Short But Fun

An adapted short story from

Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows

New Zealand 2003: Baetis and kittens

We learn all kinds of things from our cats, especially the ones that grow cranky and creaky with us.  But what about a month-old kitten that looks like it has a deformity? What can you possibly learn from a one-pound bundle of fur with a head so big it causes her to lose her balance?

Baetis, my tabby cat with ginger accents, has her own private entrance to my house, a long plank covered with tattered burlap sacks leaning against the bathroom window.  She comes and goes as she pleases: the bouncing plank, the chatter of the toilet’s lid and the thump of her paws when she hits the ground can wake me from even the deepest sleep. She comes and goes a lot more frequently these days because she’s eating for more than one.  I’ve yet to see her whanau, but her sagging belly and swollen nipples tells me that all is well.  “Whanau” is the Maori word for family; Baetis, you see, is born and bred in New Zealand. Our union was no coincidence.

I landed in New Zealand with a mission: Teach and live in the countryside.  Acquiring a cat or any pet for that matter wasn’t part of the plan for this adventure was launched by the death of my dog, Toughy. For years I yearned to take my teaching profession overseas but would never leave him behind.  I believe his passing freed me to pursue my dreams.  When I arrived in New Zealand, I made a conscious decision to mourn, never seeking to replace my golden-haired friend. The force of fate, however, alters resolve. Baetis, part of a litter born in a bedroom I rented on New Zealand’s North Island, was literally thrown into my life.  As I pulled out of a friend’s driveway he said, “Here, you need a cat.” With her feet spread wide, she glided through the open window and landed on the worn passenger seat.  She straightened her hind legs and cleaned herself as though she were home. For weeks, I wove down winding roads and through the red tape of nailing down a teaching job with a cat on the dash–a feline co-pilot.  When I found us a real home, she rejoiced more than I, darting into the crawlspace under the house and putting the rodents on notice that the Queen had arrived.

Kitty Co-Pilot

So my friend was right.  I did need a cat.  On cold winter nights, the crackling of wood from the cast iron stove and her purring presence wrapped me in warmth.  One evening, I awoke to deep guttural meows drifting up through the floorboards from the crawlspace. There was another cat—a male. As Baetis paced back and forth circling the area, I realized that my little girl wasn’t so little anymore.  I opened the front door feeling like the gray-haired father handing his daughter off at a wedding.

Now, a few months later, I’m a grandpa longing to see the new additions. At first, she keeps her kittens out of sight, and I respect her decision.  A mother, regardless of species, needs a little privacy.  I can see the matriarchal pride and trust in her eyes. She will bring them home soon.

I pile clothes in a surfboard bag and carry her to the nest I’ve constructed for her.  Stroking the ginger spot on her head, I whisper, “Bring them here girl.  Bring them here.”

The next morning I hear the plank bouncing under her weight. I look for her in the kitchen, expecting her to stroll in like usual, demanding food and a head rub, but she never appears.  Instead, her steps fade away to the back room where I made the nest.  Soon, a high pitch meow shoots down the hall and I scramble to meet my grand-kitties. There are two of them: A ginger kitten, and a tabby resembling Baetis lie curled up in my surfboard bag. I wonder if some of the litter were lost to predators, or if these two were the only ones to survive the birth.  Baetis uncurls for a second as if she wants me to get a better look.  The kittens lose their hold on her nipples and begin to whimper.

I collapse to the floor and embrace them all. We lie like that for a while, one big happy family. Once the feeding is finished, I stroke the kittens more vigorously. They push into my hand, unalarmed. The tabby is especially spunky and swats at my finger. The ginger kitten, however, wobbles away precariously. I notice her large forehead and widely spaced eyes, a sure sign of something terribly wrong. My first thought is that she’ll have to be put asleep but then I remember the rule I made when Toughy was dying from liver disease: When he can no longer have fun then it’s time.  As though she knows what I’m thinking, the ginger kitten rears up on her hind legs, boxing at Baetis’ tail.  She swings a right hook then a left hook, then topples over into the clothing pile, her momentum rolls her right back into suckling position, like she meant to lose her balance all along.

