“That was supposed to be my treat Yehudi! Mommy got it especially for me. She even called my name!”
I strolled into the dining room and dropped down next to Rapi on the carpet in front of the sliding glass doors. The big orange cat had a brooding look about his normally cute pudgy face. I don’t know why, but he had trouble letting things go, and true to form, the confrontation with the little black cat was eating away at him.
I was about to say something, but then thought better of it. Instead, I stared out the window at the overcast sky and the dull grey coloring of what is usually our vibrant backyard.
We turned to find a grey and white cat coming towards us. She treated the open floor between us like a catwalk, prancing along, her head swinging from side to side and striking a pose once she had reached us.
“Hi Bella.” I wanted her to stay, so I tried not to smile or make any sudden movements, because for some reason she was distrustful of cute brown dogs like me.
Rapi on the other hand scowled at her then returned to watching the little droplets of water splat on the window like bugs crashing into a car windshield.
“Yehudi still?” Bella tossed a glance in my direction.
I rolled my eyes. She nodded knowingly, then sat down next to the orange feline. While it is true that Bella and I do not always see eye to eye, I must admit she has a kind heart underneath all that me … me… me stuff she is always pushing. I also know that I do not do the best job of supporting the girls, because Rapi is the alpha, and sometimes he has a cruel streak in him, which he takes out on them.
“Rapi, I know Yehudi can be frustrating. There are times I want to slap her upside the head, but you have to let go of your anger.” It amazed me how tenderly the words fell from Bella’s lips.
“I don’t want to!” He glowered at her and added a tiny growl for emphasis.
“Please?” The way she said it was magical. Even I wanted to forgive Yehudi, and I was not even upset with the little black cat. His face was still locked in a grimace, but then the corners of his mouth began to curl, and a smile started to take shape.
“Fine,” he spat out before collapsing into a fit of giggles. All was fine with the world again.
“Wooah!” A skidding sound came from behind us. Our heads jerked in the direction of the dining table to find out what was causing the commotion just in time to see paper scatter from the tabletop. Debris flew everywhere and teetering on the precipice of the dining surface was the culprit.
“Yehudi!” The word started as a low growl and grew to a roar. The orange cat was on his feet, his hair sticking out in every direction and looking like he was about to hyperventilate.
“Sorry,” the little cat squeaked. We could all see the sincerity in her delicate face.
“Relax Rapi.” It was the first thing to come to my mind. I will admit, it was not the most convincing argument, but it was all I could think of in the heat of the moment.
“It was just an accident Rapi, no need to be so upset.” Again, with the magic. I think Bella could purr just about anything and we would all nod our heads in agreement. I must learn how she does that mind control thing, but first, I need to learn how to defend against it.
“Your right Bella. Sorry Yehudi.” With the apology, the orange cat sat down again and returned to gazing outside.
“I miss the sun.” In that moment we could all agree with Rapi.
“Come, sit with us.”
The black cat smiled and accepted Bella’s invitation. She dove off the table and touched down on the floor with such grace that nary a sound could be heard, yet there was just enough force in that landing to dislodge a card from the table.
We were all hypnotized by the way the square paper floated to the ground, with a series of dips and eddys until it made soft landfall right in the middle of us.
Yehudi pranced over to take a look at it. She examined it from one side, then another. “Hmmmm, a blank white paper.” Rapi and Bella looked at one another and shrugged.
“Maybe we should flip it over and see what is on the other side?” I was kind of intrigued by this paper that seemingly fell from heaven. I mean it must have been put right in front of us at this very moment. Like destiny, you know.
The black cat slid a paw underneath it and flipped it over. It seemed to spin on its razor thin edge for a moment before finally flopping over and landing on the carpet.
“It’s you Cindee!” The black cat exclaimed with a squeak of extasy and surprise.
“Look Cindee, it’s you and Cosita on your first day in the house!” ‘
“You are right Rapi,” Bella added as if her confirmation made it official.
I was drawn back to that moment in time. The mistrust and overwhelming tenseness of those first few moments were feelings that seemed so foreign now, but back then, I had no idea how close I would become with that little black and tan terrier.
“I cannot believe you were little once. Is it true Cindee, you didn’t always live here?” Of course, I should have known Yehudi’s curiosity would come out full force when she saw the photograph.
“Silly cat, none of us were always here!” Rapi’s words were half teasing, but they were also mocking Yehudi’s naivete. The black cat glanced at him, tilted her head to the left, then let the harsh words go.
