In the beginning, there was warmth. Mom was warm, my brothers and sister were warm, and the spot behind the planter in front of the big bay window in the bedroom where Mom had chosen to bear us was bathed in warm sunlight most every day. The warmth was about the only thing I was really cognizant of during those first weeks, that and Mother’s teat and the mewing of my litter mates. Those earliest days of life are always dominated by instinct and not much else; over the course of my lives I’ve come to recognize that. We’re born with only the most basic things we need to survive, such as suckling and seeking warmth and protection. It’s only as we mature and begin to experience life that we’re able to access our higher knowledge and intellect.
Next I became aware of the humans. Mom made them keep their distance when we were still very young, but once our fur starting coming in and we could see and get around a little bit on our own, she started letting them offer us enticements to play, to even pick us up on occasion.
Homo sapiens can be pretty intimidating, particularly at first contact. They’re big and loud and often speak in false voices when talking to animals and their own small children. They take their physical dominance of the world as indication that they also have intellectual and cognitive superiority without ever realizing how many species surpass them in both, and that most species have far more highly developed telepathic and communications skills, not to mention common sense, empathy, and a sense of right and wrong. But having been there and done that, I do know just how limiting and frustrating it is to be human.
Of course none of us can agree on just which species might be closest to the higher power. Humans are obviously clueless, with very rare exception. There has been a of handful of enlightened individuals since the species appearance on the planet, but really not a very good showing in comparison to, say, Felis catus. Many feline scholars believe that since we spend nine life times attaining wisdom, that we must be, in general, more apt to break the cycle of rebirth after that ninth lifetime. It is, alas, one of those rhetorical questions; one cannot know what it takes to break the cycle until it is broken. If what the feline dogma professes is so, I might be getting close, because this is cat life number nine and I suspect that my time is now short. But of course I did not know any of that, not in the beginning.
In the beginning there was wonder….wonder at the vastness of the world away from the box by the window. There were smells and sights and tastes everywhere. There was play. One of my brothers was kind of puny and he mostly stayed by Mom, but my other brother and my sister and I had a grand time exploring the bedroom, playing tag, and toying with the humans. There were insects and birds outside the window and all sorts of nooks and crannies to explore, furniture and drapes to scale, games of hide and seek. The birds would call out to us in mocking tones, well aware that the humans had us locked in and unable to engage in the hunt. The humans would entice us to attack and play with them and then would object the first time they got a claw or a tooth. They are so stupid sometimes; it so often takes months to teach them the rules of the game, and by that time they’ve usually lost interest.
One day the puny one was gone when the humans took us back to the box, and we all missed him when it came time to huddle together during the cool night. We had all been pulling for him, even giving him first opportunity at the prime teat, but it was not to be. Mom was old enough to recognize that he’d simply passed through that life very quickly, part of the natural progression. My siblings and I didn’t yet have that awareness and only mourned his loss. She comforted us as we cried, bathed us with the warmth of her ministrations.
Shortly after that, Mom started encouraging us away from the box more and more. She gave us less time at the teat and the humans started providing crunchy food. The more crunchy food we got, the stronger our teeth grew and the less Mom wanted to nurse. It’s kind of a viscous cycle. It’s not that I don’t like crunchy food, but it just doesn’t offer the same comfort as Mom’s warm body and accompanying licks. It’s a tough time in life, because with it comes the recognition that soon we’re going to have to take a whole lot more responsibility for ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you’re feline or human or even a cetacean, once you’re taken from your mother’s breast, life is about to change dramatically. If only we knew just how much.
For cats living in the world of humans, the experience is almost always dramatic and traumatic. Feral cats have it very good in many ways, although there are those who feel that interaction with humans helps us reflect on our baser natures and is therefore a more spiritually valuable existence. I suppose bondage often is a character building experience for those souls unlucky enough to find themselves in the unenviable position of housecat. Of course there are those humans who offer their feline friends pretty much unlimited personal freedom, so I guess that might be considered the best of both worlds.
But the initial experience of being taken from your mother to go live life with humans in some other context is almost always awful. It sure was for me on this go round, and it did trigger the first recall of incidents from my previous lives. I think it was when the humans took my sister away a few days before my big ordeal that I remembered being feral during my second lifetime. I had a sister singled out and stolen by a human then, too. We’d been living behind a dumpster near a school when some kids found us. We all ran like mad, and they only managed to catch the smallest female. My mother from that lifetime had only objected mildly; she’d been around and knew the score. We were living in an overcrowded district and survivorship was pretty low. I sure as heck did go hungry a lot of nights after that. So perhaps my sister did better than the rest of us; it’s one of those things we rarely find out. Sometimes the sibling telepathy remains strong if the other is not taken too far away, but that was not the case on that occasion, as it seldom is.
