Kittens were flying.
Not in the joyful verse of a storybook tale read aloud to wind down the kids before sleep.
Distant from a place of precious fluff balls, gossamer wings; where white feathers lullaby children.
Just the opposite.
This memory jumps right from the pages of a magazine I loved almost as much as Mad.
A skyscraper wall of piercing sound – decibels of feline sirens carried three city-blocks deep, two buildings high.
I remember. Straight up at 2:10am, my nightmares, which are frequent due to a three-year horrific fight with a former employer, increasingly begin with flying, howling kittens. Fur matted in life fluids. The more kittens, the stronger the images, the stronger I cold-sweat the bed.
1975 – Drowned out pop melodies of summer booming from open windows; 70’s tunes played from Panasonic hand held radios from behind shadows, dingy shades that framed pre-WW2 tenement pane glass.
“Brandy, you’re a fine girl…”
City traffic fumes rise high and hang heavy in humidity. Inhaling them is a compromise. A choice to swelter through a New York August behind closed windows, or fool yourself into believing a blast furnace of urban air is a refreshing alternative.
I enjoyed the confluence of odors; after years they smelled like home – auto exhaust, hot tar, ethnic cooking; easier on eyes and nostrils compared to the rank of cigarettes and beer that destroyed oxygen within our small apartment.
I swear the lead-based wall paint would emit a strange odor when the worst of summer heat arrived. The walls were coated in poison. I was doomed. At night, I’d dream how the shiny white lead chips that always pooled at the baseboards, would come alive, enter my bed and eat my skin. I didn’t sleep much as a kid.
“What a good wife you would be…”
The strong signal from Music Radio 77 WABC-AM drowned out. Harry Harrison’s legendary airwave trademark phrases fade to black; overwhelmed by shrill feline vocal daggers which ricocheted off concrete, found its human auditory target, and penetrated my skull.
Urban dwellers fortunate enough to enjoy white noise and chilled air of window air-conditioning units were spared of the sounds of people living and dying in a restless city.
I hated them; all comfortable in their icy luxury.
And there was the laughter.
It was out of place. Insane.
No way in hell should giggling immediately shadow the screams. Horror squares in happy round holes just don’t fit. In psycho movies – sure, but not real life.
I approached the red brick and banged-up aluminum doors of single-car garages in rows that bordered the Brooklyn apartment complex I called home. The panic noises I’ll never forget, grew louder. It sounded like babies being tortured. And that disturbing chuckling.
I needed to understand what was happening. My mind screamed “run.” My legs moved ahead. Faster than the upper part of my body. Labored but steadily onward.
I was close enough to observe three pre-teen boys on a garage roof. A kitten in each hand; six small lives gripped by the mid-section, writhing desperately to break free.
The ringleader of the demon trio, I recognized immediately. That ruddy complexion, dark eyes closer to his ears than the middle of his face, the unkempt hair. No surprise it was the neighborhood terrorist, a bully to all: V. He made so much of an impression on me that today all bullies I encounter lose their identities and take on bloated, blotchy Vinny face.
He and two other soulless boys in unison were raising helpless animals above their heads and like taking jump shots with basketballs, were propelling tiny bodies into the air. I took solace in the fact that cats land on their paws. I imagined them a bit shaken, possibly injured, but still able to flee from the scene quicker than these pudgy kids could catch them.
It was a cowardly method for a frightened brain to work through the disgusting activity unfolding before my eyes. I despised the fear that gripped me more than I hated the thugs.
I felt my speeding heart squeeze through the veins inside my ears; t temporarily blocked all other input. I needed to see the kittens. In my head, I was already cycling through save-and-escape plans; my goal was to grab as many of the injured I could carry and then run like the wind. Anywhere. Just away. How can I get this done without getting my ass kicked?
I couldn’t move faster. I tried. I was disappointed by sludgy footfalls. As I turned the corner, as I came upon the asphalt alley between long rows of garage doors, there stood a fourth culprit.
I was shocked to see a thug at ground level. Right below where the three other boys were up and into the driveway.
I didn’t recognize number four; I thought I knew all the assholes in my Brooklyn neighborhood.
Tall, sinewy. I remember the definition in his biceps that popped his veins.
A devil in red Ked sneakers.
Kitten three released – fly in the sky.
Damn the fate of gravity.
Tiny legs, paws flailing.
I was far enough from the action remain noticed but close enough to take in the fiendish plan unfolding.
Red Ked gripped a wooden bat.
In a pro-baseball player stance, he swung with full force at kittens “pitched” to him from 8 feet above.
The home run kitten-head balls were the worst.
There was living sound one second, deadly silence the next. Mid scream. Then nothing.
And again – laughter. The serious side-splitting kind.
The swing-and-miss felines dazed by a rough asphalt landing, failed to hit pavement and flee. They sort of dragged themselves off, walking with an unsteady gait. Definitely not fast enough. Much different than I imagined.
