the word 'typical' perfectly fit the conditions in this far southern part of the state.
Two weeks earlier, my mom told me that another litter of kittens had been born on her place. At the time, she was living on an 8 acre plot that had spawned a number of litters over the years. Since being together, we have taken five kittens to our home to raise, four of which are still with us today. In fact, only one of our current cats came from another place, but even she was rescued from outside.
Our very first cat, Sebastian, was the first in a growing line of hard-luck cases. I found him underneath my trailer at the end of my days in college. He was crying from a puddle of water and looked up at me with just one eye open. He was all black with a handful of white hairs randomly poking out and a faint white spot on his neck. The following ten days were among the most emotional of my life: I graduated from college after seven years, I was hired for a "real" job, and our tiny black kitten both drew us closer together than ever and passed on from his ailments on the tenth day.
Now, four years later, we were devout cat lovers who were accumulating cats seemingly in an effort to fill the gap created by our loss of Sebastian and later of Freddy, an all-white kitten who only lived to be three months old.
Naturally, we were eager to see some of the kittens but they weren't outside. Originally, the litter had been four kittens, but one had already died.
"They're usually down in this hole in the side of the garage," my sister Ashley said. "Let me see if I can reach one of them." She squatted down and reached deeply into the dirt-floored orifice, producing a small and sickly three-week old orange tabby.
After Sarah and I held and petted the kitten, I wanted to see the next one, but my sister couldn't reach far enough to find another. I backed up so that I could have a better vantage point for the hole and could see a small blue-grey kitten's face staring back at me. I decided to risk blindly reaching into the dark hole where my imagination said there could be any number of spiders or creatures waiting to rip my hand off at the wrist. Certainly, had a kitten bitten me at that moment, I would have screamed or at least convulsed enough to entertain everyone standing around.
The blue kitten turned out to be an angelic sweetheart that immediately buried her head into Sarah's arms. We held her for a few minutes then put her back down. There was another, but we didn't find it, nor did we know what color it was.
We had talked about getting another kitten lately, but in a small house with five large cats, we ruled it out immediately. Again, we quickly went through the discussion of adding to our clan, but couldn't imagine how it could work out. By now, too, it was time to get inside for dinner so that we could eat before the fireworks display.
After eating, we were back outside and my mom was giving us some extra shirts and a cat-shaped cat-treat holder. While Sarah went to put the items in the trunk of our car, I was standing over by the kittens' hole. Quietly, a black butterfly landed directly between me and the opening. In a flash, I was overwhelmed by its message. My heart sank with the undeniable knowledge that the butterfly was following a higher purpose. I knew straight down to my core that not only was this litter of kittens going to suffer more tragedy, but also one of them would become our next baby.
This knowledge simply presented itself in my mind as fact, yet causing an internal argument.
"You are going to take one of these kittens," said the knowledge.
"Noooooo. We have too many cats already, and our house is too small."
"Trust me. Besides, you will be moving soon. You already know that." It was true, I had an indelible sense that we would be moving within the next year. I'd even started cleaning up and packing and yet not even looking for a new house yet. I usually try to listen to my intuition, but as for having a sixth cat, I was intent on ignoring it.
Still, I stood there a moment transfixed by the butterfly, mentally going over the implications. As I tried to shake the thoughts out of my head, I walked back towards the front door, but the butterfly wasn't done with me yet. It landed in the center of the sidewalk and blocked my path, as if to make sure that I wouldn't ignore the message. After briefly getting the same feelings as before, I filed the information in the back of my mind, not telling anyone what had just transpired.
Just over a week later, the intuition I had received that day still gnawed away at the edges of my mind, so I called my mom one evening, preparing to tell her the story.
"The little orange kitten died," my mom said in a slightly sullen voice. A few hairs stood up on the back of my neck – there was some of the tragedy that I had foreseen. "Blueberry isn't doing very well either." Ugh, I thought, as I felt the tug of fate. "Little Johann is doing very well, though. He seems very healthy and is getting wild enough that we can't catch him."
Who, I thought? "Which one is that?"
"He's a little black kitten with a tiny spot of white on his throat. We named him Johann, as in Johann Sebastian Bach."