The day the humans came and took my sister away from the box by the window marked the beginning of my own personal trauma. A group of them came and stared at us and spoke in those false voices intended to put us at east. Stupid humans don’t recognize that it actually frightens us because we can only sense their falseness at that point, it takes us a while to actually learn the language. My mother was of course fluent by that time, and she knew what was happening. They picked us up and made faces and false noises at us, felt our genitals to reassure themselves of our sex, a test that my brother and I both apparently failed. We were returned to the box and our sister was taken away. My mother cried a single tear, and for the last time, offered us the comfort of her warm body. Later that day she started preparing us, letting us know that we, too, would be taken away from her. We could sense her sorrow and her own fear of what this would mean for her. Would the humans next take her to be “fixed”, so that she could never know the joy of motherhood again? She’d had that experience in a previous life and ended up fat and diabetic. Those monsters had even had her claws removed and forced her to wear a strap around her neck to show her submissiveness to them. And humans think themselves superior.
Feline mothers are incredibly loving and nurturing early on, but the coddling usually doesn’t last long. Cats are survivors and too much mothering can be very dangerous in the wrong situation. Our mother had been around the block of life a few times knew that the best she could do for us at that point was not to baby us, but instead to do her best to make us ready for whatever was to come.
She paced and paced and finally sat before us and gazed into our eyes and gave us these thoughts as her parting gift. Life is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Take what comes your way and do your best with it. It’s almost always easier to stay fed and warm if you live with humans, but often the price is very high. Like all beings, some humans are very good hearted and wise, others are cruel and stupid. Most have some degree of each of those attributes. You can almost surely survive on your own on the streets, but that often leads to isolation and companionship is a good thing, sometimes even human companionship. This is one of nine lives you’ve been given to learn what you need to know about being a pussy cat. Perhaps it will be the culmination of all that you need to know about simply being, and it will prepare you for non-being. That I do not know. You have good genes; your father was a feral scholar who passed this way on a spiritual journey. Although my parents both lived with humans, both had their freedom and good health. The humans we live with here are not the best of companions, their intelligence is mediocre and they are too full of their own lives to better themselves through interaction with us. You might do worse or better, I cannot say. I love you and wish you well in this lifetime and am proud to have been given the opportunity to bring you into the world. Now until the time when they come for you, let’s play! I’ll show you some more mousing techniques! We’ll work on the toss and snag, and if there’s time, perhaps I’ll show you some bird jumps!
They came for us the next day.
In the beginning, it wasn’t so bad, but only in the beginning. They actually caught us by complete surprise. When my sister was taken, it had been by outsiders, and it had been sudden and unexpected. My brother and I were taken by our very own humans, a contingency we hadn’t counted on despite our preparation. They came in the room and picked us up and spoke to us in the now familiar false voices. They used a tone that we had come to recognize was supposed to be soothing, so we were unafraid. They even got the small blanket that had lined our baby box, now freshly laundered, and wrapped us in its warmth as the carried us from the room.
Then came the cage. It was a cramped plastic box with a barred door, and they forced me and my brother in to it, kicking and fighting all the way. This prompted the human with whom I was doing battle to smack my head, which dazed me long enough to give him opportunity to shove me into the cage. My brother opted out of the smack and let himself be pushed in with me. The slamming of the door and emotional state of the human threw us both into a panic. At least we had each other, and we cowered together and mewed as our world rocked with the motion of the cage as the human carried us from the house and into the outside world. That was the next shock, the transition from stale air and human voices to one of wind and birdsong and color and a million foreign smells and sounds, but it was very short lived.
Then the human got into another stale and enclosed space and put the cage on his lap and slammed the enclosure shut. On its other side, a door opened and the other human got in, followed by another loud slam. My brother crossed the threshold of sensory overload at that point and let out his most passionate yowl. Keep in mind, we were only six weeks old. The human cooed and I licked brother’s face, which calmed him a little. Then the enclosure made a loud roaring noise that drowned out the humans’ chatter, and a cacophonous sound came blasting from its walls. Brother and I both pretty much lost it then, and when the enclosure started to move we both just shrunk ourselves into the blanket in the cage and into each other and held on. There is comfort in companionship, and those last hours that I spent with my brother were deep.