As I laugh, my skin erupts in goosebumps; I gaze down at her for long seconds before I turn away. “As long as you’re having fun,” I sigh.

The kittens grow quickly over the next few weeks. The tabby remains “the tabby” but the ginger kitten becomes “Ms. Ginger.” Her balance worsens by the day but she persists at living, at doing everything normal kittens do albeit a little clumsier. They spend a lot of time romping in the garden.  I weed and prune while Ms. Ginger ambles through crimson stalks of chard, unaware of the hunter stalking her.  Crouching low behind the deep green spinach, the tabby shuffles his paws, his tail whipsawing back and forth.  Then, he lunges, taking down his weaker sister. Together, they roll into the thyme and basil.  Unable to restrain myself, I give them a misting from the hose.

They dart in the open door continuing their escapades inside and I capture the family on videotape. Ms. Ginger sways back and forth contemplating a leap from a rock.  Tiptoeing across the fireplace step, she wallops a twig, and ambles over to Mom for her favorite activity, tail hunting.  Baetis saunters away with Ms. Ginger in pursuit, falling, rolling, and stumbling, doing whatever she needs to do to move forward. Tears stream, but inspiration overwhelms me more than anything.  Ms. Ginger’s existence will be brief but she has plenty of time for fun.  She doesn’t know how long or how short her life will be.  Come to think of it, none of us really do.

Ms. Ginger in Garden
Ms. Ginger evading her bro’!

A Tribute to Ms. Ginger

Video 12B from the Memoir

* * *

Ryan Chin is the creator of, Without Rain There Can Be No Rainbows, a multimedia memoir with two dozen short videos accenting the written word. Mr. Chin likes to call it a pet and teacher memoir sandwiched into an overseas adventure. The book is available at Amazon, ibooks, and locally at Powell’s Books.

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26 Responses to “Short But Fun”

  1. Pauline January 10, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    Thanks very much, you are a very good writer, it has touched my heart. I will remember this for my own riggety cat, and as well for the sick people I work with..”As long as you’re having fun…”

  2. Patrick January 13, 2010 at 8:25 am #

    I simply have to ask. What is the “matter” with her? Have you been to a vet? I don’t ask to be critical.

    • Patrick January 13, 2010 at 8:31 am #

      I’m so sorry, I asked before I watched. Please forgive my blunder. I’ve of late (over…4yrs) lost my 4-legged buddies, and very recently experienced a narrow escape for my roomate’s cat.
      I guess I feel before I think(well, no guessing realy). You’re a pretty good teacher, I learned something tonite. Thank you.
      very sincerely,
      Patrick

      • bditws January 13, 2010 at 8:38 am #

        No worries Patrick. I took her to a vet as soon as Baetis brought them home and he thought it’d be best to put her down right away but I refused. For some reason her skull hadn’t fully developed. She lived for three damn good weeks before she physically wasn’t able to have fun. Amazing how much our fuzzy friends give us…

  3. Patrick January 13, 2010 at 8:46 am #

    Ryan, this has been a bit painful. Thank you. I’m actually quite speechless(not an easy thing to do to me). I have an FB friend also on N. Island, Raglan, Rotorua, New Zealand, perhaps you might like to meet her.
    http://www.facebook.com/friends/?id=100000333851162#/suzi.franks

    I would like to think you were set with your passion to “go teach” as a way of being able to move on when the time was to come. I know exactly what you were talking about. I spent most of the lives of my two friends, not going, because…
    I salute your stepping into the next phase of your life.
    That is very tremendous courage.
    Well, I thought I was speechless:-)
    God Bless ya man. I think I very much needed this… today.
    Patrick

    • bditws January 13, 2010 at 9:07 am #

      This all happened back in 2002 and 2003. I’ve been writing the book about my experience for 3 years now. I currently live in Portland, OR with a dog and a cat I brought back from New Zealand. It’s all in the book…hoping for a 2011 release.

      Cheers and I hope a new furry mate will find you soon.

