At first I thought the wire space was better. Things could only get at me from one side and I felt very protected. Here, there was just…everywhere, and the best I could do was find a dark corner underneath something. Mostly under the bed. Food and water and digging box were easy to find, but I waited until everything was dark and quiet for those.
The human was very nice. She was there sometimes and she wasn’t there other times. She got down on the floor and talked to me, and she never tried to touch me, she just seemed to understand I needed my space.
I remembered when she had held me in that last place, and carried me and whispered into my fur and kissed the back of my head. I got the same feeling from her now and I knew that if I came out from under the bed, she would do that again. Oh, how I wished that I was brave enough to come out!
But I might have stayed under that bed forever if it hadn’t been for the gray and white cat who was there to greet me. He knew I was coming, and he looked right at me as if he knew me when the person let me out of the box.
I felt no danger at all except the space seemed to go on forever, into the outdoors and up into the sky, but I stood in one spot, getting my bearings, aware of the cat on one side of me and the human behind me and this big mass of space all around while the human talked softly and told us each others’ human names.
His name was Namir, and while he was larger than me he was very slender with big ears and a long tail, and there was something different about him from what I remembered from other boy cats. He moved his head around and got as good a look at me as he could get from where he was standing, and then slowly walked toward me, in a few steps coming close enough to sniff me.
Stop shaking, there’s nothing to be scared of.
I turned to look at him. He continued sniffing me, glancing at my face now and then. I had sensed this sort of communication before, but not so clearly. There was only one cat here, and I perceived the message clearly.
I had so much to ask, but all I could do was watch him as he slowly moved around me and thoroughly sniffed me. I was getting more frightened by the moment, not of him or the person, just because there was this huge space all around me and I felt very vulnerable.
Suddenly, I couldn’t stand there, I had to find a safe place and I ran to the farthest spot I could see, ending up under a bed where I spent most of the first two weeks in my new life with humans.
I was grateful the digging box and food and water were moved into that room when I rolled myself in a ball in my dark safe place and would not move or even look at them. The human came to visit regularly, but Namir stayed with me much of the time and we began a series of long conversations and long silences that lasted all our lives together.
What are you afraid of?
It’s so big.
At night when the human was sleeping, or during the day when she was not there, I began to follow Namir and creep to the edge of my enclosure, then step out from underneath, a paw at a time, slowly, and look around, then explore the space I was in and discovered it really didn’t go on forever. Then Namir would walk outside of the space to another and eventually I followed him and found all the edges. Nothing could get me.
The human is a very good human. Most humans are.
I know she’s good. I just don’t know what to do when she’s around.
I’ll show you.
When the human visited Namir began to walk around her and rub himself on her, and she ran her hands all over him and kissed him on the face. Then she picked something up and moved it toward him and I wanted to tell him to watch! It seemed dangerous, but she rubbed that on his fur instead of using her hand and he liked that even better. In fact, he made a real fool of himself rolling on the floor and running around while she rubbed him with it. He looked at me upside down with a couple of his legs in the air, his fur was beautiful and I could hear him purring and he didn’t need to tell me what I was supposed to know from this.
You’re a goof.
He squinted at me and purred.
I felt safe to come out from my place when the human came to visit me, and though I didn’t touch her I didn’t mind being close to her, as long as Namir was there.
Kelly, I’m so happy to see you!
She tried to pet me and I almost let it happen, but ran at the last minute. Namir ran after me.
Don’t run away!
But I’m scared! I’m not ready!
Well get ready!
Because…because, I want her to like you!
But she does, she tells me all the time.
But so do I!
What does that have to do with her?
I just like you, and I want all of us to like each other.
I didn’t really understand this. What was “like”?
Just let her touch you next time. You’ll make her so happy. It’s good to make humans happy. We should all be happy.
“Happy” was another concept I didn’t quite understand.
Trust me, just let her touch you, you’ll feel how happy she is through her hand.
The next time she tried to touch me, I stood still and closed my eyes and let her. Namir was right, I could feel a warm and wonderful feeling right through her hand. I remembered being held and kissed. This was going to be okay.
But I had a question for him.
Why don’t you ever bathe?
Bathe? You mean that thing you do all the time where you lick yourself all over? Why would I do that?
All cats do, that’s why!
I lick my paws, I wipe food off my face, and I clean myself after the box.
