It’s Friday night and I am sitting down to dinner. I want to relax, delve into an episode of Luther, savor my meal in peace.
Luckily my cat Jontue is gone. I’m free from distraction. The chicken on my plate is safe, so is the salmon. The soft tissue in the interior of my nose is not at risk for an excruciating tear by her forepaw’s talon. My cheek won’t be slugged either, her eyes fixed on me with the intensity that could move mountains.
My dinner, food her palette could not deny, brought about such offensive tactics. It’s as if she was saying, “Hey goddamn it, let me at that fresh kill. What the hell’s the matter with you?”
Pacifying, I found, was the answer: I shared my dinner with her, feeding her big chunks of protein to keep her entertained. Every night.
Jontue. A cat driven by instinct and acutely affected by vibrations and shifts in energy in the room. Always had been. The small, vocal Cornish Rex with Velcro tendencies had some similarities to her breed—short and silky-haired, prehistoric and alien looking. Needy, affable. Held my head in a vicelike grip with her paws and licked the tip of my nose. We referred to her as “Monkey Cat.” “Jonti.” “Velcro Kitty.” We teased; said she was born from a pod oozing with icky stuff. Nevertheless, an irresistible entity.
She entered my life during a vulnerable and lonely time, capturing my heart. From the space of a small cage, she cried out, her eyes pleading take me home; I need love; crave to be nurtured.
Those eyes also conveyed, I can do the same for you.
Of course you can, little cat.
Jontue is, was, my last live connection to the desert, another planet called Tucson, a barren and at times, undulating landscape I left in a crisis just as I stumbled onto it, 19 years ago. The fifth and last cat I made a commitment to while living by my lonesome followed the pattern of the adoptees that came before her—all we were unwanted, abandoned.
To paint a brighter picture on their new lives, I renamed them all after fragrances, the others—Chanel, Chloe and Shalimar—except for the big fluff of a male flopped into my arms, “Prince Russell,” a Persian Himalayan that peed everywhere except in the litter box. He never failed to bore his eyes into me as he ruined the carpet: You are not little Suzy who left me behind for college. I hate you.
True to many cat’s demeanor, Jontue was my protector, my nurse, more in tune with how I was feeling than I realized. When I’d cry myself silly or stare off into space feeling blue, she’d whack my cheek as if I was in a diabetic stupor. “Mama, snap out of it.” Caring for her and her sisters gave me the reason to drag myself out of a bed intoxicated with illness and depression, burdens the weight of the world.
I’ve met many irresponsible people in my life but never an irresponsible cat. —Rita Mae Brown, author of Pawing Through the Past: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery
Jontue made living in Tucson, fun. She got frisky when she had a productive #2 and frolicked out of the litter box and across the kitchen tile floor like a filly with a belly full of bedsprings. A supreme hunter, she readily dismantled geckos in the apartment, danced about with flesh-colored scorpions, and swatted down flying insects with incredible precision. (Yes, you read it right—inside the apartment.) Outside, she could leap 6-foot fences in a single bound. Nimble, she was.
She also proved to be a superb specimen for vets and techs in training—the cat hissed, bit, spit and clawed-to-kill at any caring hand that would go for her. Protocol for administering vaccinations soon caught on: a seasoned vet armed to the elbows in raptor gloves entered the exam room with two green techs in tow, tasked with the near impossible feat of swaddling her tight in a towel.
Thrown elbows, profanity huffed in fits and starts—hell, how that silky fur flew.
Captured, Jontue looked so cute! A mummy with just her little brown triangular-shaped head sticking out, a comical contrast with the fabric of the white towel; her mouth formed in an O, emitting the guttural sounds of a wild pained creature facing imminent death.
Funny thing is at home, she let me trim her nails with ease, probe into any orifice without incident.
The Rex Club of the UK says this about Jontue’s breed (my comments are in italics):
Cornish Rex cats make excellent pets (if you don’t mind being treated like prey). Aristocratic in appearance (hmmm, not this one), they are charming (huh?), acutely intelligent (vibrational), very affectionate (suck you dry of the sentiment) and gentle (not exactly) whilst full of mischief (yes), never seeming to grow old (never imagined she’d be the last cat to go). A distinctive feature of the breed is their long toes, which enable them to use their paws like little hands (“I slap my mama in the face”). The breed is adaptable to new environments (she yowled the entire 2,300-mile drive from Tucson to Boston) elegant (?), agile (incredibly so) and active, demanding constant companionship (Velcro). So much so that in some instances where owners have been out at work all day their Cornish Rex has moved in with a neighbour! (Segue: the Doberman story.)
Jontue once scaled a 6-foot stockade fence and landed on all fours in a Doberman’s pen. I had a habit of letting the cats out when the desert grew cooler in the early evenings, if it sounded like the coast was clear. My “yard” measured about 18’ x 18’, a dirt floor absent of vegetation, enclosed by the fence. The cats would roam about, sniffing, digging, sprawling and bathing on pieces of warm tile. Watching them relaxed me; made me envious of their carefree nature. This little habit, however, would come to an abrupt end. One evening, the coast was not in fact clear.
The initial sound of slaying shot the other three cats into the house like a hairdresser on fire (Prince Russell had chosen the breadth of the desert for his litter box by then). Adrenaline soaring, I stood there frozen.
What could I do? Me. Fence. Dobermans. Cat. Carnage.
I did something unlike me. I cupped my hands over my ears and in the same fashion as the cats, darted into the house. Leaning up against the door, my heart pounded, my flesh churned out steam, the moment sprawled and stalled, bore down hard on me.
