Miss Ellie and me

Ellie and the New Yorker ~ Capitol Hill, Seattle, WA ca. 2012 (photograph by richard pelletier)

I fantasized about murder. Killing. I could drown her in my bathtub, which could work, but too nasty. Brutal and noisy. Wet. Too horrible to see all the way through. I thought: twist her neck. Just grab her little head and wrench with every ounce of strength I had. SNAP. Over. Abandonment seemed more merciful. Put her in the cat carrier with a blanket, a toy, some kibbles. Around midnight, carry her from my apartment over to the imposing brick manse of the Archbishop of Seattle (two blocks away) and place my sad little package on the good Father’s doorstep, as if she were the child of an illicit liaison in Catholic Ireland, too compromised by shame and sin to live among fine upstanding townsfolk. ‘You are a child of god Ellie; there will be floors to scrub, potatoes to peel, and prayers to be said, but this is your home now, lass. We will give you a bed and three squares.’ That plan seemed to hold the most promise. No bathtub scenes, no neck twisting. No killing. I might even be able to live with myself.

KITTIES FOUND ABANDONED IN BALTIMORE!

But she’d already been abandoned. We’d found her, my wife and I, with her mother or sister, we’ve never been certain about the relationship, under a marble stoop in Baltimore in March of 2007. She was this big. She and her mother were incredibly beautiful. Part Bengal, friends told us. It was cold outside. They were hungry.

Early days they lived in our basement. We wanted to give them some time to adjust to their new world and also, to let everyone get acclimated. We had a Bichon-Frisse, Chester—the undisputed King of the Hill. On my visits to the basement, Ellie would sit on me and dangle her little feet over the edge of my arm. My wife says the look on my face when that kitten would sit on me was something she’d never seen before. We named them Ella and Billie. Cats from the streets of Baltimore, they sang for their supper, two artists of the floating world.

Ellie, on the bed — having a good moment in Seattle (photograph by richard pelletier)

We owned a big, three-story house back then with two staircases, one front and one back. Which meant Ella and Billie would race up the front stairs all the way to the third floor, climb our drapes all the way to the ceiling, (nine feet high) shimmy back down and then race down to the first floor via the back stairs. Every once in a while, Ellie would try to sit on the top edge of a hanging picture frame. CRASH!

They hunted rats out in the backyard, they slept, they ate, they shit. They were mad about watching water drain out of the tub. Moving water was like some kind of apparition for both of them. D’you see that?? The fuck is that?? Billie was sphinx-like, she could sit in one position for hours at a time. Ellie was restless; she lived for the edge. I was out in our backyard in Baltimore one day when I heard her crying. I couldn’t see her anywhere and kept trying to place the sound. Then I saw. She had climbed the fire escape of a shit, mostly abandoned apartment building two doors over. Nine apartments, eight of them empty, all in various states of urban horror. She was in the window, up on the third floor unable to get out. Screaming her head off. When I got to her, (no small feat) she was racing around the room in circles in a full-blown panic. The carpet was covered — and I do mean covered, as in coated — with broken glass and hypodermic needles. I managed to snag her and get her into the cat carrier and got her safely home. The next adventure was in the other direction and involved fire escapes and extremely large dogs. It wasn’t long after that she got a uterine infection, nearly died, spent a week on IV at the vet, where they put a leather mask on her face, because she was an absolute terror to deal with as a patient. (Linda’s theory is that this vet visit was so traumatic, it changed her for life. Probably true.) She began to stay closer to home, where Chester would hump her every chance he got.

Ellie and me, Portland, OR

THE KING OF THE HILL SUCCUMBS, HIPSTERS IN PORTLAND

A few years later, we moved across the country to Portland, OR. We put the girls in cat carriers and drove them to the airport. We told them we’d see them soon, sent up a prayer and crossed our fingers. They were bound for Kitty Kat Kondos in Portland. We were headed to Maine, other parts of New England, a bit of Canada, then all the way across the country to Portland. In Maine, our dear little Chester — an old man by now — succumbed to his advancing years and died in Linda’s arms. ‘Guys, I am not moving to fucking Portland.’ Before he went, she carried him along a river bank in the New England afternoon light so he might catch one last breeze. In our house right now, somewhere, is a little wooden box with a little metal plaque on it. Chester.

This was early fall, 2008. In the time of Obama. In the time of the oil boom in the Dakotas. In the time of blue flames and westerns skies lit by oil wells. As we crossed the Dakotas in the middle of the night, we played Native American radio, and the two of us banged on the doors and the dashboard in unison with Indian drummers. We barreled west toward our new home and our girls.

The day that Linda brought them home, a month after we’d dropped them at the airport in Baltimore, they climbed out of their carriers, sniffed around for a while, checked out the rooms. Okay, this is good. I see my old pillow over there. How long before we get to go outside again? When’s dinner? Where is Chester?

