When I met Blackie and his brother, Goldie, love came into my life so unexpectedly, and with such force that I was surprised and humbled. This love changed me and it continues, although both have passed away. Each taught me profound lessons by example which inspire me still. It occurs to me as I write — how would my life have been if I hadn't looked out of my parents' kitchen window that August day so many years ago?
When I first saw the little black moving object in the alleyway I wasn't sure whether it was a kitten or a bird and went to find out. There was the yet to be named Blackie, a tiny, bedraggled, black and white kitten, meowing and meowing. At first I thought he was calling for his mother, but after a while it occurred to me that he might have a sibling. I found his orange and white brother in my parents' neglected garage a few feet away.
The kittens had apparently been abandoned by their mother. My older sister Annie was living with my parents at the time, and she and I started taking care of them. They were in sorry shape — flea-ridden, undernourished, dirty. It was Annie who started referring to them as Blackie and Goldie — just to distinguish one from the other — but the names stuck, and Blackie and Goldie they remained.
Entranced by the tiny cats, and mostly unemployed that summer (I am a professional musician), I spent a lot of time in Brooklyn, playing with and caring for them as they ran around our backyard. Every day I would set them on my lap and, with comb and toothbrush in hand, separate their fur looking for fleas. When I saw one I would catch it up on the tines of the comb and dunk it into warm soapy water.
My mother let it be known that she had put in her time with cats when we were kids and now wanted nothing further to do with them. "You are not going to bring those cats in the house," she declared, but when the weather grew suddenly cold she was overruled by my father, sister and me. Blackie and Goldie were installed on the front porch and were eventually given the run of the whole house.
The newest members of our family were lively and mischievous and they constantly amazed us with their athletic feats, especially their high jumps. Once when we were in the living room which adjoined the porch where we were keeping them we looked up to see Goldie's face peering through the upper part of the porch door which was made of glass. He had jumped up and was perched on the doorknob! As we watched disbelievingly, he managed to push the heavy door open and quickly ran to join us in the forbidden territory of the living room.
Our boisterous kittens careened around the house running up and down the stairs at fifty miles an hour, making a thunderous racket, filling us with delight and wonder - how could two such little creatures make so much noise?
In the beginning we were confused about their gender - we thought they were boys. Then we were told they were girls. We would say, 'Look at Blackie, isn't she beautiful" and 'Blackie is so pretty.' We continued saying this for the rest of Blackie's life, even after we found out that they were indeed the boy cats, exclaiming, 'Look at Blackie. Isn't he pretty!' In repose, Blackie's face and expression had a purity and soulfulness that seemed at odds with his demeanor. We felt sorry for him. When he and his brother played he was always the kitten in the large brown paper bag being pounced on by the irrepressible Goldie. Goldie, although not outwardly beautiful like his brother had an infectious love of life and amiability that endeared him to us all. Goldie would go for walks with us, keeping pace as we progressed down the block.
And he was a jokester. He liked to nip at Annie's toes when she was lying in bed. Once, when I had come to visit and was standing in the back yard calling for him he appeared out of nowhere running full tilt, zoomed around me and ran off as fast as he had appeared. Goldie was supremely comfortable with life. Blackie, the under cat developed a chip on his shoulder.
At the time that Blackie and Goldie came into our lives, relations in our family were strained. My older brother and sister and I related to each other fairly well, but our relationship with our parents was rocky. Mom and Dad weren't getting along, never had, really. They admired and loved each other deeply, but didn't have a good working relationship because compromise wasn't in their vocabulary. Each stubbornly held to his or her own point of view and arguments never seemed to get settled.
Dad was a very fine, principled person, but, in my mother's words 'he lacked social graces.' He was impatient, irritable and quick to anger. He had a large capacity for love, but it wasn't on the surface and I think most people missed it. He spent a lot of time up in the attic of our house writing books and poems that were never accepted for publication, much to his deep disappointment.
Mom was greatly beloved by almost everyone. She was highly sensitive, compassionate and tuned into the spiritual essence of life. People who were depressed turned to Mom because she had the ability to inspire and help them feel better about life. However, unbeknownst to the world at large Mom also had a large reservoir of anger and resentment. This was directed exclusively towards her family. She felt that her children were ungrateful and unappreciative of the sacrifices she felt she had made for us when we were growing up and she was angry at my father because he was so hard to live with, because he wouldn't change to be the person she wanted him to be - less rigid, more loving, more willing to extend himself into her more spiritually oriented world.