  4. Crystal Green January 13, 2010 at 10:39 am #

    My heart goes out to all three of you……I know what it is like to have someone leave you; human or animal….we are all the same….we all grieve and we all feel…….my sympathy to you as well Beatis….its not easy to lose a child…..Ive lost one myself.

    • bditws January 13, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

      Crystal,
      I’m sorry to hear about you losing a child. My wife and I have a son due in a few months and I just can’t imagine. I lost my brother when I was 17 and never dealt with it until years later when my first dog died. This is all detailed in the book.

      I wrote this in my book’s proposal:

      “Everyone has lost a loved one or a pet. People cannot get enough inspiration when it comes to life and death.”

      My book is not just about pets and adventure but it is about the cycles we endure, about how we must learn to embrace the agonizing times as well as the triumphant times.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Best

      Ryan

  5. Patrick January 13, 2010 at 11:52 am #

    I’m currently borrowing the room mate’s ;-)!
    Portland? Awesome country! I made it as far as Seattle once, but looped back down to Texas before I got any further.
    I linked up and FB’ed and Twittered your blog, I hope you get some traffic and grow an increasing interest for the book!
    You got some things to say I think. And you’re certainly capable of expressing it!
    I’m glad I wandered down the link-path to find your page.
    If you use facebook or twitter, drop by,

    http://www.facebook.com/CPMcKittrick

    @Pat_McKittrick

    I’m up to nearly 10,000 in total followers and friends, I like telling them about what I like:-)
    I like what I’ve seen/heard so far.
    You guys hang loose in the NW and stay warm!!! Wow! What a climate change for them!!!

    All the best!

    • bditws January 13, 2010 at 7:09 pm #

      Wow! Thanks for spreading the word Patrick. You seem like a tough guy who got all gooey after reading my stuff. That’s cool cause ladies nowadays like gooey guys. I considered myself a tough guy with thick skin until I started writing and sharing.

      I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my book’s publication and other works that I post.

      Thanks again

      Ryan

  6. Marti January 23, 2010 at 8:15 pm #

    Hi, Ryan,
    Please put me on the mailing list for your forthcoming book release. I enjoyed what I’ve read so far. Bless that little kitty for coming into your life to be your teacher.

    I, too, have stories about pets coming and going, and what we’ve all learned. You can read a few of them on my site if you want: http://www.animaintuitive.com/resources .

    Best wishes,
    Marti

    • bditws January 23, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

      Thanks Marti. I’ll let you and millions of others know when the book is released. 🙂 I’ll check out your website.

      Cheers

      Ryan

  7. Ihavecat January 24, 2010 at 12:54 am #

    I am so touched by your story. that kitty was so fortunate to have been born to you – another person might not have realized that Ms Ginger was having fun. bless you. i read that you and your wife are expecting (in the comments above) and i think she was very lucky to land an animal (esp cat) loving man!

    I am a singleton in her 30s living in NYC – with cat(s). I’ve recently started a blog called I HAVE CAT about living in the city, being single and the added stereotype of being a “cat lady”. One of my posts is titled “Wanted: A Man Who Loves Pussy (cats)” about why I think the man who loves cats is a REAL man. I hope you check it out http://ihavecat.wordpress.com/2009/10/18/catloving-men-are-best/

    Like an other reader said – you are a good teacher. I did learn something and I look forward to reading your book. Good luck to you. Please put me on your mailing list ihavecat@gmail.com

    Of course I have to ask – – what became of Ms Ginger’s mommy and the tabby?
    Best,
    tamar

    • bditws January 24, 2010 at 1:38 am #

      The tabby was given to my friend, Andy. He named him Dude in honor of me, a man who considers “dude” a non-gender pronoun. Dude lived with Andy for about a year before he just went missing.

      Baetis, Ms. Ginger’s mom lives with us here in Portland. Her and Big Head, a yellow lab, made the journey back to the U.S. with me. I’ll update that page and put an up to date picture of Baetis.

      I’ll check out your post. Sounds classic.

