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Black Lamb

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I miss Jimmy

Animals can be as dear to us as humans — even more dear

May 1st, 2016

BY TERRY ROSS

I miss Jimmy, who died in July 2013, more than I miss my deceased brother, more than I miss my dead mother and father.

jimmyI suppose this makes me some sort of monster.

When I knew that poor little Jimmy was dead, I wept, I lost sleep, I wandered around stunned. I did none of these when my brother Ken died of AIDS, when my mother expired after a long illness, or when my father breathed his last in a hospital bed at ninety-three. But I still find myself on the verge of tears when I think about Jimmy. My cat, Jimmy.

Before I got Jimmy thirteen years ago, I’d had very little contact with house pets. When I was six or seven, my mom and dad got a cocker spaniel that we named, for some reason, Freckles. My younger brother Bob and I liked the dog, but I don’t remember that we were devastated when Freckles got hit by a car one night. Later we had another little dog, a black one, called Cinder, but we gave her away when we moved, and I don’t recall another pet until I was in high school, and my parents took it into their heads — there were four of us kids by then and I don’t think it was our idea — to get a white toy poodle, Colette. The way they dealt with this dog made me realize for the first time how chaotic life must have been with Freckles and Cinder.

I don’t know whether it was because neither of my parents had had pets as children, but they had no notion of pet domesticity. Colette was grown and house-trained before we got her, but when ma and pa decided to breed her, and took her to someone with a male toy poodle for insemination, all hell broke loose. Pregnancy turned Colette from a yappy but pleasant little creature into a yappy, snappy mental case who growled when anyone approached my mom, whom she became suddenly devoted to, and who took to hiding small items under cushions and furniture and then guarding those locations with bared teeth. When finally her four puppies were born, she took complete leave of her senses and became an absurd joke of a dog. My brothers and sisters and I took to her calling her names like Growlette, Barkette, and Dogette.

Worse, the four puppies, three males and a female, were not only all kept on as house pets but were never house-trained. The kitchen, with its linoleum floor, was fenced off from the rest of the house, and its floor mopped several times a day. Urine stains reached up the baseboards. I escaped away to college before the worst of these dog days, when my parents moved to a new, larger house, and a larger kitchen became a fenced dog box.

Later, when I was married with two small sons and a large fenced yard, it seemed plausible to consider a dog, and a young pointer was located and acquired. This animal, whose name escapes me, proved entirely too rambunctious for a house with two toddlers, and we gave him to a man who intended to raise him to go hunting.

Thereafter, nothing, unless you count a cat that used to come to a house I rented in graduate school, a neighbor’s cat I supposed, who would take food but not enter the house. She was sweet, though, and being all white was called (by me) Blanche.

Finally, twenty-five years later, in another state and another time of life, I got Jimmy. He was a cat who had been a stray in Hawaii and who a work colleague of mine had befriended and adopted there. Transported to Portland, Ore., and in a house with three large dogs and a ferret, Jimmy was less than perfectly pleased. So Ruth gave him to me, along with a food and water dish and a collar.

White with black spots, Jimmy was a small cat but fiercely territorial despite having been neutered. Over the years, I paid thousands of dollars to fix him up after the scrapes he got into with other male cats, all of them larger than he, who had ventured onto “his” lawn or into “his”
backyard. He was also a dedicated hunter who occasionally brought birds and rodents, sometimes still alive although mortally wounded, through his cat door and into my living room.

For me, all this cat-ness was new, and I loved it from the start. And best of all, despite his hunting and fierce defense of the homeland, Jimmy was an extremely affectionate guy with a very direct gaze. If I sat, he would sooner or later be on my lap. If I lay down on the couch to read (my favorite posture), Jimmy would curl up on me and go to sleep. If I worked at the computer, he would jump up on the desk from behind and stroll around to be between me and the screen.

And at night! He would be on my bed, at one time or another, and often right on me or curled up on the pillow next to my head or — best of all — under the covers, with his little furry body against mine and my arm around him. Through various vicissitudes of life, he was my constant companion, my constant boyfriend.

Perhaps I miss him so much because he died unexpectedly and I had no time to prepare, as I did with the deaths of my brother, mother, and father. In each of their cases, I and my siblings had had time to do our mourning long before death, when the writing was on the wall and our relatives had declined to near-unrecognizability.

But I think that Jimmy and I simply had a closer and more openly loving relationship. He licked my hands, my forehead, my knees, my eyelids; I kissed his head, his ears, his compact little body, his paws.

Perhaps in missing Jimmy I’m regretting the lack of this kind of intimacy with my brother and parents. But I don’t think so. My relationship with Jimmy needn’t be compared with any other; it was just love. Pure, simple, undemanding love, the only such love I’ve ever known. •

From the September 2013 issue

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Animal Issue, Ross | Link to this Entry

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