Our family life was filled with strife and the resentment fueled by many years of accumulated unresolved gripes. My parents' continual disagreements and inability to work as a team except in dire circumstances had resulted in a fragmented family in which each person operated independently. It was not unusual for of us to shop for food individually and cook our own meals. One of the few activities we did together was going to cultural events, especially concerts.
Since Mom refused to be interact with the cats, they turned to my father. I'd often see Dad reading or watching TV on the recliner in the dining room with two sleeping kittens on his lap. He wouldn't get up to answer the phone when it rang. 'I don't want to disturb Blackie and Goldie.' He fed them and made sure they were safely in the house when he locked up at night. Although he had never mentioned it to us before, it seemed that when he was a boy he had thrown a cat out of a window, causing its death. Now, caring for these little cats helped heal his guilt.
Annie and I had had cats as pets when we were children, but the love evoked by these two brothers was far greater than anything we had previously experienced. I had made fun of people who were enamored of their pets in the past, now I found I had unexpectedly joined their ranks.
Ultimately, even my put upon mother found she was unable to totally resist our 'boys.' She too, exclaimed, 'Blackie is so beautiful,' shared in our amazement of the cats' incredible athletic prowess and laughed with us at their antics.
Goldie was just one year old when he died. Dad found his body lying by the side of the house one morning. We assumed that he had been hit by a car and had managed to crawl back to the house to die. Years later we realized that he might have been poisoned, but it remained a mystery unsolved.
I started sobbing when Annie called me to tell me of Goldie's sudden death. He was so young! Thinking of our Goldie with his joyful spirit, his large heart, his sense of humor and playfulness, now no longer with us, I had a realization that in this one single year of life he had helped unite my troubled family, bringing us together in our love and joy of him - as if a great spirit had come to live with my family in the form of a cat to teach us about love and living with joie de vivre. And instead of falling into the abyss of mourning and loss I decided to redirect my emotions into a celebration of this great spirit, this master teacher.
We held a funeral for our beloved cat, burying him behind the garage where I had found him hiding just one short year ago. Each one of us spoke about Goldie and what he had meant to us. We placed a red rose on his grave, then went to the kitchen where we toasted Goldie with Bailey's Irish Cream - a tradition we still carry on, although there are fewer of us now.
Although we loved Blackie, he had lived in the shadow of his charismatic brother and now that Goldie was gone, Blackie didn't seem to miss him at all. In time, Annie moved out and Dad took on the full responsibility for caring for Blackie.
Blackie was an indoor/outdoor cat. Many cats on our block were hit by cars crossing the street, but Blackie was careful. He loved to hide in the grass in the front or under the forsythia bush in the back and watch for unwary birds. On her birthday one year my mother said, 'I hope Blackie doesn't decide to bring me a birthday present.' Unfortunately, she had read his mind. In came Blackie with a pigeon (live) in his mouth and a great commotion ensued. Dad got Blackie to drop the bird which fled to safety under the couch in the dining room. Ultimately, the pigeon was freed with no evident damage, to Blackie's great displeasure.
Blackie kept Dad company at night. Every evening Dad would go upstairs to his bedroom where he would sit on his recliner, reading a book (usually by some intellectual or other), listening to classical music on the radio. The TV would be on, with no sound, tuned to whatever sport was in season. Blackie would lie quietly on the bed, listening to music until bedtime.
Classical music was big in my family. We all loved music. My mother was a fine pianist and Julliard graduate. My brother, no longer living at home at the time Blackie and Goldie were found, was a professional cellist. I, too, was a professional violinist and my sister Annie also played the violin. Dad is probably the only father I know of who actually encouraged his children to become professional musicians. At the end of his life, when Blackie came to live with me I always played classical music for him.