“How did you get here?” the inquisitive little cat wanted to know.
“Oh Yehudi, that’s a long story.”
The black cat looked out the window. The rain had picked up and was now pouring buckets. She pointed to the other side of the glass, “I think we have time; will you tell us the story?”
It was a long complex story that I had been trying to run away from my whole life, yet I could never run far enough. The past could pop up in my dreams any time it wanted to haunt me like the ghost of a long dead rival. I would give anything to not have to tell this tale.
One look at her little face made it difficult. She sat patiently, her eyes blinking, her expression screaming I want to know all about you. How am I going to say no?
“Cindee?” Her body language gave away her concern about my hesitation. I knew that she could sense that something was not right. I will simply tell her that today is not a good day to tell the story. Decision made.
“Sure, Yehudi, I would be happy to tell you.” What? Did those words just come from my mouth? What the heck am I saying? Am I being possessed?
All three cats leapt joyfully into the air, their faces beaming with smiles. I was stuck and had to tell them.
There was a butterfly convention in my stomach, and I could feel their little wings beating against the sides of my tummy. My insides began to shake, and a cool sweat broke out all over.
I was terrified.
My brain felt kind of fuzzy. You know, like a foggy day outside. You look but can only see the shape of things, and you aren’t sure what they are; at least not until you draw closer to them. After a moment, my thoughts settled down and the haze cleared up. Only then did my memories begin to come back to me.
It was late at night, mere hours before I would find my way to my forever home. I remember the night well, so well, that it will forever haunt me. The stars were twinkling down from the vastness of the sky. The moon was almost full. That moment was a rare one in my young life because it was a fleeting moment where I felt peaceful. I knew that it wasn’t going to last for long. It never did.
You see Mommy and Daddy were not always my mommy and daddy. I had other ones before them, but I didn’t call them mommy and daddy. I called them John and Yomaira.
On this particular evening, Yomaira had gone to work leaving me with John, who for some reason didn’t like me at all, but to be honest, I didn’t like John too much either, especially when he had been drinking. They were much different than Mommy and Daddy too. It wasn’t all that unusual for John and Yomaira to fight especially after he had a few beers, in fact, sometimes he would even hit her and me too.
As I said, it was a quiet night, and a million little lights gleamed overhead. John had forgotten to feed me … again. Unfortunately, that happened much more often than I liked. Anyway, so there I was, rolling around in the dirt behind the house, my tummy empty and my eyes scanned the sky until they settled on the moon.
Taking in the orbs beautiful silver rays, I rolled over onto my back and stretched out and begun to sing to it in hushed tones so I would not disturb John. I sang about beautiful she looked surrounded by the stars, until the headlights from Yomaira’s car flashed across the lawn.
One thing I have learned as I have grown older is that all families have their own little quirks. Their idiosyncrasies, if you will. There is always some strange trait that is passed on from one generation to the next like an unwanted gift. Even if you are aware of it, there is nothing you can do or say that will cause it to skip you. It is inevitable.
In my family, when we get happy, we must share it with the world. Some people think it is the cutest thing, but when you have John for your dad, it is like a fatal flaw. What’s worse is, that there is nothing that can change it, short of divine intervention.
I leapt to my feet and joyously charged towards Yomaira, intent on filling her face with super sloppy kisses.
“Yahooooooooeeeey!” I shouted with unabated bliss.
Yomaira on the other hand didn’t seem as excited, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I charged forward until I reached the end of my chain, which I pulled against with all my might trying to reach Yomaira, all the while she was drawing closer with her hands in front of her begging and pleading with me to be quiet.
My celebration ended abruptly when the porch door closed with a loud bang. The sound echoed across the driveway and caught me off guard. My heart jumped into my throat and I stumbled to turn and face John. Against Yomaira’s protestations, I had managed to wake him up.
“Shut that mutt up,” he growled from the top step.
“Sorry John,” Yomaira answered, her voice trembling and defeated.
“Cindee, we need to be quiet,” she said, dropping to a knee so she could better look me in the eyes.
“I missed you,” I barked with joy.
His voice rang out across the yard with fierceness and determination.
“What a rude thing to say.”
The words had tumbled out of my mouth before I realized it. Yomaira looked at me and shook her head.
She didn’t say anything to me though, instead, her eyes grew as big as two saucers. I barely had enough time to turn and see John coming at us with a broom, and by us, I mean me.
