Like many childhood neighborhoods, mine had an abundance of cats. Most of them were friendly, some would come and go as they pleased, and few would only be see once, and never again.
I remember the day the black cat arrived. He was an aloof fellow and spent the majority of his days sleeping on cars. Once in a while, he’d let you sneak a quick pet in…as his coat was perfectly jet black, and so shiny that it looked silver in the suns reflection. His slim body was a solid black mass except for his two bright green eyes. He looked at the neighborhood kids intelligently as they approached, and like most cats, he was fairly selective when it came to human company.
“I’m going to name the black cat, and take him home,” my friend Jessica told me one day, as we watched him sunning himself on her driveway. I took that as a challenge, because I too, wanted to win his affections. “He’ll never let you pick him up, plus you have two cats already, and they stink!” I retorted. This conversation spiraled into some kind of fight that lasted about an hour, which is forever in kid years. The black cat hung around for a couple weeks before moving on. I always kept my eyes out for him and secretly considered him mine.
Like most kids my age, I found myself deathly bored one very hot summer day, and set out walking aimlessly through a desert lot. There was a certain Eucalyptus tree, that had somehow had made it’s way through the years of extreme heat. It towered over the surrounding shrubs and cacti, proud, majestic…and un-scaleable. When you’re a kid, every tree is seen through the filter of “could I climb that?” This Eucalyptus was a gargantuan beast, a beautiful challenge, and it was on that day that I answered to it. For on that day, I looked up to see its branches beginning to quiver in the approaching storm – a desert monsoon. I made a choice, and suddenly I was beginning this voyage up the tree. Every muscle in my body was aware of the task, and came to answer the call. As I approached the top, the branches began to thin, but I decided to climb just one more. After doing this a couple times, I found myself at the very top, I could go no higher unless I jumped and tried to fly (another idea that sounded tempting, and fortunately some reality did kick it, and I stopped myself. ) My eyes took in the neighborhood below, and as I turned my head up towards the sky. I could see the gray clouds slowly swirling, as they prepared to storm. Thunder struck, and the wind began to move the entire tree. I held on tight.
I looked to the ground from my precipice, and saw a small dark mass – the black cat. He was watching me from the base of the tree, his eyes wide with inquisitive green. I smiled, and whispered down, “Come on black cat. Come up here with me!” Before the words were fully uttered, he’d already jumped. His claws dug into the bark, then looked up at me from the first branch. He looked so small from my top of the tree, but his size began to grow, as he began to ascend.
BOOM! Thunder broke, and I felt a couple large, warm drops on my cheek. The cat maintained his rhythm, slow and intentional. The ferocity of the approaching deluge only matched his determination, and mere seconds passed before he reached the top. He nimbly hopped to my lap, gave me a look, and curled up. I breathed deep, and took in the smell of the rain, the eucalyptus leaves and bark. The rain was beginning to fall in steady solid drops, and the wind moved through every branch and leaf on the tree. I swayed back and forth from my perch, and saw the ground begin to turn dark and roofs of the houses turn sleek and wet. I could see the entire neighborhood, and further out, the golf courses, and even further, the mountains, and clouds, and further out…I could only imagine.
I was in this moment in the way only a child can be – fully present, without the cares of tomorrow, or hurts of the past. I felt the cats warm body on my lap, juxtaposed with the coolness of the wind. I knew this would be the last time I would see him.
So there we sat. He and I, at the top of a tree, in a desert storm.