Blackie was not an easy cat to love, but I thought that was largely a result of the way he was treated by my parents. I tried to make it up to him when I was visiting, petting him, giving him specials treats and encouraging him to sit on my lap. I'd croon to him, 'Blackie, Blackie, Blackie Boy, he's so beautiful.' I lobbied on his behalf, attempting in vain to get Dad to pet him more gently (he was extremely heavy handed) and pleading with both Dad and Mom to speak more kindly to him.
Dad did love Blackie, but in a gruff way. Blackie wanted to sleep in Dad's room at night, but Dad locked him out because Blackie liked to sleep on the bed with him. The door to the bedroom didn't latch properly and sometimes Blackie pushed it open, only to be promptly exiled. Blackie spent a lot of time down in the dark, musty cellar. He liked to sleep near the warm furnace in the winter.
Mom was continually irritated with Blackie because he scratched up the furniture (but she would never get him a scratching post!) and was simultaneously afraid of him. There was something about human feet that was threatening to Blackie - perhaps someone had stepped on him at some point. Sometimes he scratched Mom on her ankles. This was serious because her legs were already swollen with phlebitis and her circulation was very bad.
Blackie could be intimidating and at times we were all wary of him, because if we didn't do what he wanted when he wanted it, he might strike out suddenly with his paw, a gesture accompanied by an angry meow. In fact, Blackie seemed to have taken on many of my father's less attractive personality traits. I'd often say, 'Blackie is just like Dad.' And he really was. He had the same short fuse, obduracy and impatience that characterized my father. I didn't see Dad's wonderful qualities in Blackie until much later.
Periodically, Blackie would get into fights with other cats in the neighborhood, but he also made some friends. For a while, Dad took care of two young cats with whom Blackie bonded until they disappeared. Grey Cat wandered off one day and never came back. Little Goldie was mistakenly captured in our next door neighbors' cellar by an exterminator who dropped him off in another neighborhood. It was bizarre and heartbreaking. Dad and I went to look for him, but we weren't able to find him. So Blackie was alone again.
Blackie roamed the neighborhood by day and night. When we wanted Blackie to come home we would whistle for him. Dad would go looking for him when he didn't return, whistling and calling. All the neighbors knew Blackie. Sometimes Blackie wouldn't return of an evening and Dad would worry all night, but ultimately Blackie always came back.
After some years I noticed that Blackie had an uncanny ability to show up when I desired his presence. I'd say, 'Gee, I haven't seen Blackie for awhile. I wonder where he is,' and in would come Blackie! I came to realize that Blackie was quite telepathic.
When Blackie was around twelve I called an animal communicator to help me figure out why he was snubbing me. The animal communicator, Sharon Callahan lived in California. When I explained the problem I was having with Blackie she was able to tune into him telepathically. This unusual behavior had started after I had accompanied Blackie and my mother on a trip to the vet. When we got back to my parents' house Blackie began to avoid me. There was no mistaking it. If he was in a room when I entered, he would immediately leave. Sharon told me that Blackie had been put to sleep in a former life and thought that I had taken him to the vet to have him euthanized. I assured Sharon that this had not at all been my intention. Her communication back to Blackie was successful. He stopped avoiding me and our former good relations were restored.
My parents were in their early seventies when I first found Blackie and Goldie, I was thirty three. Fortunately, their health was fairly stable until Dad broke his hip at age 86. Life for all of us changed radically after that. Dad was never the same. He had been fiercely independent, shopping for food, cooking, writing many hours a day and taking daily three mile walks. Now he was dependent on others. Blackie, too, was elderly. He still roamed outside but his vision was declining and his health was becoming more fragile. Overwhelmed by the trauma of his accident and its effect on his life, Dad largely ignored Blackie whose care now fell to others - my mother and various aides hired to help care for my father. Annie lived on the same block as my parents and visited every day, but Blackie was left very much on his own.
Dad was afraid of dying. He had revealed this to me many years before. His anxiety, under wraps during the day, would emerge in the quiet of night and Dad had many wakeful hours, under siege by fears he could not allay. Dad did not believe that there was existence beyond death. He was tortured by the thought that the flame of his consciousness would be extinguished when he died. At one point he told me that he hoped that Blackie wouldn't die before he did. I think he feared the loneliness of life without Blackie.
