There was a family that lived on my parents' block that we referred to as "the garbage people". The meaning behind the name was two-fold as the father worked for a waste management company and their consistent appearance was quite dingy. Another distinctive characteristic of this family was that they like baby animals, they'd always have some kitten or puppy and once the pet grew up, they'd neglect it or get rid of it. Being an over-the-top animal lover, the garbage people's behavior always angered me.
Some time in November or December 1996, we began to notice a little gray cat roaming. We remembered the garbage people had a gray kitten earlier in the year and assumed that was a garbage cat. Winter turned into spring and my father noticed the little gray cat was living in a small crevice that was worn away under the next door neighbor's front cement steps. This little gray cat was thin, so my father bought cat food and started leaving a bit of the food out in front of our house. The little gray cat ate the food and began to slowly warm up to my father and me as we would stay outside and call it. It wasn't too long after the first nibbles of food that I remember vividly - in fact, it is one of my clearest memories, each moment and feeling forever burned into my mind - sitting on the front step and that little gray cat jumped into my lap and sat there, letting me pet her.
From that moment, she was our cat. I named her Alley Cat. When I took her to the vet, I learned she was 1 1/2 to 2 years old already and spayed to boot. Upon sighting the garbage people's gray cat, we knew this little girl was a stray. She was always very loving and we never could understand why her owners never looked for her. From the beginning, my parents made it abundantly clear that there were rules around our new family member; the most important being the condition that Alley was my cat and when I was done with grad school and settled, she would have to live with me; she was my cat. Alley quickly settled into life at my parents. She roamed the yard and the block; she was an outdoor cat. Even in the winter, Alley would enjoy spending her days outside in the sun, coming in only when she absolutely had to. Being on her own for those few months, Alley learned how to kill birds and mice to survive. We always joked that much like a vampire, she had acquired a taste for blood and fresh meat during that time and that instinct always remained with her. In fact, we always laughed that birds put out the message to stay clear of our yard or face certain death at the claws and jaws of Alley Cat because over the years, birds became non-existent in my parents' yard.
Then six years later, I was officially settled. I was married, bought a home, and had a job that only required minimal travel. The conditions were right for Alley Cat to come live with me, fulfilling the promise I made back in 1997 when Alley first jumped into my lap and into my heart. Well, as you can imagine, my parents would not give her to me. They fretted that she'd try walking back to their house and I'd forget to feed her; therefore, those two reasons were enough for my parents to refuse to hand over the cat. It was after that I ended up adopting my Lulu hound.
But Alley Cat always remembered me and would meow hello even though I had those two ghastly dogs in tow that loved to harass her but she'd always leave one of them, always Lulu, bleeding with a minor claw scratch.
This morning my dad called me to tell me that my little Alley Cat died. I am heartbroken. She was about 15 years old and had been sick. My Alley Cat died quietly on the front step, the exact place where she first entered my heart.
I think back to all the times when I cried in my room and she always came be comfort me, forcing my hand with her soft nose, resorting to her sandpaper licks if I was truly crushed. Alley is the only pet I have ever had that was so in tune and vocal when I was upset. Sometimes, she was more understanding than any other human. When I was home this spring, I could feel that she was losing weight but that never stopped her from meowing at me and spending lots of time on my lap.
Good bye, my girl, my Alley Cat.