Driving early in the morning is like driving in the night. If you live at the end of Cape Cod, as I do, where you are buffeted by wind and snow and the kind of rain that seems like a bucket of water is pouring over you, driving early morning in the fall is driving in pitch black. Sometimes the stars don’t even come out. Even when there is moonlight, the fog and clouds can obscure the light. Coyotes large as German Shepherds follow your car with cool indifference from the side of the road and sometimes run alongside you for company. Fat nocturnal creatures amble across the road, as do foxes and wild turkey. Where I live, there are “Slow for Turtles” signs, but, as I found out too late, there are also “Caution Deer” signs.
I once had a schedule where I got up at four in the morning, and was on the road by 4:45, to catch the 5:55 to make my 8:00 class in Boston. The morning I hit the deer was a Wednesday near Thanksgiving, the day after the first of the batch of kittens I was fostering got adopted. I had begun volunteering at the local no-kill cat shelter the previous year, and after a case of ringworm emerged, the healthy cats had to be separated and lodged out from the ill ones. A mother cat and her four kittens needed a quick home, so I gladly offered mine, beginning in mid-September. How hard could it be? Feed, medicate, scoop, play. They had to be isolated in my studio to make sure they did not have ringworm, and after three successive tests proved negative, they moved into my apartment.
What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with the lot, each individual kitten with personality to spare, and a mother cat who was deeply content to nurse them long past their biological need. I played with the idea of keeping all of them, keeping some of them, all the while preparing, so I thought, for their adoptions. I was in Colorado for a reading when I found out that a guardian for the first kitten, Denim, had been found. “That’s great!” I said on the phone, ready to be stoical and generous, for he would be receiving excellent attention, and that was the main thing.
I was still taking in the news when my father called to tell me his brother had died unexpectedly. His daughter had gone to fetch him coffee, but, as my cousin told my father, her mother, who had died the previous month, must have told him that she’d fetch it instead. My father was inconsolable for a long time, but on the phone, he was philosophical. I had not seen my uncle in decades, but had heard stories about him all my life. I listened to my father talk about his brother, the surprise with which he received the news. I shelved the news away, not quite believing, and finished my trip.
I came home to find out it was Minke, not Denim, who was leaving the next day. The kitten whose name had been Mink, but who I couldn’t resist renaming with a long “e” so he became the namesake of a whale, the runt of the family, the smartest, and, I realized when my heart seemed to stop when I heard the correction, possibly my favorite. After tea with the (very nice) woman who came to pick up her kitten, I got up to retrieve Minke, who was hiding, and found him being bathed by his mother. It was a touching sight, and of course I ascribed meaning to it. Being the littlest, he was sometimes crowded out when his mother nursed the kittens, so to see him receiving this special attention seemed to me both a farewell and a protest. Ignoring my heart, I handed Minke over. I was my father’s daughter.
That night, it was only three kittens, their mother, and me in the house, and the next day, as I did twice a week, I set off to teach at 4:30 in the morning. Was the separation of this little kitten subconsciously on my mind so my reactions were slowed? Yet everything seemed so in focus that morning. I kept noticing the music playing from the iPod. As I drove by the stretch of water known as East Harbor, lovely in daytime, a blues song was on, “I am Blue” by Grant Green. I had recently bought the song for a class on “Sonny’s Blues” and didn’t know it well. I remember thinking how strange to be playing late night jazz club music at dawn.