Two years after Dad's fall he fell again, this time breaking his other hip. While he was being hospitalized, my mother was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and since she refused to go into the hospital, was ordered to stay home until her condition stabilized. During these very dark days, Blackie stopped eating and from what my mother told me I surmised that he was dying. I went home to be with him in his final days. Chicken was a favorite of Blackie's so I had wrapped up the remainder of Dad's hospital chicken dinner to bring to Blackie.
Blackie was hiding in the back of a dark closet next to my mother's room when I arrived. I went to the kitchen and cut up some chicken into tiny pieces, mixed it with some water and brought it upstairs to Blackie. I was surprised and pleased when Blackie edged close and started eating. When he had finished I took his plate downstairs, got some more and returned to him. He ate this portion as well. Down I went to get more. When Blackie finished all of Dad's chicken I started on the raw chicken breast Mom had in the refrigerator. Blackie ate and ate and ate! I couldn't believe how much chicken Blackie consumed.
I slept over that evening. When Blackie came in to my room during the night I encouraged him to come up on the bed and sleep with me. I had two cats of my own by that time so I was very glad of feline company. Later, speaking with Sharon, my animal communicator she told me that Blackie had decided not to die that night.
We were so grateful to Blackie for not leaving us during that difficult time. Dad never knew how close Blackie had come and he himself died not too long after that. Fortunately, by the time Dad died he was ready and unafraid.
Mom was very depressed after Dad's death. Although she had Dad hadn't gotten along (and he was particularly impossible after he had broken his hip) she missed him terribly. 'I always felt safe when he was around,' she said. She knew that Dad would take care of her. Now she was alone. She and Dad had been married for over sixty years.
Now Blackie was Mom's cat and he was very solicitous of her. He had become milder in his old age, no longer so irritable and reactive. As his vision had declined he stopped attacking people's feet - I thought perhaps he couldn't see them any more. Mom also had grown to love Blackie. She now petted him and spoke gently to him and even allowed him on her bed sometimes. Blackie seemed very grateful for the attention. I remarked that now that Blackie was her cat he had become more like her.
Through the years Mom and I had grown very close. All anger and resentment between us had melted away and I considered my mother my best friend. Now with Dad gone and in bad health herself she felt totally vulnerable. Her eldest sister Frances died soon after my father. Within a couple of months after Dad's death Mom had a cardiac arrest. Fortunately, she was revived, but her kidneys were greatly weakened and she ultimately died at home of kidney failure a little less than a year after Dad passed away. During her last month of life she was in excruciating pain and was bedridden. Blackie often came upstairs to check on her. After she died we let Blackie see her body so he would know that she was no longer alive.
I had asked Sharon where Blackie wanted to live after Mom died. Annie was intending to move into my parents' house but she had four cats of her own, including a male cat whom we felt sure would not get along with Blackie. I had two female cats living with me in my apartment. 'Blackie says he wants to live with you,' Sharon told me. I had trepidations about Blackie living indoors in an apartment after he had spent his whole life living in a large house and going outdoors every day, but, fortunately my apartment was large and I had plenty of room for him.
The day we moved him out of his home was terribly sad for all of us.
I had a special room in my home which became known as 'Blackie's room.' It was a small room with its own little bathroom, located on the side of the kitchen near the entrance of the apartment. I put Blackie's blue and red, donut shaped cat bed in it along with some other things from home - a towel, a blanket and some of my mother's clothes so that he could have some familiar smells in his new environment. I also put some plants in his room and provided him with his own radio tuned to a classical music station.
Blackie immediately wanted to explore his new home but I decided it was best to keep him separate from my cats, Silky and Vivvy for a while to give them all a chance to make their adjustments to the new circumstances. Silky and Vivvy were also black and white cats, about nine years old. I had adopted them from the ASPCA when they were kittens. I wasn't sure how they would react to Blackie or Blackie to them.
Blackie surprised me. He seemed to understand perfectly that he was a guest in Silky and Vivvy's home and he acted like a perfect gentleman, always deferring to them. Vivvy in particular was unhappy with Blackie's presence and yowled at him when she saw him. She would wait outside Blackie's door and when he tried to emerge she would start her tirade which I interpreted as, 'Get back. Get back. Go into your room. Don't you dare come out!' Blackie would retreat further and further back into his room, finally to the only place he felt was his, his bed. He never fought back or showed any signs or irritation or anger.
