It’s strange even to me to break my nearly year-long writing hiatus over a cat, and not even my cat, but like the song says, “any port in a storm.”
Say “Hi” to Rocky. My neighbors Joan and Joe asked me to paint him in the fall of 2006, They’ve reminded me of this every year, and every year I’ve said “I will. I promise.”
I’ve gotten a new lease on painting using the IPad, which. with the Procreate app, can function sort of like an Etch-A-Sketch. No harm, no fowl, no wasted paper. I don’t need a magnifying glass with it; I can just zoom in.
The first time I saw Rocky was fall of 2006, the day after I moved into this house. He was peering into my mudroom through the glass door, and from a fifteen foot distance, he looked like my six year old Sophie. I was startled to see her outside, because I hadn’t let her out. When a cat startles you with a risky move, you don’t jump into action; you move slowly so the cat won’t bolt. As I got nearer to the door, I realized that this was not Sophie, but a strange cat who shared similar coloring, and he bolted when I touched the door handle.
On my third day here, I carried Bettina, my sixteen year old cat, out the front door. I wanted her to have a taste and a smell of her new surroundings without any boots on the ground. That’s how I met my new neighbor Joe, who immediately invited me over to meet his wife Joan – and there was that “strange” cat lying their ottoman. His name was Rocky and he was about nine years old. He growled when I tried to pet him, even though I approached him carefully, crouching down so my face was level with his, and letting him smell my fingers first.
A few days after my official introduction to Rocky, I took Bettina out to the deck behind the house, and set her down. She immediately walked to the corner, slithered through the slats, and jumped. It was about a three foot jump, and she had no way of knowing what would be down there, but she jumped – and right there, a foot from where she landed, was Rocky. Bettina did that crazy walk that cats do, where the paws move but nothing else does, and managed to get about three feet away from Rocky before I got there and picked her up. Rocky just walked away.
Bettina, Ben and Sophie (six year old brother and sister) had been indoor cats in our apartment in Philadelphia, and I was unsure about exposing them to the dangers of the real outdoors. Bettina died late that fall, but Ben and Sophie spent the next year and a half as indoor cats.
That first spring and summer, Rocky showed up on the deck several times a day and sat there taunting Ben and Sophie as the captives they were. I would see him at the front, side and back of the house, and every time I approached him, he hissed and swatted. He even drew blood a few times.
In the spring of 2008, I relented and let Ben and Sophie out for small periods of time, with me supervising. They never stayed on the deck. Their favorite thing was to go up to the top of the rock formation behind the house and taut ME because weighing more than twelve pounds, I needed hiking shoes and low humidity to get up there.
Rocky still came through the back yard, but not when Ben and Sophie were there. There were a few times when Ben walked around to the front yard alone though, and Rocky always managed to be there, and the two of them would have yowling, screeching arguments. Rocky roared and screeched, and Ben screamed. It was Ben’s yard, but to Rocky, Ben was an interloper and had no business there. This went on for several years of springs and summers (Rocky spent winters in Arizona), and I always got between them, giving Rocky a chance to swagger on home, and Ben a chance to retreat.
About four years in, I heard the usual altercation between Ben and Rocky, but when I got there, Rocky was already skulking away toward his house. Ben had finally claimed his territory, and while I wished no disgrace on Rocky, I was proud of Ben.
Despite many visits to his house, Rocky never let me pet him until around 2011, and even then if I did it for more than ten seconds, he would hiss and swat, and I would quickly withdraw. 2012 was different. I could cuddle with him without retribution, and with no time limit. He even purred and rolled over.
The next summer, when I saw him walking, he walked much more slowly and carefully, and he kept mostly to the sidewalks and the parking area near Joan and Joe’s car. In the winter of 2013, Joan called from Arizona to say that Rocky had died.
Ben had one summer of no Rocky, and he died in the fall of 2014. They’re both gone now, and they’re probably having a standoff on the Rainbow Bridge.