Tuesday, November 25, 2014




By Michiko Hedden

I was born in 1948 in Japan and came to America in 1996 to be married to an American. We live in Tennessee. My husband is an outdoor person. He spends summers working with his son in Alaska. I went there several times.

I had a cat, and I named him Pepite. I had him but I lost him. He had been with me for five years when one spring day he was gone. Such is the way with cats. He was a good hunter, and maybe he got bored around the neighborhood and went in search of adventure.  That same autumn a new cat came to my door.  Although I knew better, I gave him some milk, and "Prince Rupert" was home.
I got the idea for the name from the city in British Columbia that we used to pass through on our way to Alaska. I tried not to become attached to Prince Rupert because he was "just a cat" as my husband said. I took him to the clinic and had them give him the full treatment, but he stuck around anyway for twelve years. Every day, every week, every year I tried to persuade myself that he was "just a cat".

I failed.

I drew him a lot. He was my model. I used him for calendars, note cards, and portraits. I even got a blue ribbon for a drawing of him at the Tennessee Valley Fair in Knoxville. I took a lot of pictures of him, exactly like every other cat-lover. I would talk to him as if he were a person. I taught him tricks. He was a good listener and a good student.


I found a book in a used book store about how to teach your cat tricks . It was pretty interesting so I bought it. He learned "sit", "up", and "jump through the hoop". He lost interest in the hoop. Too bad - he was a cat. He would always sit up for his dinner though.

One late night, my husband and I heard the bell on Rupert's neck jingling on the staircase up to our bedroom. He was half way up the stairs and stuck. I brought him down to his favorite place, the warmest place in the house, behind the wood stove. The next morning, he was still there and couldn't move. He finally tried to crawl to his litter box. I carried him to his litter box and then brought him back to his warm bed. I called my husband at work. He suggested something about poisonous snakes. Anyway I took him to the animal clinic. His hip was damaged. Maybe a car. After his injury he wasn't able to catch little song birds or whip the neighbor's cats anymore. He was always sort of a chicken. Neutered and handicapped, a eunuch, he had become my dependent. The squirrels laughed at him. Mice escaped his jaws leaving me to administer the final blows. Sometimes he was able to catch a frog. He'd bring it into the house where it would escape and flop around until it died. I was usually able to find it - eventually.

Early one summer morning Rupert and I heard some noise from our porch. He came to my bed and wouldn't go away. I was scared because it was only me and him in the house. In fact there was a mother raccoon and her four babies trying to open the cover of the bird food can.

Another summer he sat in the kitchen watching the back door all through the night. Then another night, and another night. Early in the morning I heard a commotion. He had attacked the back door. I got up and opened it holding a broom and found a baby opossum trapped between the door and the storm door. I swept it out, but It stuck around for several days. Rupert was afraid to go out. One morning a few of days later, after the opossum event, he dashed through the house from the back door to the front. It was still dark. I got up and went to the front door and turned on the porch light and opened the front storm door holding the broom. There was the baby opossum! Our eyes locked. Rupert had sensed something moving outside.

A bat got inside of the house several times at night during the summer. It would fly back and forth upstairs in my bedroom. I couldn't sleep. Rupert would ignore it and would watch my face. He seemed to be saying "do something". I had to do something. First I opened the window, but that didn't seem to work. I tried to hit the bat with a broom, not with the handle part but just like a baseball player's bat. After many tries I finally hit the bat with the bat. I didn't know if it had died or was just unconscious, but that didn't matter to me. I got a flashlight and a shovel and buried the body under a spruce tree in the front yard that night. It was a pretty creepy scene. Rupert didn't help me.

No, no, he helped me he was my cheerleader.

He didn't like to be held in anyone's arms, because of his stray cat memory I guess,
so he was always watching my face. Even when he wanted to join me he hesitated and searched. I would say "c'mon", and he would think a while and dash to me. Even though he would not let people hold him in their arms, he would comfortably sit on my lap or sleep by me on my bed.

He played his own game.

I was in the kitchen one time near the back door. He was outside just in front of the back door. He tried to find out if I was inside, and he thought "yes". Then he dashed into the house through his pet door. Maybe he was scared by the boss cat next door or something. I was surprised and said, "Oooooooh!". That seemed to make him happy somehow. The next time he sprang through the door I said "Ooooooh!" again. It became our game, my "Oooooh!" exclamation. So whenever he did something good I said "Oooooh!".

We were ridiculously happy.

He didn't like high frequency sounds, like piano sounds or flute sounds. I like music.

When I would play the piano, he would come to me and would knock exactly two times on my leg. "Please stop playing the piano" he seemed to say. I'd ignore him. Knock, knock, "Stop playing the piano. That hurts my ears". I'd ignore him. "OK! Goddamned piano! I go outside". After a while, maybe about 20 minutes, he would come to the porch and knock on the window two times. "Hey, it's time to stop. It's even noisy outside". I'd ignore him. He would knock on the window two times from the porch. "Please! Goddamned stupid piano and YOU!"

I'd stop finally!

Flutes irritated him much more. First he would knock-knock on my leg to ask me to stop playing. But very soon he'd give up and go outside. He would come back inside after I finished my flute practice.

It was another of our games.

There's a tiny spring in the woods behind our house. It's one of the most interesting places for all of the neighborhood cats. The one yard square spot has frogs, mud and water, the cats' meeting place. Chicken Prince Rupert also loved the spring.

He could barely jump thirty inches up to a window sill because of his gimpy hip.

He fell into the spring a few times and would come home shocked and muddy to hide under the dining room table. I'd wash him vigorously and give him a shower. A unique experience for us both.

Whenever I was on the computer he would demand some attention. He'd jump onto the chair just behind my back and knock- knock. I'd pat him on the head. When I'd stop he'd knock- knock and get a fresh pat.

We communicated with each other.

Our conversations became a game. I'd tell him to be a "good boy and help me" whenever I'd vacuum, or mow the yard, or go grocery shopping. I called him "Rupert-chan" when we had our conversations. The "chan" suffix is a sign of affection in Japanese. "Rupert-chan is a good boy" became my daily chant. Ridiculous, but he was my best, only in fact, companion. Talking to Rupert-chan was one of the few occasions I had to use my vocal chords. My husband was often working in Alaska.

I sort of forgot "he's-just-a-cat".

One day I got a phone call. He was gone. I was visiting my mother in Japan, and my husband was in Alaska. The neighbors blamed coyotes. Their cats had disappeared at the same time. I felt like everything was out of control.

It broke my heart. I sometimes burst out crying missing him so much. I've heard that time will heal my heart.

I'm waiting.









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