My bed was too high for Blackie to jump up on. Sometimes I'd hear him calling in the middle of the night and I would leave my bed and go lie down with him on the little mattress in his room.
I knew Blackie didn't have much time left when he came to live with me. He was very thin and he was a little unsteady on his feet. His vision was poor and I could see that he had cataracts. He was finicky about food. But I was so happy to have him with me. He reminded me of a dignified elderly gentleman with impeccable manners. Blackie was used to covering lots of territory daily and he would often go for walks in my apartment. He would politely call to warn Silky and Vivvy of his presence. Vivvy stopped giving Blackie a hard time. Silky had ignored him at first, but when she realized he was going to be around longer than she had anticipated she started hissing at him when he passed.
I asked Sharon how Blackie was doing. She said that Blackie was very happy living in my apartment and that he particularly loved his room. Blackie loved to lie in his little cat bed in his room listening to music surrounded by stuffed animals, crystals, flowers and some of my mother's old shirts. I tried to think of nice things I could do for him. I wanted him to know he was cherished.
My mother had died in January and Blackie had come to live with me a few weeks later. I was planning to take a summer vacation and found a college student to stay in my apartment who agreed care for the cats while I was gone. As I was arranging my trip I had to take Blackie to the vet for dental work. Dr. Cole said he suspected Blackie might have cancer in his jaw area and took a sample for a biopsy. I felt sure that Blackie didn't have cancer. I mentioned that I needed to buy plane tickets very soon and asked that his office contact me as soon as possible with the results. When I didn't hear from them I went ahead and got the tickets, assuming that no news was good news.
Blackie's mouth didn't seem to be healing. I made another appointment with the vet. When I saw Dr. Cole he told me that the results of the biopsy had been positive and that the type of cancer Blackie had was fast growing. I couldn't believe that his office hadn't informed me! He explained that his receptionists had thought that I was away on vacation. He had no suggestions for a course of treatment, only euthanization. His news took me by surprise. I had not dealt with cancer before and had no idea of what kind of care this would entail. I did know that there was no way I was going to have Blackie euthanized without his permission.
I was terribly torn about my upcoming vacation. Could I really leave Blackie? Yet, I desperately longed to get away. In the space of a little less than a year I had lost both my father and my mother. Now, a couple of months later I was going to have to go through the death of another of my beloveds and this time I would have the sole care and responsibility. I needed to replenish myself and regain my strength for this next test.
I asked Sharon how Blackie felt about my leaving him. She reassured me that Blackie supported my going away. 'He says he will wait for you,' she told me. Other animal communicators I with whom I also consulted confirmed what Sharon had told me. I proceeded with my plans to leave, but it was touch and go up until the time I actually left for the airport.
I made elaborate plans with my friends and sister to visit Blackie while I was away. Chris, the young man living in my apartment had the main responsibility for taking care of the cats, but he was young and I didn't quite trust him to be as attentive to Blackie as I wished him to be. As it turned out Blackie had company every day. One of my friends who had volunteered to keep an eye out for Silky and Vivvy took Blackie under her wing and went shopping for special food for him in order to to tempt him to eat.
Blackie had cancer of the mouth which meant that eating was a problem. As time went on he could eat less and less and only food in liquid form. A tumor was growing under his tongue, pushing it to the side. Despite that, Blackie managed to eat until the very last. He couldn't clean himself, but he permitted me to wash him with a warm washcloth. He wasn't a pretty sight. Food stained his fur when he tried to eat, plus the
cancer caused a discharge. I had to spend a lot of time cleaning him, but Blackie was forbearing. I felt that he knew what I was doing and why and that he appreciated my efforts and was trying his best to cooperate.
Blackie bore his infirmity with the greatest dignity. He was tolerant and accepting and, although he was uncomfortable at times, didn't seem to be suffering from any real pain. By now he had many fans who came to pay their respects to him. His presence had grown large and luminous and radiated through the whole apartment. I started calling him 'my little angel.' I could feel my father's spirit more and more in Blackie. He was still 'just like Dad,' but now it was another aspect of my father. Dad had a great soul, but it had been so hidden behind the facade of his difficult personality that most people didn't recognize it, even I, until we bridged our differences when he was in his seventies. He was compassionate, honest, reliable and totally lacking in pettiness. If he said he was going to do something he did it. He was a straight shooter and he was the strongest person I knew. He had changed when he had his first fall. Losing his independence seemed to break his spirit; his personality regressed and he became demanding and unreasonable. I felt that I had lost my father.