I closed my eyes a moment and tried to absorb what I was hearing. There was the name, Sebastian. Could this be the one? Until that moment, I had not even realized that there was a kitten in the litter that fit the description. From what I was hearing, this kitten was strikingly similar to our Sebastian that we had lost four years prior.
I had recently read about the possibility of a pet reincarnating within our own lifetime in Suzane Northrop's book, Second Chance (Jodere Group, 2002). Of course, I didn't feel in any way, nor was it suggested in the book, that the pet would have to be colored the same, but in the case of cats on my mom's place, their sheer numbers would prevent us from noticing unless the cat was a near clone of the original.
With my mind racing, I proceeded to tell my mom the story of the butterfly encounter. I also told her how amazing the kitten's name was and she admitted that the name was in honor of our first kitten. However, it is notable that for some reason, she chose the name for this kitten, when several other black ones have been born there. To me, the coincidence was too incredible to be easily written off.
We talked some more and realized that the coming Sunday was going to be a good day to visit. This would be a rare weekend day when Sarah would be off work. We would be able to travel to Illinois and see this black kitten and also visit the new place where my mom and stepfather were building their next house.
When we arrived at my mom's house, the black kitten was out but wasn't about to be captured. Each time I tried to get near, it would never allow me closer than about two feet. After a couple of minutes, it darted into a small hole under the house where we couldn't get to it. All we could do now was wait, so we went back in the house.
About twenty minutes later, I quietly walked out through the front door to find Blueberry and Johann nursing. The two-foot rule was still in effect. Then, I had an idea. While staring at the kitten, and intensely praying for help to keep the kitten still, I quietly reached around behind through the weeds and nabbed it. The kitten exploded into a tiny ferocity of spits and hisses, clearly unhappy at being outwitted, but calmed down once in my arms.
My mom had a history of telling us the wrong sex of small kittens, so I was curious. I looked at this one carefully and compared it to Blueberry. "Mom, I think you've done it again. These two kittens look exactly alike and I believe both are female."
We weren't bothered that this kitten might be a girl. Holding her in our arms, we looked her over. There were tiny white hairs sticking out of her black arms and a cute white spot on her neck below the chin. She was healthy looking and we began to get attached right away. After a few minutes of seemingly hollow debate, we decided we would take her, now, even though she was too young and not weaned. There was concern that she would become feral or die and the mother cat was not doing very well, so she could use the relief. We also hoped that it would help Blueberry, who now was so sickly that she would just stand on the sidewalk, swaying gently, in constant danger of being stepped on.
The kitten went home with us that day. Unfortunately, it was the last day that anyone ever saw Blueberry. As my mom told me the following night that Blueberry was missing, my heart clenched and my thoughts went back to the butterfly. I could only cross my fingers and hope that the 'tragedy' part of the message was over now and that this black kitten would have the chance to grow up into a cat.
Once the vet confirmed that she was a girl, we named her Marissa – short for Marissa Johann Sebastian Bach. It was only a few days later that she got sick, but after about three rough weeks, she pulled through. The most incredible part is how she became so completely attached to us, curling up and falling asleep on us at every opportunity, like she always belonged, at least as a kitten. As a cat, she is more aloof, but she'll be right there doing figure-eights between our legs as soon as we stand up.
Just over six months after the encounter with the butterfly, we closed on our new house. Our six cats now had a little more room.
Is she Sebastian returned? I cannot know for sure, but I have my suspicions. I am certain that, at the very least, she was absolutely meant to be with us and I am thankful every day that I was able to see the signs, glaring as they were. Perhaps she was sent by Sebastian to fill the hole left behind by his loss. Either way, it fulfills a dream that my college roommate had during Sebastian's short life. He told us one morning that he had dreamed of Sebastian as a full-grown cat. At the time, this gave us great hope that he would live, while seeming a cruel twist of fate when he did not.
Marissa has since grown into a plump black cat who looks just as we envisioned that Sebastian would someday. I'll always remember Marissa's butterfly with reverence. I can't help but be amazed at the magnitude of the message from such a small creature -- announcing the arrival of a new family member is quite a responsibility for a butterfly.