That first car ride probably only took a small fraction of a day, but it felt like forever to us. I’ve had quite a few car rides since then and have almost learned to like them, now that I understand. But for my brother and I, that experience was the beginning of an ordeal that lasted for days. Sadly, I don’t know how it all ended up for him. I sure do wish him well and think of him often, but that’s the way cats are.
Eventually the motion stopped, and shortly thereafter so did the roar of the engine and the blare of the radio. Once again the cage was jostled out into the open world and yet another onslaught of sights and sounds assailed us as we were transported to our next destination. From the outside, it didn’t look much different from the building we’d been born in, but the minute the doors opened my brother and I looked at each other and knew, almost instinctively, that this was bad.
First it was the smell. Animals, and a lot of them, many sick, most afraid. And death, there was the unmistakable smell of death. Its aroma awakened my next big flash of previous life memories, so many came so quickly I could make little sense of them. The overwhelming impression was fear.
Then the thoughts and feelings of the other animals in the building began to sink in. Some were acknowledging our presence, offering condolence and welcome. Others were simply expressions of fear, or sorrow, or worse. Some had obviously gone mad and were ranting and rambling and taunting us.
Most of the animals there were dogs, and although I try hard not to be prejudiced, I found myself horrified to be thrown in amongst them. Generally, they’re not very bright, they smell bad, and the way they kowtow to humans is humiliating. To make matters worse, this group was not a very good representation of Canis familiaris. Most of them were street dogs; trash eaters that were infested with vermin and who ran in dangerous packs. Every feral cat knew to avoid street dogs, and knowledge gained in previous lifetimes came flooding back into my consciousness. Others, although obviously the product of human homes, were so aggressive or just plain stupid that even the humans had rejected them. Some were old, others just kids like ourselves. Some seemed like congenial enough critters and many seemed pretty confident that their humans would soon be coming for them. They’d apparently been in and out of here before.
The cat population was similarly mixed, but at least they all had the advantage of being cats. Quite a few were ferals who had been trapped or were sick. Rumor had it that they’d be put to death as would the street and other unruly dogs, although the dogs were not going to be any great loss to the biosphere. A lot of the cats were around our age, and the attitude was that there was a pretty good chance we’d make it out alive. The saddest group there was the older cats, one’s whose humans had died or had otherwise abandoned them. Many of them were living on borrowed time. Their keen intellect and ability to manipulate humans had endeared them to the people who ran the facility, but life in a cage in the midst of such misery had killed the desire to carry on in most of them.
The full force of the thoughts and feelings of so many animals so suddenly crashing around me was probably one of the most moving experiences of all my lives. We all have our moments of fear or pain or hopelessness, but to be thrust into such a level of angst after the series of little traumas my brother and I had endured at such a tender age was almost too much to endure. But as I said, cats are survivors. Others our age held some hope and good feelings, so my brother and I stuck close together and found comfort in that proximity.
The cage was set upon a counter as the humans gave our vital statistics. Shortly thereafter we were transferred to another cage, one of several dozen stacked along a wall, all with one or more cats in residence. The dogs were similarly housed on the opposite wall. It appeared that this cage would be home for a while. There was a double bowl of food and water, and an oversized pan with a small pile of clay litter for our toilette. Humans are such pigs, and that fact that they not only dispose of their bodily wastes within their living quarters but also force us to, is very repulsive to cats. To set a food dish in the same small space as the john is unthinkable, and my brother started to cry a little bit. Finally we lay down together and did what we do best; we went to sleep. It had been a very long and trying day, and escapism seemed as good a plan as any. Too bad our jailers didn’t provide catnip. It was a very long night, and we were awakened many times by the incoherent cries of crazy canines or the soft moaning of a feral wishing himself back on his mean streets. Mom hadn’t really prepared us for this.
Things got worse before they got better. The following morning, human hands covered in false skins pulled us from the cage and took us into a room that smelled of fear and chemicals. The surfaces were shiny and cold and impatient hands forced us to remain still. They suffered us unspeakable indignities, probed our private parts, forced formulations into our mouths, and poked us with sharp objects. They made us bleed and collected our blood. I remembered my mother’s advice and decided to just go with the flow, and eventually a numbness and lethargy overtook me and I feel into an unnatural sleep. I remember seeing the humans shearing the fur from my brother’s abdomen with a buzzing instrument as the world faded to black.
