It's been a strange week. It just keeps getting stranger.
Tuesday morning I was driving down 3rd St., as I almost always do, avoiding the traffic on 7th by the high school. My windows were misty from the morning fog. My windshield was mostly clear, though.
I'm driving along, and suddenly a Buddhist monk, scarlet robe, saffron sash, sport sandals steps out from behind a parked car.
I swerve, missing him, but not by much. The rest of my far too long commute I couldn't think of anything else. What if I had killed a Buddhist? A holy man, no less.
As a side note, I have to say I'm not sure why all the monks I see in my neighborhood wear sport sandals, but there you are.
Now, if you're reading this, you can see from the Einstein quote that I am a gal that believes in no gods at all. However, I really think that even an athiest has to at least respect Buddhism, for the sheer fact that they're just nice. There's never been a bloody Buddhist crusade. The Buddhists have never woken me up to share the good news of a Saturday morning. There are no Buddhist televangelists. All of this adds up to my favorite kind of religion- the be nice to people and don't bother them kind.
As a result, I feel rather kindly towards the residents of our own Belmont Shores monastery, the beautiful building on Ocean and Redondo. I was horrified that I'd almost murdered a representative of the religion I find least obnoxious.
This thought rattled around in my head: if I believed in hell, I would probably be thinking that would be my new final destination. So that night, in a fit of cocoa fueled insomnia, I sat down to write, instead of laying in bed trying to make out the ceiling fan without my glasses in the dark. I was thinking of this week's brief for my writing class. Intertwine two seemingly unrelated stories with similar elements, based on a T.C. Boyle story that ran recently in Harper's.
So I began to write, and what do you know, one of my characters actually hit a monk with her car.
A cat named Evil.
The story of Evil (our name for him- not his real name) begins early last summer, when our neighbor began letting her new young cat out of the house to terrorize the neighborhood's outside cats. We've got probably at least 10 cats that live on our block, including the most filthy but sweet little gal named Ping. Ping greets people walking along our street with a crusty sounding meow and follows jauntily behind, trotting to keep up. Ping likes to visit our house, because we leave out food and water for her and other semi-homeless kitties on our block. She greets me, most days, perched on one of our fence posts by our gate. She's an extremely outgoing little kitty, and she gets along perfectly well with all the other cats.
Evil began systematically chasing Ping. In fact, Evil began fighting all the cats in our neighborhood. The open windowed summer nights began to ring with pained yowls and we began to be unhappy about our neighborhood's new bully.
Our kitties, accustomed to hanging out on hot summer nights in our tiny fenced front yard, began to suffer ninja like attacks from Evil. He would sneak up to the outside of the fence, wait for a kitty to venture near, then he would leap over the fence to scratch at any part of our kitties he could get his claws into. Our kitties became wary, watchful. They got nervous, even in our house, when they would hear Evil yowl out in the dark somewhere.
Then, in August, our girl kitty (we have two Siamese cats) Honey began to avoid having her booty scratched. She's always loved this- she's an addict for rubbing her face on anything, and she'll lay down the front half of her body and push her rear end way up into the air when you scratch the base of her tail, even tipping over sometimes. So when she shied away from this favorite, we decided to capture her and take a closer look.
We found a lump on the left hand side of her hip, up by her tail. We were horrified that we hadn't seen it before. The vet (the awesome guys over at Cats and Dogs on Redondo- weird little shout out, I guess) proclaimed it to be an infection, caused by a scratch that had healed quickly (as cat's skin often does, apparently) and trapped bacteria that had caused an infection. Please note that this is probably an incredibly inadequate description from a total ignoramus on vet stuff.
The vet had to keep her overnight, to make a drainage hole to allow the pus out of the wound. This gets gorier. He had to stitch in a piece of medical tubing in the wound, to keep it open. For a week she walked around our house in her little blue collar, looking for all the world like a cat dressing up as a flower for her school play, merely happening to have a three inch long Frankenstein wound along her shaved bum with a tube hanging out. I should also mention that she was drugged, for the pain of her surgery, to help in preventing her from pulling out her tube after the first time she pulled it out. (Sigh). She would walk around our house running into furniture with her little daisy cone and stopping, because the medicine made her too dumb to back up. I cried so much that first week. She looked so incredibly pathetic. I would sit and pet her and she would sit in my lap, purring this sad drunken little purr.
It was a traumatizing week. But it got worse. On our one week return to the vet, to get the tubing taken out (we were very happy about this development, in vain as it turned out) only to find that now we had to take a plastic syringe and shove it into the wound and pump this disinfectant in the top of the hole. Because it needed to run out the bottom of the wound, washing the pus out.
I don't know if I can write about this part. I'll make it short. Honey crying from pain and what I assumed to be bewilderment. Pus dripping. A multitude of filthy, pus dotted towels. Twice a day. For about three weeks. It was as close to I will ever come to running away from my life. It was hideous, awful, guilt inducing. Crying twice a day over my hurting pet. I don't think I could do it again. It was really, really, really bad.
And it was all because of the neighbor's cat. Evil got his name that August.
We began to chase Evil away from our house and keep the kitties inside all the time. They were sad. What do kitties know? They just knew we were somehow punishing them, not letting them roll on the hot cement and lay in the cool wet grass.
We petitioned the neighbor to keep her cat inside, pointing towards Honey's shaved rear end and her white scar. She said she would try, but she really said no. Evil still roamed our neighborhood. So the kitties stayed inside.
Evil still wanted to murder Honey, though. He took to leaping up to the windows where she slept, soaking in the sun, and scratching through the screen to get at her. R. started squirting Evil with the kitchen sink hose through our kitchen window, trying to keep him away.
I wanted bad things to happen to Evil. I really did. I was angry about the way he constantly made trouble. The way he'd made Honey suffer for the entire month of August. If I saw him outside I would stomp towards him and yell. I would make hissing noises and growl at him. I really began to hate that cat.
Then, a couple months later, after R. got a water gun to squirt Evil with, I just didn't care as much anymore. Our kitties were safe inside and Evil mostly stayed away, although we could occasionally hear him hissing at our cats through our screen door.
Then, last night, R. called after I got out of class to tell me that Evil was run over by a car. His voice was flat and somehow lonely. I asked him if he was ok, and he said, yeah, in a toneless kind of way.
He said that he'd been the one to spot Evil lying in the street, motionless, in a way that R. knew meant he was dead. He said that our other neighbor, M., told Evil's mom. R. and M. ended up cleaning up the spot in the street where Evil had been run over. He said, Do you remember all those times I said I'd never shed a tear for that cat?
Yes, I answered. I do.
I lied, he said.
Today, as I was driving to work, I was thinking about Evil, and how much I had wanted harm to come to him. And how that feeling had faded with time, and how I hardly even thought about him anymore. How sad I felt for Evil's mom, because it is a hard thing to lose your pet this way, and it is even harder to tell your four and five year old boys that their kitty has gone away. It's hard to drive past the stain on the white concrete of our street and not feel sad for the cat we didn't like. I told people at work who remembered Honey's ordeal and they said, good, that bad cat deserved what it got. I wondered about what I really felt about Evil now. How I felt like I was glad he was gone. How I was glad the other kitties could return to peacefully wandering about the neighborhood. How Honey could go outside to eat grass again. How the neighbor boys didn't have a kitty anymore.
I came home from work in the newly restored sunlight of seven o'clock. I parked my car, sitting for a moment to listen to the radio, catching the little glimpse of ocean at the end of our street. I opened the car door to see a Buddhist monk walking down the street, smiling. I said Hi.