“John, no,” Yomaira yelled.
I was just fortunate that John still had plenty of alcohol in him. It was enough to slow him down, but not enough to stop him from swinging the broom. It arced through the air and whizzed just above my head. He stumbled and swayed around the yard chasing after me and I was at a distinct disadvantage because of the limitations caused by the chain.
I peered over my shoulder to see where John was and found him stumbling right behind me. The drunkard wound up and swung the broom again as hard as he could. I dropped to the ground at the last second, and had I not done so he would have connected this time. John had put so much energy into it that he ended up losing his balance and tumbling to the ground.
“John, stop,” Yomaira cried out.
She managed to scramble over to him and embrace him before he had a chance to regain his balance and rejoin the chase.
“That’s enough, John,” she pleaded.
It seemed to work. He rose to his feet and glared at me for a moment.
I held my ground as well, but my heart was banging inside my chest, and for a moment I thought it might escape.
Without taking his eyes off me, John pulled up his hoodie and growled.
“Fix me something to eat, will you?” he grumbled at Yomaira, then spat on the ground.
She lowered her eyes to avert his gaze but would not give him the satisfaction of an answer. It wasn’t until he grunted like a caveman at her that she hurried off to the house leaving me alone with him.
John reached down and grabbed my chain, pulling on it until we were toe to toe.
“What’s wrong little puppy dog,” his voice mocked me.
I watched as John pulled a cigarette out of a box, lit it, took a deep drag off it and blew out a long slow breath. A big cloud of smoke filled the air and burned my eyes.
It wasn’t until the smoke began to dissipate that I saw the orange red glow at the tip. The sight of it triggered an unpleasant memory. My heart skipped a beat, my tail went between my legs and I peed myself.
I had to stop for a moment to give my emotions a chance to recover. I had known that re-telling this story was going to be tense. All these memories and feeling had been buried for so long that in a way I had become numb to them. Speaking them back into life again had eroded that deadness and given them the spark to grow again. Grow they had. Like unwanted weeds in a well-kept yard, they began to wrap themselves around my soul and choke the life out of me.
I glanced up from the ground and found all three cats staring at me, speechless from my story.
“I … I… I didn’t know,” Yehudi shuddered, her eyes looking up into my face. Her expression was one of horror and dread, with a dash of guilt mixed in at having pressed me so hard to tell this story. It was a recipe for the type of dish that nobody orders on purpose. The young cat was finding out the hard way that life likes to add her own twist to your favorite meals. Poor Yehudi wasn’t liking this fare at all.
“None of us did my dear,” Bella answered, her own voice trembling.
The older grey and white cat skootched closer to the young tuxedo cat and threw her arm around her and began to console her. Yehudi buried her head in Bella’s chest and began to sob. Bella nuzzled the top of the little cat’s head then glanced up at me, her own eyes red and moist with tears.
Rapi was speechless, and instead of expressing his grief with words, he poured his love for me into kisses. Tiny little kisses from heaven that he feathered on my cheeks and ears.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I wanted to let this moment go on forever. This love that was being poured out for me, it was washing over me, like a cleansing water scrubbing dirt away. It was like a moment of catharsis, but I didn’t realize why I felt guilt, I simply did.
“It’s fine everyone. I am fine. This is all from a long time ago,” I said with newfound confidence.
“Besides, it kind of feels good to finally share it with someone after all this time!”
The words rang true. The only other soul who knew this story was Cosita. The terrier could kind of relate, she had her own story of abuse. This was different, the cat’s weren’t part of that sisterhood, and being able to share with them felt like a heavy burden was being lifted from me.
“Monsters are real,” Bella huffed as she marched back and forth in front of the doors stewing in her own anger and fear.
“See I knew there was a good reason for not trusting people,” she said, continuing to rail against humans.
“I know how you feel Bella. After that night I swore I would never trust anyone again. Then something strange happened,” I said with a sly smile.
All three of them turned to face me, each wearing the exact same puzzled look on their face.
“Let me tell you the rest of the story.”
Teardrops from heaven were falling on my face. Yomaira was kneeling next to me, her arms wrapped tightly around me, her slender body shuddered with each labored inhale.
“I am so sorry sweetie,” she sniffled between each word.
“I thought for sure you would change him. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen to you my precious sweetheart.”