No, no, NO!
Back into the “yard.” I’m on the offensive, yeah, this is more like me—tearing the fence down, one picket at a time. Crashing through it like Herman Munster.
That’s my cat, Dobes!
The crazed attack dogs are in full view (Dobermans are really cowards, you know). I’m in their territory and I don’t see Jonti. There’s no flesh dangling from their teeth—I take note of this—but rest assured their focus has turned to me, teeth barred, hackles raised. Hell, I’m going to do away with debilitating hemorrhoids and depression for the rest of my life. I’m about to be torn to pieces.
But where’s the cat?
The enclosure is barren with the exception of a sun-bleached wooden cable spool, a cinder block here and there, and a sizable pile of sticks, 2x4s, and brush off to my right. How could that flimsy form of refuge protect her? I don’t spend too much time on the question; fall to my knees before it. The dogs are going to eat me rear-end first, delving into and eradicating that said source of ailment.
The dog is the god of frolic. – Henry Ward Beecher, social reformer, sibling of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Henry never met a Doberman.
Out of my periphery, a woman is approaching, running, arms flailing. Her mouth moves, I hear nothing; it has no effect on my mission. I am feeling recklessly enthusiastic, plunge my hands into a desert den that even Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin would hesitate (and we all know what happen to him). Colors and textures pan before my eyes; I’m chucking sticks and 2x4s over my shoulder. The woman is dodging the debris, unsteadily pulling back the frothing crazed beasts, fragments of my terrycloth dress spiral from their jaws like party favors.
Jontue is there, I’ve unearthed her. She is curled up in a ball, disoriented and trembling; her coat is slick with dog saliva. She does not look, as the Rex Club would describe, “charming” or “elegant.”
I grab the cat, secure her to my chest; I’m no longer in the state of mind of punching cows in Wyoming, strong and fit, it’s been taken away from me—I’m living a life of gloom and doom in the oppressive heat of the desert. I turn my back on the beasts, my neighbor, swiftly attempt to retreat through the makeshift opening in the fence but can’t make traction. I take a giant step forward then snap back to the fence like an elastic band.
“Wait, wait, I’ll help you!” my neighbor says, but just as crazed as the dogs, I bulldoze forward, splinters sound. A long and twisting fragment of white terrycloth remains caught up on the nail, a sign of misguided surrender. Jontue’s claws dig deeper into my chest, I’m bloodied yet free. Two more pickets fall by the wayside in my wake.
Dumping Jontue inside, I collapse flat on the kitchen floor and gaze at the geckos scurrying across the ceiling; wait for my respiration and heart rate to fall back into normal range. The spooked cats tiptoed around my periphery; Jontue eventually perches herself on my thigh. She has fared much better than me—she doesn’t have a scratch on her.
Many years have passed since then. I left the desert and returned home and eventually lost Jontue’s sisters to renal failure, ketosis, and lymphoma. Not one of them lived past 13 years. But Jontue did, seemingly like she would never grow compromised, moved residences a total of 10 times with me in a span of eighteen years.
Her life, full and dictated by mine, changed dramatically and often—fluctuations in places, people, animals, vibes—my emotions.
Four months into our latest move, Jontue’s health deteriorated in a matter of days. Like, three of them. She wasn’t feeling good, at times suffered from blindness; would curl up in her heated bed and just stare off into the space in front of her. I could read her eyes, her body; hear her thoughts—I feel terrible, I don’t understand what’s wrong, the pain won’t go away.
The day after Thanksgiving, I made the pain go away.
Jontue. She is, was, my last live connection to the desert, a journey I embarked on in mid ’95, a painful time of soul searching, a time I remain ashamed to discuss in family circles. But the pain made me a writer and enticed me to bring in feline companions, particularly the ones nobody wanted.
And, they repaid me. By making me a witness to their endearing cat way of life; making me laugh, making me play, giving me the strength to tear down a stockade fence when I was weak.
There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.—Albert Schweitzer, author of The Light Within Us
Pets are just like people. Some are fun, quirky, disagreeable. I can’t throw one out because they’re higher maintenance than the others, less cuddly. Jontue was Jontue, part of the family. In her kitty soul, I know she is grateful for the care in which I provided to her—just as much as I am grateful to her, for being with me when I was so very blue and lost.
[Dear Jontue: It took me so long to write this little memorial for you, weeks and weeks, and I needed to distance myself from home, miles and miles. I couldn’t bring myself to write it, you see, where we shared an abode, where your bed has been taken over by the bunnies, knew it would force me to mourn your passing. I pretend that a big piece of my life as I know it, isn’t gone, that the vibe of the house is in check. That you’ll still be there when I return home, come squawking on your tippy toes to greet me, wrap around my leg and rub your butt on my shin. The last few moments of your life haunt me—you did not struggle, lay right down quietly and slipped away. In the end, it turns out, you were oh so “elegant.” Thank you for coming into my life when I needed you most, trying the various people and places on for size right alongside of me, and being my true companion for all these years. I miss you.]
Lisa Mae DeMasi is a freelance writer who writes on women’s issues, creativity and the family. She is a contributor to HuffPost, Elephant Journal and her personal blog, Nurture is my Nature. Her work on the creative process has been shortlisted for the Tucson Festival of the Book Literary Award and can be viewed at Shark Reef Literary Journal. When she isn’t writing, Lisa is a Reiki practitioner who specializes in unblocking creatives in all mediums and moving them (with humor and love) to the highest vision of themselves as artists.