It seemed like a good idea. The teenager girl was wishing for something that could be, “just her own, not anybody elses!”. I get that. Olivia was the little sister, by four years. She had spent the last year having to share or postpone her grief from her dying father. Her fathers’ work had become successful in the public arena. There were openings and screenings and parties to attend. So many questions and comments. A very public way of dealing with a loss too fresh to swallow. So instead, she swallowed her tears and all the melancholy that was building on a daily basis. We all had postponed our grief, and now it was coming back to bite us, at 200 miles per hour. This was a girl whose Dad had gotten sick during Christmas. Her father had almost two feet of his intestines removed, two days after Christmas. He spent New Year’s in Hospital, and she and her brother had been shuffled off to the relatives in New Hampshire, while her father and I reeled and tried to regroup our optimism and momentum. Of course she wanted something of her own. She had lost someone very dear to her. Something I couldn’t replace.
Did I tell you that I am allergic to cats? Found that out the hard way, living in a Parlor floor brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. I had been singing professionally, for about three years, when I developed asthma. Cats and asthma, a bad combination, especially for a singer. We had not had a cat in these parts for over twenty years. However…
My girl wanted a cat. A kitten, more specifically. I walked past a brick building on a hot, late Spring day in Pawtucket. A little A-framed sign stated, rather seductively:
LOOK! KITTENS! LOOK!
C’MON IN AND LOOK!
IT DOESN’T HURT TO LOOK!
They were right. How much harm would there be in looking?They were beautiful. Dark grays, Siamese colored, all with blue eyes, the same color as my daughters’. She would love one. Or two. I decided the compromise was one. A blue-eyed Siamese. We could name her Mei-Mei. I think that means “little sister”. How cute!
Mei-Mei came home with me that day. I totally forgot what my original errand was that day, but it didn’t matter. I had a gift for my sleeping daughter. The only time I could hug her these days, was when she was sleeping. Her sadness and anger about her Dad had been safely transferred on me. The land of unconditional love would carry her sorrow, much like all those years I carried her backpack on the way home from school, when the responsibilities of being the excellent student and role model were cast aside for a game of “off the wall”, or for a trip to the ice cream store by the school, filled with little girls in their plaid Catholic school jumpers.
The kitten, whose name is not Mei-Mei, is still with us, four months later. Her name is Ella. Named after the singer who had the blues and sang the blues. Not unlike the mother. The thing that is different now, it being the end of summer, is the daughter and the cat are sleeping in the mother’s bed. I held my breath the night the kitten tip toed into my room and sprung onto my blanket, purring like a small, one cup at a time coffeemaker. A few nights later, the daughter followed, with the excuse of needing to get the kitten. I held my breath that time too, as she settled down on my pink blanket with her Siamese cat. I could hug her and snuggle her without her having to be asleep. I was in heaven. For the first time in a long while, a peace filled sleep.