Karen the kitty was born on Easter in 2002, about half a year after I moved into my house. How elegant that he was born on the holiday of symbolic rebirth. Alas, it was the last elegant thing he did.
Not being any sort of animal expert, I mistook Karen for a girl because of his diminutive stature. I recall looking at the young tuxedo kitten and thinking matter-of-factly, “That looks like a Karen.” By the time I discovered his true gender identity, the name had stuck. I thought about tweaking it to K-Ron, but hip-hop pretensions simply did not fit him. He was an awkward, shy and altogether uncool little feline. He was rather more like a puppy.
I knew I wanted to keep one kitten of the litter as a companion to mom Midnight, but he wasn’t going to cut it. He was the first one I was going to give away. I was due to hand him over to one of my coworkers and brought him to work one Friday at Houlihan’s to complete the adoption. The coworker didn’t show for work, but little Karen got oodles of attention from the restaurant employees. He then spent the weekend with my friend Dwight in his high-rise apartment.
All this exposure brought little Karen out of his shell, and soon the pretty little cat went from worst to first. He demanded my attention, developing his lifelong habit of tapping me on the leg in exactly the way a human taps one on the shoulder to get my attention. He loved being cradled like a baby. He had discovered the advantage of being a total ham for attention. He was there to stay. He was home.
He grew up, and he grew out. He ballooned from a runt to a 16-pound gentle giant of a tomcat. I always liked to say he was big-boned, but yes, he was also a little plump. I declared him my favorite, and it’s no wonder: he was reserved around most, but loyal and loving to those close to him–like me.
The months ran into years, and my baby, my favorite, never changed one bit. He rolled over on his back and dragged himself along the carpet with his sharp claws. He fell off things and always stared a bit vacantly out of his eyes, not with the wisdom and assurance that cats usually present to the world. He was the epitome of the wide-eyed innocent.
Ten years, dozens of pounds of fur and cat food and multiple belly rubs later, Karen wandered out into the world he knew so little of and did not make it back. I found him lying on his side in the street, about two feet from the curb two doors down from the house where he had spent virtually his entire life. I let out a noise I don’t know how to describe, retreated to my house, shaking, sobbing, and hysterical; guilty, grief-stricken, and distraught. My salary partly depends on relegating events like this to the background, so I compressed my grief back into my heart and carried its weight all day Wednesday as I worked.
I play the priority game and pretend like all the other things matter more. I do know better; I know what Karen knows. Karen didn’t know much, but what he knew was the important stuff. Love. Be loved. Be adorable. And drag oneself along the carpet just because it’s fun, no matter how clumsy you look.
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