Ellie and me, napping in Portland, OR (photograph by richard pelletier)

Portland was uneventful, placid even. Naps and hanging out and neighborhood explorations. No abandoned tenements, no rats. It was Portland. Nothing happens in Portland except for beer and pot, food and bands. Ellie would wander, and Linda would walk the neighborhood calling her name, “Ellie bell! Ellie bellie!” and finally she’d prance into view and let herself be carried home. One morning saw a standoff between Ellie and a family of raccoons, but the situation resolved itself peacefully.

In 2012, Linda and I separated. I went to Seattle for a job, Linda stayed in Portland. I would take the cats. And one fine day, after I got settled, Linda drove the three hours to my apartment with the girls in the back seat, yelling all the way. By the time she got to my place, Billie was foaming at the mouth, and if memory serves, she’d shit herself along the way.

Ellie lost her mind. Her new home was a studio apartment. I went to work every day, a 45-minute drive to hell and back (I wrote copy for a company that made child safety seats for cars) during which I’d alternate between weeping and listening to NPR. And then I lost my job, and I was home. With Billie and Ellie. We were all miserable. Ellie yowled. And yowled and yowled. And yowled. The sounds she made broke bone. She made EXTREMELY LOUD sounds I’d never heard before. She couldn’t go outside, and there was no Linda, her entire world had disappeared. She’d start at 4 am, and she could go — on and off — until 11 am — seven hours later —when she’d collapse in exhaustion. I terrorized her to shut her up. I’d apologize. I’d walk the streets to get away from her. I spent untold hours in cafes. At night she climbed up onto the bed to sleep right near my head, like always. If she didn’t reach her little paw out to touch me, I’d reach my paw out to touch her. It was a crazy kind of love. The only way out of the pain is to go through it, I’d tell her.

Ellie, trying to figure it all out in her studio apartment on First Hill, Seattle (photograph by richard pelletier)

I spent my days and nights trying to figure out where everything had gone wrong. At one point, I discovered that if I didn’t move, Ellie would calm down. Don’t move. (I’d have been wise to discover this trick a lot earlier for the sake of my marriage.) Then I found The Good Wife on Netflix. So there I was, in the middle of the day, recently fired, separated from my wife and friends, frozen to my couch, (don’t fucking move!) binge-watching Peter Florick and Alicia Florick negotiate Peter’s lying, infidelity, cravenness, job loss. All of which bore discomfiting similarities (minus prison, politics, prostitutes) to my own circumstances. I found a therapist who listened to all my sad stories. “Richard,” she said, “life is yes and no. You’re missing the ‘no’ part.”

When I heard about those other scandals, the other wives… I thought… how can you allow yourself to be used like that? And then it happened, and I was… unprepared. ~ Alicia Florrick

I tried to write; I tried to work. But with Ellie, nothing was possible except minimal survival. Either from exhaustion or luck, she slept at night but woke around four or five in the morning, and her bone breaking howls would begin again. So I fantasized about taking her out. Literally. This went on for a year. And then another year.

Linda and I reconciled in 2013. Over the course of the next two-plus years, we tried to live with Ellie who had seriously gone bonkers. For a while, my workaround for her 4 AM meltdown was a pair of foam earplugs. On top of which I placed a pair of old-school type headphones plugged into my iPhone which was tuned to chanting. So as Ellie began her bone shattering songs, jumping on and off me in the dawn, I was swept away to a stone chapel filled with bald headed monks singing. I experienced the deepest sleeps of my life in those mornings. I was in heaven.

Then we drugged her.

URBAN KITTIES IN THE WILDS

Soon after we drugged her (miraculous transformation btw), we moved to Whidbey Island, just north of Seattle. Ellie was free again. And then she brought us mice and moles and snakes…and one day, a hummingbird. (‘Those you don’t hunt Ellie.’) She was in heaven.

Home :: Whidbey Island (photograph by richard pelletier)

She traveled to the outer edges of our quite rural property which is three plus acres, it’s big. All went surprisingly well. Over the last year or so, we’d worked out a routine, and it ran like clockwork. We kept her in at night because we have coyotes and owls and eagles and they eat kitties. But a couple of times the routine broke — she didn’t come home at night. Linda and I would stay half-awake the whole night, listening, waiting, miserable with worry. As morning broke, she’d prance in to our bedroom, chatting away, looking for breakfast.

At night in bed, as we read, Ellie would sit by Linda’s pillow. Her nose was aimed at Linda’s cheek. Same position every night.

Then one night it happened again. She didn’t come home. And we thought, ‘ah, she came home last time, probably all good.’ But this time, Ellie did not come home. A day passed. And then another. And then another. And now, more days than I can count have passed, and she has not come home. The space between our pillows is quiet, empty. We don’t hear her breathing, we can’t hear the little whistle of air singing through that little nose, telling us we are all here now, the three of us, and we are sleeping.

I wouldn’t a done it, Ellie. Couldn’t a. Never.

Miss Ellie 2006–2018 (photograph by richard pelletier)