The Feral Wall
Diana Creel Elarde
When he died I was ten. I can’t say I understood it. After all, when you are that age time, life, death they have no true relationship with you. I mostly thought he would return, someday I would see him walking up the street straight to our house. So that summer I hung around our porch more than anything else. Even my mother’s constant nagging to go find someone to play with couldn’t detour my vigilant watch.
It was months before I began to see there was no hope of his return. That life, my life would go on without him. After a while I felt like there was a big hole in my heart and if I got too close I’d fall right into it. Getting around the hole became more of my purpose. Healing the large hole never occurred to me.
How do you avoid a big hole? I mean you have to plan your entire life around it. What even causes a hole to come into your life? I figured if I had never loved him I would have never felt that hole in my heart. Love for me became what to avoid, what to run away from.
Men build walls with bricks, carefully laying them on top of each other, one after the other. I didn’t need bricks to build my wall, I only needed fear and hate. How those two loved and needed each other. It’s true. I think fear and hate were overjoyed when I united them. They clasped arms like brothers and they built my secure wall. And I let them. I certainly didn’t need another hole in my heart and if the wall stopped the pain, all the better.
I could tell my mother, she didn’t like the wall I built. She recognized where it came from, how it got built. Try as she could, I was more than determined not to listen to any words she had to say. Rebel I told myself and so rebellion with her became my life. I added her to my list of those who the wall in my life was for.
And fear and hate, they became stronger.
The feral kittens came to our house late in the fall, right before the calendar deemed it winter. The cold came early that year and it made the earth that crusty hard. The leaves hadn’t quite left the trees then, and the sky, it was always gray.
The kittens were little, with no mom cat in sight. They were as afraid of me as I was of life. Their constant mews and cries were too much for me and I begged my mother do something, don’t let them die. She looked hard at them, but softer on me so I knew she was considering it.
“Get the small dog house out of the garage,” she instructed me, “and I’ll give you some blankets.”
Feeling the lift in my heart I ran to the garage finding dog house for the dog we never got after he died. I placed it on the far edge of the back porch, lining it with the blankets my mother gave me. When my work was done she came out to inspect it.
“Don’t expect too much here,” she warned. “These are wild cats they don’t like humans. And if you start to care for them they will always depend on you.”
I didn’t want to hear those words, convinced I would change their minds. Even the wall around my heart quivered the warnings telling me not to get close, not to care.
“Ok,” I agreed, but secretly hoped it be different.
And so, the kittens thrived. Ate the food I gave them. Slept in the safely of the house I created but, still hissed and ran whenever I tried to greet them. Even when I sat so very quietly out on the porch, it never stopped the fear they had for me.
“Don’t resent them for who they are,” came my mother’s voice from the screen door after one of my failed attempts to once again make friends with my wards. It was troubling to me that no matter my efforts, the cats just wouldn’t come close.
One day, so dark for me with the memories of him, the hissing of the cats was just too much. I couldn’t take it anymore, I broke. The wall started shaking and with it came the flood of my hurt. Hate and fear they tried hard to keep the wall up, to keep away the pain, but it was no use. It all came down.
At first, I hid behind the garage not wanting her, or even the world to hear or see me. It was like a violent force was trying to escape my body and it was tearing at my inner being. I held onto the side of the garage as my sobs jerked my body. Slowly I made my way up the yard finally yelling out for my mother in a great wail before the steps of the porch.
She came running, sure that I had been hurt or injured. Checking my body over she found nothing and then her arms just held me. She held me, while that hard, hard wall came down within me.
Later she brought me tea and wrapped me in a big blanket. I sat on her lap being the child I was. Her words were smoothing, the tea was warm and it wasn’t long before my eyes closed, my head resting on her chest.
I don’t know how long I was out or how long she held me. The dream came as soon as my eyes closed taking me directly to him. He looked different than I remembered, happier and younger.
“Don’t you miss me?” I cried out to him seeing his smile.
“Well I’m with you every day,” he replied back. “There isn’t a moment I have missed since I crossed to heaven’s way.”
Then he told me how proud he was of how well I took care of those cats. How I gave them life, even though they couldn’t get over their fear of me.
“But,” he said, “Remember their fear stopped them from being held, stopped them from getting any more pleasure in their lives then just food and shelter. As tricky as it is to bring people close, we miss so much when we don’t let ourselves love. Think about it,” were his final words.
When I awoke I was snugged up in his favorite chair in the living room. The house was quiet and the shadows of late afternoon were in the room. I heard my mother’s voice in the yard, thanking someone before she shut the back door.
I got up to see what was happening and found her carrying in the smallest sweetest kitten I ever saw. Gently, she handed it over to me.
“I made a trade,” she told me. “I hope you don’t mind. There was a friend of mine looking for cats to live in his barn and help keep mice away. His house cat had three kittens she couldn’t take care of. This is the one that survived. I figured she needed someone to love, since all of her family was gone.”
I held that kitten so close, looking down into her face. If there was anything left of that wall I built, it disappeared the moment her small paw gently reached out to touch my face.