The dreams aren't always about cats, but more often than not the worst ones are. It's always been that way. This won't be short.
Part I: The History
(or, the part where you think I'm just going to talk a lot about cats)
Growing up, we lived on about an acre in a family-oriented neighborhood close to the middle of a small town. We always had cats, and more often than not they were indoor-outdoor cats. When I was born there were two: Babsy and Boots. Babsy was my brother's big blue tabby cat. I used to draw pictures of her with my blue and purple crayons.
Boots was an asshole siamese that didn't love having a toddler in the house who wanted to bug her all the time, but she was named after one of my favorite people on earth, so I loved her anyway. My first real memory of losing a pet was when the neighbor stopped by to tell my mom that she had hit and killed Boots. I don't remember being that sad.
But then there was Thomasina. Thomasina was a boy, but I refused to call him Thomas because I was in love with the movie. A neighbor saw him try to jump across the main road and hit the side of a delivery truck. I told Mom I wanted to see him one last time. I shouldn't have looked. His face was completely flat, and it still haunts me.
Then my dad let Timothy out on my 8th birthday. Timothy had never been outside, and he never came back. I'm still not sure I've forgiven Dad for that one, although I'm pretty sure Timothy went to live at a neighbors house who just fell in love with him and denied that he was stray when we asked.
That's probably when the first nightmares started. We had several other cats, and I started waking up screaming telling Mom that someone had returned Timothy's body and it was in the mailbox. I started crying in the middle of the night thinking that the other cats were going to disappear.
As a teenager, L.D., one of my most beloved cats, disappeared. Mom thought she saw his white fur toward the edge of the property, and thought the neighbor's dogs got him. She only admitted that later, though. For months she told me someone stole him because he was so beautiful. I was devastated, and honestly, so was she. I had dreams about him all through my freshman year of college.
We had other cats, Katie, Pepper, Bart, Gatsby - all who lived long happy lives in our home.
After college I briefly moved home, and a couple of pretty important things happened the few months I lived with my mom. Mom's best friend, Pat, had found kittens in her yard - beautiful kittens who looked like furry monkeys with giant eyes - and needed to find homes for some of them. Mom adopted two. I named them Brett (she was dignified and elusive, like her namesake from The Sun Also Rises) and Mallory (she would climb up to the highest point she could get and strand herself, never coming down unless we rescued her).
Shortly after we brought these guys into our house, I walked into work at Silver Dollar City and found that the sawmill guys were about to shoot some kittens. They had found a pack of feral kittens whose mother had "abandoned" them (or maybe she was scared of the big loud men with guns and ran away?) The kittens were under a shed, and some of them had already died or been killed. My arms were just long enough that I could get to them (and they were MAYBE 4 weeks old - too small to hurt me with their bites). I pulled out three tiny little beautiful kittens and kept them in a box all day. I ended up finding a home for one of them during the course of the day, and took the other two home to place them later. Of course, we ended up keeping both Talulah and Hannah.
I have great memories of hanging out with my mom and Pat, the four kittens, and Gatsby, the remaining grown cat. I moved out of the house a couple of months later. Talulah disappeared one night - she'd never been outside and she never came back. Mallory got out before Mom spayed her and ended up having a litter of kittens that all died except one. My mom's partner named it Precious - it's important to be clear that I would never do that to an animal - and they kept it.
Mom and Pat were both recent breast cancer survivors, and a couple of years later Pat got really sick. She died from complications of treatment. I don't think my mom ever recovered.
Right after that Mallory died, and something changed for my Mom.
She had always taken care of strays when she felt it was needed, but she started caring for a few of them to the extent that twice a day she was leaving out a bowl of dry food and a bowl of wet food, and they all started letting her pet them. One day she found that one of the strays had kittens - 3 of them were in the driveway. A dog had gotten to them and only one was still alive. Mom saved it, bottle fed it, brought it back to life. Like she had with so many other things while I was growing up. That cat became Caleb. He was one of the most beautiful cats I'd seen, with crazy big curious eyes.
Mom found it entertaining that she'd get the occasional opossum or skunk feeding at her house. She ended up feeding a litter of 5 identical cats, only two of which would let her get close. There was a gross-looking orange and white cat outside, and another cat that lived outside that my mom named Rags - ugly little fucker. There were a couple others who came over occasionally, but those were the ones I knew.
The last couple years, Mom had 4 indoor cats and 7 outdoor cats that she had fixed and vaccinated and felt responsible to feed. For years I'd been begging my mom to move into an apartment that would be easier for her. Her number one reason for not moving was that she wouldn't be able to choose which cat she could take. She felt like her moving into a home would be her choosing to kill all of those cats.
While I didn't agree, and while I promised I would take care of them - I had just lost my beloved cat back in SF, my mom had lost her best friend and so many things in her life, and there was no way I was about to force her to go through that.
Until she got sick.
But that story is in Part II.