But why don’t you wash all over?
I’ve never really seen a cat do that until you.
I remembered him telling me that he didn’t remember his mother at all, and his first memories were living with a bunch of loud and dirty humans who were nonetheless very nice to him. I guess that’s where he learned to trust humans though I think I would have run away! Then he came to live with this human, and he’d never lived with another cat.
Let me show you how to do this.
I love to wash myself. Sometimes I do it just for fun. I gave myself a thorough bath while he watched.
I went over and began to wash him, it was just the most natural thing to do. We had always washed each other when we lived in the basement, all cats did that. He moved back but I followed and he let me lick him on the face and shoulder. I realized that although he had guided me around with a push or a light swat of his paw we had hardly ever touched.
I couldn’t understand that.
You’re really dirty. I have a lot of work to do.
Namir liked his bath, and our human made a happy human noise when she watched me do this. I went back to washing myself and he observed me, and then he started to lick himself. Bathtime became a part of our regular daily routine, though Namir always made fun of my quick little baths in between.
Another day I was feeling bold and ran over and swatted a little mouse, tossed it in the air, pounced on it and kicked it and chased it some more. I heard our human make a happy human noise again and that made me happy. Then I remembered myself.
Kelly, are you okay?
I’m fine. What’s the matter?
Well, you were just acting as if you were possessed.
I was playing. That’s what those fake mice are for. I’ve killed real ones, but you have to keep in practice. Namir, I’ve never seen you play!
Play? Like that? I push those things around now and then, and it’s cool when the round ones roll a little bit. But I’ve never made a fool of myself like that. We don’t have to kill mice, and I’ve killed mice, those don’t look anything like them.
It looks like I have something else to teach you.
So I demonstrated over and over and even tossed toys at Namir, and so did our human who seemed to understand what I was doing, until eventually he caught one and I could see it all came together.
Kelly, did you notice something.
You’re out in the middle of the room on your back with a toy, and the human is right there.
I looked at him. I looked at her. I clutched my toy and bit and kicked it. I hadn’t noticed, but it was okay. I let the human touch me all the time and I could always feel the good feeling in her hand. I had known from the beginning she was a good human but didn’t know how to let her know I knew until Namir showed me. I had known from the beginning Namir was my friend and that he always would be. I had the feeling this was “happy”.
The woman who adopted Kelly did indeed have Namir at home waiting for a buddy. She worked for a company I freelanced with and I heard about the two on a regular basis, hearing about Namir’s housing with a fraternity when she was in college and Kelly later teaching him “how to be a cat”. The woman had always lived with dogs and didn’t find it at all strange when Namir didn’t bathe or play with cat toys and I could tell by the way she talked about them and the stories she e-mailed to me that she was thoroughly charmed by them both.
I wrote this section from the stories she related, and did my best to understand the actions of a frightened and traumatized feline. After all, Kelly had one more stop to make, and that was to my house where for a while she regressed to the frightened, glowing kitty eyes under the bed.
We live near Pittsburgh. Their person was accepted into a graduate degree program in California and would be living on someone’s couch for a while if not for the duration. We tried for months to find foster or adoptive homes for them, preferably together, to no avail, so in October 1997 I agreed to take them to foster until I found homes or she came back. She ended up going from Berkeley to Europe and we decided the kids belonged with me.
We have one more chapter, next week, when she moves in with me, a setback in her progress, but eventually she settles in and becomes the Kelly you know today and relates being the baby in a house full of “really old cats”. And it sounds as if we’ll have to talk about Namir at some point as well.
Kelly has been the sweet, quiet presence you don’t see as often as her more outgoing housemates. I’ve long tried to condense her story, but decided that didn’t do justice to a kitty who’s been through a lot. Because her story is long and involves details of the story of a stray and feral colony along with Kelly’s own long path toward learning to trust humans, I’ll be telling it in several parts over the next few weeks for my Tuesday rescue feature. She has traveled a great emotional and spiritual distance to be the kitty you see today, and who is right now curled in a happy purring ball on my lap, head turned upside down and hugging all her legs together.
Read the whole series:
Kelly’s story was so popular that I decided to take it from a five-part series to a book telling more of the story and more about the other cats Kelly met, and filled with the photographs you see here as well as drawn and painted illustrations.
And you can find Kelly in photos and sketches and stories all over The Creative Cat.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.