In memory of my cat Bee and his love of valerian root, on this World Bee Day
While snuggled up with Honey, I remember the wild cat that came before her. Rest easy, Bee. This is the story of his adventures across farmland, a trailer park, suburbia, and finally his journey across the rainbow bridge.
At a farm in the boonies of Pennsylvania, more kittens are born than seedlings. Mama after mama, litter after litter. My partner Barrington painted their barn, full of cats. Seemed like fun … then SNAP.
The farmer’s wife broke their necks. “There are just too many of them,” she insisted. “It’s a problem.”
SNAP. Barrington told me, and we jumped at the chance to save one of these farm kittens. I went off to work; so did he.
My morning coffee spilled out the door, on my way to teach international college students. Meanwhile, at the farm, a ginger kitten clung to Barrington’s chest. Among a scruffy bunch of cousins and siblings, this one had potential … for domestication.
And so our journey began with our Bee. We soon realized that cooped up in a tiny mobile home — you can take the cat out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the cat.
Talk about cattitude. Chasing me down the hallway (when all I wanted to do was take a shower in peace!). Attacking my foot like it’s a live squirrel. Cackling at birds out the window.
One day, Barrington brought home valerian root tea to help me sleep. It smelled like feet. Apprehensive, I tossed it into the cupboard. Then came a rustle. Bee had torn open the box and was enthusiastically sniffing this stinky herb.
Bee would store stashes of “V-root” in the corners of the house like a naughty teenager. He was born to be wild.
Yet he loved. Once we earned it, boy did he cuddle. He’d climb on Barrington’s shoulders and he’d snuggle with me, all in pursuit of “family cuddle time.”
Because pets do become family. He was our Bee-Bee. I could never stop myself from spitting out that extra syllable.
When our little family moved to a bigger house, Bee rode in Barrington’s truck, hiding under the passenger seat. I drove behind. When Bee entered his new domain, he perched atop our loveseat. Bee said (I assume), “I know this cushion. I know this painting. I’ll stay here.”
Of course, our adolescent kitty grew eager to explore. He trotted up the stairs to the attic where he blended in with the oak floors and golden walls. Perhaps the greatest perch of all, inside, was the day bed up there. He felt like the king of the house and received belly rubs on his throne.
Bee was still a farm animal. He’d peek his head outside the front door, and I’d nudge it back in. “You stay here. I’m going to garden!” Like clockwork, he appeared in the laundry room window, gazing at me with those sad yellow eyes. There I was playing in the dirt … and Bee grew jealous.
Little by little, Bee became a yard cat. He’d sit on our property line, and taunt the little pup next door (whose name is famously Bellaaaaaa!!!). Our biker neighbor approved, “Yeah, he’s a chill cat.”
Then Bee explored the backyard property line. Our neighbor Michael dubbed his grass a golf course. Bee inched out, batted a ball. He’d sit with Michael, flapping his tail up and down, and catch a few balls.
Our vegetable garden tempted him most of all. I’d worry about all the critters — rabbits, squirrels, and birds — soon to realize Bee wasn’t a critter in my garden beds; he was a protector.
Every time Bee ambled through the garden, crows sounded their calls. Squirrels burrowed in their homes. We named him after the pollinating insect for a reason, so he could save the plants and let them bee.
The neighbors, in this tight-knit community, fell in love with Bee. The biker revealed his soft center. Michael no longer golfed alone. John raked leaves with Bee, who reminded him of his childhood growing up on a farm in Wassergass. John and his wife would offer the ceremonial kissing noise, and Bee eventually answered. He rolled around on their doorstep, welcomed them home … and also taunted their Maine Coon cats in the window.
John and Bee even had conversations. To be fair, Bee was a talker. He had a lot to say, and a lot to do. Each day’s to-do list went something like this: 1) Play in dirt. 2) Roll in stone driveway. 3) Climb a tree. 4) Kill a squirrel for John. … Always on the move.
Back at home, my writing-from-home gig took off, and little did my clients know, Bee listened in on many of our conference calls. Whether he was doing the classic cat-move of walking across my laptop or nestled on the carpet behind my swivel chair, Bee kept me company. Downstairs, Bee became the “shop kitty.”
Our quarter acre plot felt like paradise to Bee, but more like a burden to Barrington and me. “The weeds need to be pulled.” SNAP. “The vegetables need to be harvested.” SNAP. “The compost needs stirring.” SNAP. Our relationship was snapping in pieces.
All the while, Bee galloped through the yard, through the house. We opened the door whenever he cried for it. “Let me out!” The same when he cried on the doorstep. “Let me in!”
Barrington and I cried like that for each other. When one of us sobbed in the attic, Bee was always there. Laying on my chest. Balancing my anxiety with his purr. Loving.
Finally, Barrington and I let each other back in. All was well with our little world.
Until the night of November 29, when I opened the door for Bee. I requested a quick cuddle; he requested a usual night-time stroll. Barrington and I dined on Thanksgiving leftovers.
Between glances out the window, we indulged in a sci-fi TV series. No scratch at the door. It was only 8:30. He always came in by 9:30 (for bedtime).
By 10:30, Barrington tiptoed out the garage. I pretended not to notice. Bee had partied all night before, so “always” is a strong word we use to appease anxiety. While Barrington roamed the basement, I peered outside. No “pumpkin” cat on our doorstep. No Bee in our garden.
He wouldn’t go far, we figured.
“He’ll come back when the sun rises,” Barrington said. “He just fell asleep somewhere.”
I force sleep from midnight to five in the morning. Barrington drives the dimmed streets, all around the area. No body found. That’s a relief.
Dawn calls for action. I post on the local Facebook page. I leave voicemails for the police. I text all my recent contacts. I compile the greatest hits of Bee’s photos onto a LOST CAT poster. Print 1. Walk down, peer out bay window. Print 2. The same. Print 3.
‘Police’ lights up on my phone. I know.
“I don’t have good news for you,” states the officer.
The body is a shell. The tire mark on his back shows he was killed on impact. SNAP. Thankfully, he didn’t suffer. Barrington digs the hole in our backyard. We wipe each other’s tears. I sprinkle all the Valerian we have left. “We’ll plant his catmint here,” I promise.
Life goes by in a snap. As Bee ran across the street, he was on his way home. And he made it home. I believe that. In his reality, he ran right past that car. The night sky turned to day, his yellow eyes lit up and focused on our yard, our whole block with the neighbors who loved him so, filled with catmint and valerian root. Purple flowers dance and welcome him across the rainbow bridge … an eternal balance of getting high on the Mint and getting wild on the V-Root.