Her body shook more violently now, and I felt so sorry for her. I snuggled into her and tasted her salty tears in each gentle kiss I gave her. I closed my eyes and felt her heart beating against me. It felt broken.
“I know what I have to do,” she said rising and strolling resolutely towards the garage.
We were both hurting, and I didn’t want her to leave me so I began to protest but she quickly shushed me then went to work searching through the garage. I looked on in confusion at Yomaira who had pulled a large cardboard box from the squat building and placed it in the car’s rear seat, then she packed two fluffy pillows inside the carton to form a makeshift bed, finally, she stopped scrambling around and studied her work.
With a nod and a half smile she decided it would be suitable for the job. Having taken care of that task, she turned and came towards me, removed my chain and scooped me up into her trembling arms.
“What are you doing?” I started to ask, but she just shushed me again.
The bed springs squeaked from inside the house. Yomaira stopped and stood deathly still. She glanced towards the house and held her finger to her lips signaling for me to be quiet, which I did, but only because I was afraid. After a few tense seconds the snoring started again, and we both breathed a sigh of relief.
Yomaira rushed me to the car and the makeshift bed she had made, placing my tiny brown body inside before sliding into the front seat and started the car. The vehicle roared to life, the sound and the accompanying rumble scared the heck out of me. I couldn’t help but let out a loud yelp.
Yomaira looked over her shoulder and smiled reassuringly at me quivering in the back seat.
“Yomi, you get back here,” John’s voice called out angrily from inside the house.
Yomaira, threw the car in gear and pulled away from the curb, the tires screaming in pain as we began to move. I turned as fast as I could to look out the back window just in time to see John come out of the door yelling obscenities at the top of his lungs.
I gulped and watched out the back window as both John and the house disappeared out of view.
The lights were zooming past us as we flew down the empty city streets, running a couple of red lights in the process until half an hour later when Yomaira pulled into an empty parking lot. I looked out the window at the store which had a glowing white sign with three big red letters on it.
I had so many questions but I didn’t dare say anything. Instead, I stared intently at Yomaira, who had grabbed a piece of paper from the glove compartment and had begun to scribble a short letter.
“What are you doing,” I whimpered, my eyes huge in the dimly lit vehicle, but she didn’t answer.
Thud, thud, thud, my heart was thumping in my chest. Something wasn’t right. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I knew.
When she had finished writing, she turned to face me, her eyes were red and swollen.
“Don’t cry anymore,” I whined, my only wish in that moment was that I could find some way to take her hurt away.
“I love you so much little one. I wish things could have been different,” she said, trying as hard as she could to hold the tears in, but failing.
“I hope you find someone that loves you unconditionally, someone that will give you a good home and a good life.”
Yomaira turned away and covered her face, sobbing loudly for a few more minutes, then without warning, she opened the door, grabbed the box and set it down next to the building. Inhaling deeply, she tucked the paper with the note on it in the box and gave me the biggest kiss ever on the top of my head.
“Don’t forget me … I will never forget you,” she murmured, her voice catching. Her next move was a complete surprise. She got into the car and drove away.
“Holy cow! She just left you there?” Bella asked, stunned by the revelation.
“It’s the gosh honest truth,” I told her.
The room was quiet for the time being, save for the sweet sound of bird song filtering in from outside. There were so many questions to be asked and thoughts to be shared, but in that moment all any of us could do was just sit in silence.
True, those days seemed so long ago, but at the same time they were still alive in me. I mean, I am still a very shy girl. It’s still hard to trust humans. You can’t really tell who wants to be your friend and who doesn’t. They all hide their intentions so well.
Other things are still the same too, like my fear of leaves and being alone and the monster in the basement. Some things that scare me seem so real.
“What are you thinking about Brown Sugar,” Rapi’s deep Cuban voice brought me back to the present.
I told the same lie that we all tell when confronted with that question.
“Nothing,” I smiled warmly at him.
He smiled and nodded at me knowingly.
“What happened next?” Yehudi sat staring, mouth agape.
I was left all alone in a strange place on the verge of a new day. The first rays of the sun began to peak over the horizon and the blue-black sky began to transform into a blue orange.
“What just happened,” I asked myself, stunned, and shaken by the events of the past few hours.
A strong breeze rolled through the parking lot mussing my hair. The leaves on the trees began to dance and hiss, they sounded like a den of wild snakes.
I ducked my head in the box and tried to crawl under the pillows. The note became dislodged and once the breeze caught the paper it tumbled out of the cardboard container and down the street.