Blackie now seemed to embody Dad's most wonderful qualities and, more and more, I felt as though, through Blackie I was also taking care of my father, the real one, the one I had lost after his fall. But Blackie had a yet even more positive presence because he wasn't at all afraid of dying. Once, while I was away on vacation I called an animal communicator friend to check in on him telepathically. She said that Blackie was lying in his bed and enjoying the cool breeze that blew over him, savoring the goodness of being alive.
Ironically, as I watched Blackie grow thinner and thinner I started worrying that perhaps he was enjoying his life too much. Although his body was giving out, his spirit didn't seem ready to depart. Apart my music work I also did healing work with both people and animals. I did many sessions for Blackie to help integrate the progress of his body and spirit so that he would be ready for death when his time came. At times he gave up eating, only to resume again. I ran uptown and downtown trying to find food he liked - sardines, baby food, salmon, turkey breast. I would put solid food in the blender and add warm water after which I would strain it into broth. Caring for Blackie was a full time job, but I loved taking care of him and fortunately hardly had any work during that summer.
I knew Blackie was getting very close one Sunday in September when I saw he had trouble using his back legs. That day was a working day for me and I had arranged with Annie for her to come spend the day with Blackie. When I got home that night Annie had written me a note describing her beautiful day with Blackie. It was his gift to her. It was his last day.
Blackie was very weak when I returned that night. I thought he might like to lie on my bed with me, but he protested when I moved him and I could see that my handling hurt him. I put him back in his bed and brought him into the living room where he had been staying. It was my favorite room in the apartment and the one where I did my healing work. My stereo was in that room and I continually played music for him. During the night Vivvy woke me up and I went to check on Blackie. He had soiled his bed and was lying on the floor. I cleaned him, changed the toweling lining his bed and put him back in it. I felt he was very near death. I created a little altar near his bed and burned some sage. I had planned to play the Saint Matthew Passion for him when he was making his passage because I have always felt that Bach's music is so spiritually inspired, but somehow it didn't feel right. Instead I put on a CD that my brother had recorded of Beethoven cello sonatas. Later I realized how appropriate that was. Beethoven had been my father's favorite composer.
I was exhausted and not feeling well. I went back to bed. Silky came to get me in the morning. I went straight to Blackie who was lying on his stomach, front paws splayed out to the side. His body was warm and I wasn't sure whether he was alive or dead. I called my friend Sue, an animal communicator. She told me that Blackie had just passed over. My father had been there to meet him.
I called Annie and fortunately it was early enough that she hadn't yet left for work. She took the day off and drove into the city. We brought Blackie back home to Brooklyn and buried him in the back yard, right next to the forsythia bush where he had loved to hide. Then we went to the kitchen and toasted him with Bailey's Irish Cream.
Peace pervaded the days following Blackie's passing. He had died naturally, the way he had wanted to and had finished his journey on earth with grace and perfect timing.
In less than two years I had lost three of the ones I loved most. There was a great deal of tragedy surrounding my parents' deaths. Blackie showed me another vision of dying. His magnificence, always there, but hidden, shone through in our last summer together. He valued life and was not afraid of death. He lived in a state of acceptance and appreciation which the cancer was never able to dislodge. I hope with all my heart that when my time comes I will be able to live up to Blackie's example.
Sharon tells me that my cats tell her that Blackie often comes to visit. He still loves his old room. Although I don't have her direct connection with the other side I believe this to be true. I feel he stands by me, steadfast and loving, lending me his strength when the going gets rough.
This year, on September 11th, the second anniversary of Blackie's death, when so many people were mourning, I went out to celebrate. I went to my favorite hang out, the Cafe La Fortuna and sat in the garden in the back, reveling in the beautiful windy day and I communed with my great friend Blackie. He let me know that he will always be there for me, that I can merge with him when I need courage, strength and fortitude. Love transcends death.
November 5th, 2002