When I awoke, we were in yet another cage. This one was almost identical to the last, except in a new room and with animals that seemed better adjusted to their surroundings. I guess we’d been processed and were now in residence. My abdomen was as bare as my brother’s, and I could see that he had human symbols marking his shaved area. I tried to look at my own but was weak and dizzy, and I had a painful throbbing under my tail. I fell back into a restless sleep.
Chapter 2: The Big Metal Box
I next awoke to the sound of my brother using the litter box. I know it bothered him; cats are very private about such things, but after all we’d been through together it really wasn’t such a big deal. We were still alive and still together, that was what counted. When he finished he came over and we groomed each other for a while, and investigated the region between each other’s legs where we both had pain and something was decidedly missing.
I didn’t really have much concept of my balls and their loss at that point. These days humans neuter us so early we often don’t ever even get a taste of those hormones, and that’s been my lot in this life. But I do remember some of those other lives, and more than once I was indeed quite the Tom. I have also been female and a neuter of both sexes; I can’t say that I really have a preference. If they are to neuter us, it is best to do it early enough that we don’t know what we’re missing, so I guess for that I am thankful. Sex is great, but there is something to be said about the serene dignity of the neuter, and it does allow more energy to be devoted to quiet contemplation.
So day two of my ordeal started with the realization that I’d lost my Tomhood. Apparently that was the case with all of us youngsters, we’d all been neutered, male and female alike. It was a lot tougher on the girls physically, and some of them were in serious pain, even feverish. We’d all also been tattooed with identifying numbers, and what was really frightening was that we’d had some kind of electronic device actually put into our bodies so we could be scanned and identified. Those of us who had lived many lives were appalled at what human beings were doing to the world and the species they’d subjugated.
We’d all heard of places like this, at least those of us who’d been around before were pulling up a lot of old memories, either based in experience or rumor. This was a death mill, a crapshoot parlor, a way-station for the temporarily lost and permanently damaged. Some of us would get lucky. That luck might involve adoption into a good home or a relatively quick death. There were all kinds of less fortunate options out there in life.
The day I spent with my brother out in the public area, the place where outsider humans came in to see what the insiders allowed to be seen, was a very enlightening one. It changed my opinion of dogs dramatically. I’d never really spent any intimate time with any of them, and there’s nothing quite so intimate as knowing that death might be right around the corner.
Most of those who were out in the public area were nice folks. A lot of them were just pups, and like kids of all kinds, they were pretty rambunctious. Since dogs tend to have only one life, the little ones really are naive innocents. Some were old folks whose people had died or been sent off to the same kind of place we were in. They were just learning about euthanasia, thank goodness. Anyway, a couple of the dogs were really admirable. There were rumors going around about how the big yellow Lab had stood up to one of the miscreants still being held in back, in defense of a cat no less. Apparently Yeller and Rusty had grown up together and their person had died. They were hoping to be adopted together, just like me and the bro.
Alas, it was not to be. A man and his daughter came in and laid claim to my last connection to family. They didn’t take him right away, had to go take care of some other stuff first, so at least we had time to say goodbye. What made it even harder was that the woman came in right after they left, and she wanted both of us. She had to settle for me, and I, for her.
The woman was not young, but still of child bearing age. Her scent was wild and strong, her femininity burning full force at it flamed out unfulfilled by motherhood. It’s always so blindingly obvious to other mammals, but one of many things H. sapiens are mostly blindly oblivious to. She faltered in her decision to take me without my brother; she worried she’d not be able to give me the attention I needed on her own. Silly human, please, I’m a cat.
As we made the trip to the large metal box we would live in for out first few years together, most of my immediately previous life came back to me. I had been a fully fertile female called Bastet and had graced the lap of my beautiful male person Omar, an actor who once portrayed the mighty Genghis Khan. My life was one of dignified luxury and doting patronage by my human.
The woman called me Bubba. Bubba Snooks. If I didn’t love her so, I’d never forgive her the indignity of it. But of course I do love her, unconditionally. It is our way.
When we arrived at the large metal box I was not disappointed. Although Omar’s den had been palatial, this one was much closer to the all of nature. It sat on a wooded piece of land with a small stream running through it. There were birds galore to watch through the windows. Lots of other mammals passed through, coons and deer and possum and such. There were bugs to chase in the house, an occasional mouse. There were even some domestics in the neighborhood who were okay. Some of them even dogs.