“Make it stop! Make it stop!”
I howled but it didn’t seem to help.
“I have been abandoned, forsaken!”
The idea of being alone paralyzed me. Who is going to take care of me? Who is going to feed me? The worst dread crept over me.
“What’s going to happen to me?” I cried out.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse a black car swung into the parking lot, its lights washing over my box. I crouched down trying desperately to hide and hoping that I wasn’t spotted. Panic overcame me, and tears began to pour down my cheeks.
“What was that? It sounds like a puppy,” I heard a sing song voice say.
The words snapped me back to the situation at hand. I sat in stillness and listed to the footsteps come closer and closer.
“Oh no,” I thought to myself. My worst nightmare is about to happen.
“Oh my gosh, a puppy,” the woman’s voice squealed.
I had to know what this human looked like. Unable to resist any longer, I peeked up at her. She had long curly black hair, caramel colored skin, full lips, and a hypnotic smile.
“I wonder who she belongs to?” the man with her asked, glancing away from us to look around at the empty parking lot.
“Why don’t you go inside and see if anyone in there knows about this little cutie,” the woman said.
Without questioning her, the bald man in the wire framed glasses headed inside the store. While he was gone the woman cooed to me in a soft melodic voice. Her fingers began to scratch behind my ears, then she began to sing the most beautiful song. I didn’t know the words, but I liked it. I must admit that while I was scared to death about what was happening, I was also kind of liking it at the same time. Unfortunately, the man came back before she could finish the tune.
“The manager said she doesn’t know anything about a dog in the parking lot, in fact we are the first people in the store this morning. Strange right?” he asked, definitely puzzled by the situation.
“Well, she is coming with us then!” the woman said smiling ear to ear.
“Can you help me get the box in the car? I have to run into the store and grab something. I will be right back!”
I watched the curly haired lady run into the store. The bald man put the radio on, and bossa nova music filled the car. It had been a long night and all the excitement was starting to take its toll. My eyes were growing heavy, so I let myself lay down in the soft bed for just a second. I was almost in dreamland when the door swung open.
The curly haired lady stood in the doorway with a big smile on her face. In her hand she held a hangman’s noose. I screamed at the top of my lungs …
“Oh look, she is so happy and excited,” the bald man said, his lips contorted into a giant grin.
“Are you crazy you lunatic,” I yelled at him.
I tried to scramble up the side of the cardboard box. A quick glance over my shoulder left me shuddering. The curly hair lady was kneeling on the seat right behind me clutching the noose in her hand. I squealed then focused all my effort on escaping. Just when I thought I was free I felt the icy hand of death grab me and lift me into the air.
Curly hair lady held me tight in one arm and tried to get the noose around my neck with the other. I kicked and squirmed and yelled. I did everything I could to break free, but this lady had an iron grip.
“Spunky isn’t she,” the man said with a laugh.
“You monster,” I spat back at him.
“Here, you hold her, and I’ll try and get this around her neck,” she said to the bald man.
Seconds later, she had the noose around my neck. I surrendered. My little body went limp in Curly haired lady’s arms. I just lay there, not uttering a single peep, just waiting for death to come and take me.
They congratulated each other on successfully sending a poor innocent puppy dog to the gallows.
“You be a good girl for your new mommy and go pee for her okay” the man said leaning in to kiss my forehead.
“Wait, What?” Rapi said, his jaw hanging open.
“Mommy was the curly haired woman?” Bella blinked in unbelief.
“Yahooooooooooooooo!” Yehudi shouted.
I laughed out loud.
“Yep, the curly haired lady was Mommy, and she was just taking me to go potty!”
“That’s when you came home and met Bella and I for the first time,” Rapi interrupted, completing my sentence for me.
“And Cosita too,” I answered, my words trailing off into silence, my eyes falling on the dog in the photo with the younger me.
Alone with my memories, my thought wandered off to Yomaira. I never have forgotten her. I don’t think about her very often anymore, but I have not forgotten. She did a beautiful thing for me and gave me the best gift ever. She gave me this forever home with mommy and daddy and my friends.
I glanced at the photo again and thought of my friend once more.
“I miss you Cosita,” the words tumbled from my lips in the faintest of whispers.
Seeds of light and happiness are often planted in the darkest soil of our lives. I let the thought drift off and fade away like a dandelion seed on a beautiful summer day.
These, my friends, are my memories of the day I found my forever home.