At Tabby’s Place, we enjoy bending our brains with this scrumptious question: “can you picture (insert cat here) as a kitten?”
Can you just imagine Angelo as a smidge of a snow angel?
Or Grecca when her crescendo was a chirp?
Or Malva when she was the size of a Mallomar?
We don’t know the half of Malva’s novel, but life is not lived by halves, and truth has more tendrils than you can tuck between two covers.
What we do know, is that there was a time before Malva looked like a quilted cantaloupe.
There was a time before Malva was ushered outside, out of the life she’d loved.
There was a life before Tabby’s Place, and a life before the life before, and many more lives unlived.
They say that cats have nine lives, but the truth is they have one. The story we’re trying to tell at Tabby’s Place is that one is enough, because love is better than options.
But sometimes our faith wavers.
We would have liked for Malva to have had a Cheesecake Factory-sized menu of options. What she got was a tattered deli flyer flung under the door, with Abandonment Enchiladas the only offering. What she got was flung out of doors, out of her home, out of the only life she knew.
It was not the new life that Kitten Malva would have chosen.
But it was the life where we found her, and she found us, and we all found ourselves fumbling past regret.
Malva would not live the life of Cat Cherished From Childhood, any more than I will become a prima ballerina or a mother of six. Malva would not know unbroken ease, any more than you will break the world record for the backstroke or unbreak your family history of staying in New Jersey.
Malva would not be as charmed as Homie, nor as famous as Anka.
But for Malva, joy would not be a hostage of unlived lives.
Poured out in the Tabby’s Place tureen, Malva chose to choose this life, this singular option, as the loveliest of all lives. It was hers; she was ours. Regrets taste like wilted radishes, and Malva would need better sustenance if she meant to maintain her quilted-cantaloupe figure.
So Malva got to melting like Muenster.
Malva got to mushing like a Mallomar.
Malva got to merrymaking like a miniature cat, the kind commonly called a “kitten,” but available at all ages.
And then Malva got herself adopted. Life led where it is “supposed to” lead. You know how the novel goes:
Adoption. Fleece blankets. Bites of chicken parmigiana. Nights in a human bed.
College. Marriage. Mortgage. Children.
Ballerina. Astronaut. NY Times best-selling author. Empress of Iceland.
Except it didn’t. The story sang differently:
Adoption. Stop. Confusion. Intrusion of inconvenience. Misunderstanding. Missed opportunities. Missed lives.
Rejection. Return. Tabby’s Place, take two.
Restart. Rebirth. A six-year-old cantaloupe turned baby, blessing, beginner again.
Here for this life and no other.
And while we were busy mourning and moaning and mooning over the lives she could have led — baby Malva should have been swaddled all six years! beautiful Malva should have stayed in a single sturdy home for her whole story! — Malva was busy being here.
Some would say she had been rejected twice, but Malva said she had been reborn a thousand times, each one titled Today. Here was a new one, melty and fresh: a morning! A solarium! A stable of volunteers born for no higher purpose than to pet her!
Here was gaudy splendor, gratuitous as extra cheese: a tail, tricolor and triumphant! Cats, peculiar and persevering! Warm days and cool nights, beds shaped like donuts and people shaped like friendship, crunchy stars that told tales of sky-turkeys, squeeze-turkey that told tales of mercy, mercies that told tales of truth.
Truth: love only lives right here, in this streaky, squeaky, mash-mallow of a life.
Truth: the unlived lives are as empty as a cat’s to-do list.
Truth: fullness of joy is right here.
Truth: Malva took the full measure of her life and found grace on every page.
Truth: the twists are the tale. The kitten is always present inside the cat. The dappled life, the unexpected life, is a full life as long as we still have todays on the vine.
We wanted so many more todays for Malva.
But life and death have secret conversations to which we’re not invited.
Without warning, Malva began bleeding, and the breathless efforts began: a flight to the emergency vet, a valiant blood transfusion, the best intensive care a cat could hope for, calls to all the saints and angels and scientists for all the assistance heaven and earth can offer.
Malva was a marshmallow even for Dr. Fantastic, gentle and yielding as her body betrayed all our hopes. But not even the best efforts could save the best little quilt-cat. Malva was not “supposed to” leave us, but we had to answer mercy’s call.
Today, Malva calls our names across the veil, full of life and free from shadow.
But, as always, we’re left with the mist and the mystery.
I don’t know what to do with these twists, wringing our hearts like threadbare towels. I believed — we all did — that Malva would live to be plucked like a bright berry. I’d have bet my whole bushel she would be adopted, quilting coziness in a true forever home. I would have predicted that our huggable heroine would enter the life of a loved housecat.
Instead, she became a Tabby’s Place forevercat.
She did not have endless options. She did have endless love.
And even in the shadowlands, I believe she has endless life.
Malva, beloved, ageless kitten, you were abundance and glory in our arms.
We will hold you again.
Until that day, seize the joy, taste the sweet, and live all the lives of your dreams, little Mallomar.