The dogs right next door weren’t okay at all, but then their humans were pretty broken, too. They’d been the ones to break the dogs, that was for sure. They were trained fighters, the dogs were, mean mothers. The head bitch was enslaved as a breeder, and since she knew damned well what her pups had in store for them, she helped make them mean. Like every mother, she wanted for her kids to make it. The woman on the other side shot her one day and ended that whole business. It was for the best, but so tragically so.
There was one cat in the neighborhood who I feel deeply in love with. She reminded me so much of my mother in her look and scent, but she was a feral. She got by, but it was really rough for her. My human would put some of my food out for her sometimes, and she was good at the hunt. But she was always either carrying a litter to bear or caring for a litter she’d borne, and of course the Toms offered nothing but the fruits of their loins.
She knew that the shared food had been intended for me; humans with boxes to live in don’t usually eat their visions of what cat kibble ought to be. It’s nutritious enough I suppose, but addition of greens and the occasional mouse or beetle is nice. Beautiful, my feral feline friend, did at least enjoy a wide variety of whole foods, even if in lesser quantities than she’d like.
At any rate, she was grateful and often spent time on the front porch sitting with me on the other side of the door to my human’s box.
In all fairness, the human had tried to turn me into an indoor outdoor best of both worlds pussy cat, but the few times we went outside, I rather botched it. It was so bloody beautiful out there and so liberating that I lost myself and immediately took to the treetops without realizing I had not the foggiest idea how to get back down. The first go round ended up being a two hour long cry fest, and in front of my new amour. I was so humiliated by the time the human managed to climb up high enough to get me down that I avoided the front door for days. The second time out, I’d decided to master the tree trick and went up again. The human decided right off to let me go at it and went back inside the box. A flock of bloody crows saw her go and decided to teach me all about what was what out in the country. Those winged hellions taught me about tree descent PDQ. The human decided that life in the country with screened windows and fresh air and the safety of walls and roof was an adequate freedom for me, and I concurred.
Beautiful assured me that I was lucky, and I knew it was so. During the years of our friendship she suffered a lot. She suffered through winters and hunger and loss of her weakest children. She had to constantly beware of the bad dogs and night owls and vicious humans. The Toms were relentless, and she was powerless against her own feline femininity and drive to reproduce. Being a neuter really isn’t so bad.
My human was very loving to me when I needed it most. She was there all day every day at first, when I was still very small. She spoke to me often and held me and stroked me. Interestingly, she didn’t use the false voice, and I appreciated that. We played feather and fetch, still do every once in a while, even though we’re both old farts now.
The dynamism of her life change was interesting to watch; it’s one of the reasons I’ve been inspired to have this memoir written. When we first were brought together by the All Powerful One, she was flowing through something, past something, almost like a past life. She did cat-like stretching exercises every morning and sat meditatively. She was the first human I’d actually seen carry on the practice that we felines have so mastered. She was, at that point, a rank amateur. But it gave me a certain respect for her, even before my love had fully blossomed. It’s funny how that goes sometimes, the roller coaster of the peaks and valleys of love.
So the human was there for me full time during the first few months, that formative time of life fro mammals. I was secure. After my person indentured herself to the matrix to keep the kibble coming and had to leave most days, Beautiful was there to keep me company.
I grew up in the metal box, spent my teenaged years there. After a few turns of the seasons, my human was contracted for long term servitude and we left it to move to one of wood and brick and tile the suburbs. It wasn’t anywhere as grand as Omar’s place, but it was comfortable and homey and the previous owner was kind to the human. It held good vibes.
Although I had to say goodbye to Beautiful and the fresh air of the country, I got to say hello to living life as an indoor outdoor, that best of both worlds.
Those were the wonder years for me. I was in my prime and healthy and had a life of complete freedom, a door of my own and a human who loved me. I’m a pretty big guy, so when the Toms of the hood showed up to challenge my new digs, I stood my ground okay. I learned how to relate to other species and avoid the dangerous ones. Yeah, those were the days.
The human and I did drift apart a bit over those years as her work took more and more of her and the great outdoors took more and more of me. She left her spiritual practice for a long time and we saw each other less and less. When she did get time off, she often left for days on end, sometimes a week or more. But I was good to go.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. It is, after all, quite a long story.