I observed the keen sweat beads on Vinny’s face as he maintained visual contact on the shaky cat balls.
Close to ripe for another pitch.
I prayed for a strike-out afternoon.
I stood unnoticed. In front of a garage – door open. Empty, dark. I sauntered into the black to gather my wits. I needed to think fast. I glanced upon an abandoned tire iron in a back corner. Upright against a cinder block wall, begging me for my attention. Not sure how I noticed it in the darkness but there it was. Calling me.
I grabbed for it hard. I held on to it like it was a lifeguard and I was about to go under for a third time.
As I accepted what I needed to do.
From dark to light.
Firm stride onward.
Closer now to red Keds, I’m able to observe how his sneakers were white at one time. Sick to my stomach. He looked at me then.
I was the next fat pitch.
No matter what I was in a strikeout zone.
No matter what.
Secure in a place where dead kittens don’t interrupt the summer, my life and ultimately my dreams (nightmares).
Looking Glass pop stuck in my head. An endless musical loop that refused to stop.
“He came on a summer’s day. Bringin’ gifts from far away.”
Surprise. Your turn to be the ball, red Keds.
Here’s your gift.
At one time, any time, you’re at risk of becoming a dead kitten. Something bigger and menacing will swing at you, long to crush your skull, ruin what’s left of your existence.
For three years I’ve been hit repeatedly by a large corporate red Ked, a former employer spinning outright lies, bashing my reputation, attempting to take me out and away from the profession I love.
Oh, I’m staggering, my gait a bit shaky, but I won’t be tossed in front of high-paid legal bullies for another chance at a feeding frenzy. They took much from me, already. Money, family, physical and mental health. But I’m still here. And I have found my weapons.
Ready to strike. My turn to swing.
It’s these incidents, the events that position me next in line behind the next dead kitten, that ultimately define how quickly I escape and survive (thrive). Unfortunately, I know Louisville Sluggers continue to lurk; bullies are like that. Life is good. Then they come out of nowhere just to fuck with you. Dryer lint can catch on fire and take the house down with it. I heard that.
Whatever swings with murder in its eyes, will eventually tire and move on because it can’t kill me. What stays after the hit sharpens my resolve, clarifies me and steels my purpose. And I’m not sure what energy stays exactly, but I’m glad for it. Like a warm, comforting shadow. Bullies and dead kittens show up right before defining moments.
It’s all about tire irons. The strongest arsenal, the most effective weapons I possess reveal themselves deep in black corners. Just when I think I’m a sitting duck, an obliterated feline, I accept and allow what’s about to happen as if I chose it. At that point, I am a clear thinker. A fighter.
Many people look for hope in light. Not sure I get it. I’ve learned that you must venture and stumble through darkness to discover what’s good. The universe reveals itself and nurtures me when I accept my fate and understand deeply that what I’m experiencing, as painful as it may be, needed to occur.
It couldn’t have happened any other way.
Looking back, those challenging episodes have formed a perspective I’ve used to help others make their way through red Ked moments.
Death is only the beginning. A music legend once told me that death is only the beginning. Near death, too. And before he passed, he told me again. I’m thinking in life we face several deaths. Illness, divorce, loss of inner circle relationships. And the beat goes on. Then stops. Then continues. The beating is the same, the sound is different.
Before nightfall I sit in the backyard, my dog Rosie next to me. I ponder who and what I lost up to then. I sort of feel like Michael Corleone at the end of Godfather III. Alone. Thinking in my last scene I should fall out of my chair. Dead. Rosie’s hot breath yapping in my cold face.
What an embarrassing way to go for Michael.
Except I don’t drop. I’m fortunate to remember that with each liability, every loss, I gain a greater asset.
And I’m at peace. Finally.
Dead kittens are also dead presidents. How many times have I bloodied my net worth with a bat? Oh, many. I’ve loaned money to relatives who didn’t care if my credit went bust (never again), I worked for one of the worst penny stock chop shops and had my father purchase stock I knew would go bust (sorry dad), just to collect a commission, I have over-purchased shit I didn’t need, spent extravagantly at restaurants, too much wine. All dead money that taught me valuable living lessons.
“Hey asshole, what do you think you’re going to do with that thing?”
And as kittens were falling, I kicked red Ked in the shin. Before another word, he went down. I remember one furball jump in panic over his face, her back paws scratching deep into red Ked forehead (score).
I then slammed the iron down hard on his right shoulder.
RK lost his grip on the bat.
I wanted to hit him again.
I wanted him dead.
For all the kittens.
Past, present and future.
I grabbed his weapon and ran.
Directly to my Cousin Louis’ apartment 9 blocks away. He was NYPD. Built like Sly Stallone.
When I’m asleep and I see dead kittens, I know something big and life-changing is clawing at me.
Another lesson up at bat.
From the blood.
The music plays in my head.
And they disappear.
At least for now.
I hit the snooze.
““I know what you look like and I’ll see you before long.”
This Old Death.