had left him. I had killed my sweet, innocent Hafer.
These last few sunny days have been full of the promise of spring. We are preparing to plant our peas -- the first field crop to go in the ground each season. But now, the first thing I will entrust to the chilly womb of the Earth will not be a seed bent on bountiful ressurection.
What arises when we bury our past? Is emptiness a gift? To release a long lasting, reassuring link to yesterday is to gain the chance of grasping something else.
The loss of my first wife changed everything about my life. This newest small bereavement, stinging sharply because of my complicity, will offer some chance to make my life more relevant to those who live about me. I owe it to Hafer to make the most of a very bad experience.