      “Wanted: A Man Who Loves Pussy (cats)” http://ihavecat.wordpress.com/2009/10/18/catloving-men-are-best/

      Cheers

      Ryan

  8. Donna January 24, 2010 at 1:46 am #

    This touched me…I have a 15 year old cat…I worry because he weighs so little. But he’s shiney and he’s spunky..and guess what? He’s having fun! You relieved me of the worry of “when”…thank you. I also am currently babysitting my boss’s 25 (yes 25) year old cat. She still seems to be having fun too. THANK YOU.

  9. Ihavecat January 24, 2010 at 1:47 am #

    I just realized it was YOU who had made comments on my blog posts! Hard to make the connection these days with all the different profile names/masks etc!
    Thanks for visiting and can’t wait for your book!
    T

    • bditws January 24, 2010 at 3:35 am #

      Yeah I can’t change my user name now. bditws…sort of an inside thing…..

  10. Patrick January 24, 2010 at 5:08 am #

    And the legend grows….;-).

  11. Liz Young January 30, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

    Ryan, thank you from my heart. Tears streamed down my face as I watched your beautiful stories. A month ago I had to put my most beloved Russian Blue cat Ziggy Stardust to sleep, he was only two years old but had leukemia. I grieve and cry for him every day. As I get older my already soft heart softens even more and my love of animals grows even more. I wish you an abundance of all the beauty of life. Liz

    • bditws January 31, 2010 at 3:23 am #

      Ziggy Stardust! With a name like that he must have been one heck of a cat. My first dog, Toughy, the one who passed before I went to New Zealand, was only six years old when he passed. Ms. Ginger, the kitten in this story, was probably only around six weeks old when she passed. It’s never long enough is it? I’m sure Ziggy had no idea about time. He just knew how awesome his life was with you. Best to you and may more ‘Fuzzies’ find their way into your life soon.

      Ryan

  12. Fran soltys March 21, 2010 at 12:25 am #

    Ok Ryan so make me cry I think that it takes a very special person to see as you say when they stop having fun it is time. I remember that long ride to the vet you talking to me and me crying . I couldn’t have done it . No I take that back I know when it is time ,but your words echo in my head . It is not an easy ride ,but you have to do it . A king person you are to give a sick kitty the fight to have fun ,but then you know when it is time . I hope when Abby and Sophie come to the cross road yo can explain it to Lori as you did to me Love Frannie

  13. Hassie Bannarn Betz March 26, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    Beautiful and loving. It is touching that you chose to let Ms. Ginger live and enjoy her time rather than putting her to sleep. You are a compassionate and kind soul. I know what you mean about the right time. There was a time I didn’t understand how anyone could put a pet to sleep. Until I watched the suffering and knew that nothing I or the vet could do would change it. Our time with each pet is different and they bless us in various ways. The loss of each shatters a part of our souls. But it is worth the tears every time to have this pure and radiant love in your life.

  14. Courtney March 26, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    Hi Ryan,

    You are an angel. I am so happy to know that there are people like you out in the world. Thank you so very much for sharing your wonderful story with me. I also hand-raised a 4-day old abandoned kitten, and at 2 weeks they told me he was developing cataracts in both eyes and would be blind. 4 years later, he catches flies in mid-air!! Pets are family, and we are blessed as long as they grace our lives…and the lessons we learn from them are forever.

    Please add me to the mailing list for when your book is released. I look forward to reading it!!

    – Courtney

  15. jmuhj March 26, 2010 at 11:15 pm #

    Thank you for giving your cats love and care. Ms. Ginger was amazing and you’re blessed to have had her in your life. May her mom and brother live long and safe and happy lives with you!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Here Comes the Sun (A tribute to our cat, Miss Abbie) « The Chin Project - December 17, 2010

    […] chased her brother’s tail, and swatted at her mom’s tail until it was time. I called her life, Short but Fun (Click to read adapted short story and view a video) and dedicated a chapter in my upcoming memoir […]

  2. The Flying Tabby « The Chin Project - August 26, 2011

    […] she remembers our garden and the tunnels I dug for her in New Zealand. I wonder if she remembers the special kitten she birthed–the kitten that taught me an important lesson. Does she know that she’s on her sixth life after being hit by a truck? And what about the cozy […]

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