By Kristine McDavid
I had been driving for 4 hours straight.
Up I-75 to I-24, we had packed our entire lives into the little grey Mazda and sped northwards to the Tennessee-Georgia line. The pine trees and Spanish moss had given way to red-clay earth and flowering Poplars. The changing geography seemed to be the only clue that we had actually gone anywhere. All the buildings and shops composing the small towns told us we could’ve still been Gainesville: A Days Inn here with a Chevron station out front, a Denny’s standing up the street, a mechanic shop square on the corner, just past the flashing yellow light. All seemingly cardboard duplicates of every other town we had passed through. It seemed no matter where we went things were the same. Wherever we went, guaranteed things would be the same.
We were moving to a small town in the very corner of Georgia. A town where Tennessee and Alabama converged into what is still in some circles, a disputed area. My grandparents lived there, in a two-story yellow house nestled on the foot of Sand Mountain. My boyfriend and I had set out to make our own place in the world in a small rural community, hundreds of miles away from the drunken hype of the Florida college town. We dreamed to have our own home. We dreamed of having our own yard, and living a quiet country life. A life that would echo and fade slowly across the green valley, like a banjo tune plucked on a front porch. We were traveling to this small town of Trenton, Ga. to raise our family, myself, Joshua, and our baby, Memphis.
Memphis wailed from his plastic carrier in Joshua’s lap, his canine teeth jutted outwards in wide mouthed protest. He is a short-haired tuxedo cat with gleaming golden eyes. He is also our baby. I got him as a free Craigslist kitten. A strange woman who was a proud member of what had become known as the local “hate church” simply handed him over to me in a sketchy neighborhood; the kind that pizza guys won’t deliver to after dark. She said he was the runt and the last pick of the litter. I could see why. He squirmed angrily in my arms, clawing up my chest and stretching tiny holes into my shirt, trying desperately to get away. A small black fuzz-ball the size of a squirrel, all claws and teeth.
I looked at him, somewhat disappointed. He resembled a long-legged rabid bat more than he resembled the chubby, wobbly kitten image held in my expectations. His eyes were blue then, as all kittens start off that way, but they were small and squinted as if he had a permanent sneer of disgust. His head was triangular shaped with a long snout and disproportionately large ears, contributing to that bat-like appearance. Most noticeably different from that pudgy, calendar-kitten image was his legs. He was comically lanky. His legs seemed considerably longer than his entire body and nearly thin as pencils. Those legs gave him enough range to swat my face as I held him. Despite the scratch, his nasty disposition, and odd looks I took him. Now here he was, months later, yowling and screaming his protest in the passenger seat, making this six-hour trip seem like sixteen.
We had turned off the interstate and cruised through the back roads of a small town. The air smelled of manure from the many pig farms in the area and wet grass from the green pastures that surrounded us. The sun was just starting to set behind the dark silhouettes of Flowering Poplars and White Ash trees. I felt the heaviness of my eyelids with the descent of the sun. Black asphalt soon crumbled away to a dusty clay road and I parked the car before an old wooden-gate. We were supposed to meet up with some traveling family. They were not blood relatives. Truth be told most of them were total strangers, but they were family of like minds. They were the Rainbow Gathering family, a group of homeless travelers, hippies, some vagrants, and other kindred seeking a beggar’s life. A tent in the woods among them, perhaps beside a kitchen camp would be a much welcomed rest, however they were nowhere to be seen. My patience for this entire trip had just about run
“REEEOOOWWW, WWWWOOOOOOEEEE, WWWWEEEEEEOOOOOO! Memphis yowled in anguish.
“STOP IT!” I shouted. “Make him stop! I can’t concentrate! The Family isn’t here but I can’t go on like this he’s killing me!”
“Relax, he’s just a cat,” Joshua soothed.
“I can’t relax! He won’t stop, it’s been hours! I just can’t do this anymore! I’m tossing him out! He hates us anyway! Let’s just let him be feral like he wants!” I threatened, my voice peaked with frustration.
“Follow your heart,” Joshua answered softly. This is always his answer when he doesn’t have a real answer. It annoys me endlessly. I was hoping for a stern “NO” to snap me out of my rage or a “HELL YEAH” to ease my guilt.
“Well I’m doing it! I’m sick of him!” I declared.
I glared between the bars of the carrier at our now ten-month-old kitten, fully intent on ripping it open and losing him in the Georgia wilds. At that moment I didn’t care if he was eaten by a bear, or swooped up by a giant hawk. None of that mattered at all to me. Sure I loved him, but at that moment my weariness outweighed that. My furious stare was met with round, frightened, golden-colored eyes. He was still relatively small, huddled up in the back of his carrier with black fur bristled in fear from all of my yelling.
I took in a deep breath and thought of how I must’ve looked. Out here in the middle of nowhere, a monstrous woman yelling threats at the top of her lungs to a terrified baby animal in a cage. Memphis was crouched in a defensive position, his mouth slightly opened like he was ready to bite. This trip is tough on all of us, not just me but him as well, I thought. Remorse washed over me like an icy wave and I felt it settle like a block of iron in my stomach.
“I’m sorry buddy,” I sighed.
We drove in silence.
After some time even Memphis had hushed, defensive posture lost long ago to an unhappy sleep. The nearest town was quite far back the way we came, past the pig farms and rolling, green pastures back to the gas stations and mom-and-pop diners. It was midnight by the time we had checked in at the first motel we saw. It was an old single-story cinderblock complex probably built in the sixties. Each unit had exactly one barred window and one dubious looking bed. The partially burned-out neon sign ironically said “Relax Inn.” I highly doubted this was the kind of place where anyone would be doing any sort of relaxing.
In our room some kind of rusted pipe emerged from the corner beside the front door, occasionally emitting some whooshing and clanging noises. The door was covered in high school graffiti. “Tammy was here!” “Ashley, Tammy, and Veronica BEST NITE EVERRRR! 2009!” I wondered what drugs they took to make this place home of “the best nite everrrr.” The comforter was peppered with cigarette burns, and the mildewed tiles of the bathroom crawled with tiny spiders. If I wasn’t so tired from all the driving and cat drama there was no way I would’ve been able to get any sleep in this crime scene motel.
Joshua began snoring as soon as his body hit the mattress. I lay awake starring wide-eyed at the water damaged ceiling, turning the day’s events in my head. I almost did it, I almost let him go. Our baby. I wondered where the little guy retreated to and almost as if he answered my thoughts I felt something impact on the mattress. I heard the creak of old bed springs as he stepped carefully to me and gingerly laid down on my chest, his nose to mine. He closed his eyes and purred gently, kneading on my neck. I remember clearly the warmth and weight of his fuzzy little body and the vibration of his steady purring. His warmth radiated to my very heart. I hugged him close. After all that mess, after how nasty I was to you, you still love me. You forgive me?
There in the darkness of that foul place, little cat purring away on my chest, tears streamed down my face and wet his paws. In my frustration and blind anger I almost made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. The guilt of what I had considered doing was leaden weight on my heart, to him it was absolutely nothing at all. I stifled quiet sobs.
“I love you too buddy, I’m so sorry.”
Kristine lives with her husband and daughter in Gainesville, Fl. She is a casual lifestyle blogger, hobby aquarist, and stay-at-home mom.
You can follow her blog at: imdoingasbestosican.blogspot.com