Rilke said, ‘In the old woman, there is a great remembering...’ Mother’s day seems made for remembering. My son Kelly, as a small boy, loved his pets, dogs and cats. After parenting all those animals, he now does a great job with three children of his own. Billie, the last cat from Kelly’s childhood, was a real lover, like a warm protective ‘mamma.’ Read on to see how he came to be immortalized in Cat Dancer.
We’d had a series of cats as I raised my son, Kelly. I liked them, too, but was content to have a quiet house after our dearly loved Cinnamon passed to Kitty Heaven. We had cried in each other’s arms that day as the vet carefully administered the shot that ended Cinnamon’s painful life.
It was another loss. I was still suffering after-effects of a heartbreaking divorce and the prospect of my only son, now a young adult, moving out on his own. But move out he did, proud to manage his own space and life.
In his new digs, did he emanate some ‘gentle-cat-lover’ energy to his neighbors in the apartment complex? Probably! The woman next door picked up the vibe, anyway.
Next time I visited, Kel introduced me to an unexpected roommate. “This is Billie, Mom. He’s really mellow. My neighbor found him, homeless and hungry.” He explained that since she already had two cats, well -- ‘wouldn’t he like a little kitty?’
She’d sized up Kelly well. At that juncture, a grey kitten rubbed against my ankles and purred. I could see Kel had a buddy.
Of course, on that day I didn’t know Billie would be in my life for a long, long time. As often happens with young adults, Kelly soon moved. The next apartment manager wouldn’t permit pets. And thus began ‘shared custody’ of Billie.
Over the years living with assorted felines, I’d learned some cats are fighters and some are lovers ...just like the folks who filled my group counseling meetings. Gradually, I began to include some of that good energy into my work. When I was sure each client was ok with having a cat around, Billie had free run of the room. He soon became my assistant therapist. The first time I saw him curl up in one client’s lap after another as the session went on, I knew he was a precious part of the group.
He helped me heal, too. At the end of a tiring, lonely day when I finally relaxed on the couch, he’d jump up, pushing his way under my elbow to cuddle. Yup, he was a lover. His soft purr sent something warm and protective to what was aching inside me. Male or not, he’d have made a good mamma cat. Often, I ‘d find a second wind on those long evenings. Then I’d paint. That was therapeutic, too. It was easy to lose myself in the colors gliding onto the canvas, the swirling blues and whites.
Somewhere along the line, not sure when, I saw that I was portraying a strong warrior on this particular canvas. Or was it a dancer? Whatever... her sense of freedom and new possibility bouyed my spirit. Gradually, I did feel I was moving along, getting more of a sense of direction, even some lightness.
As I painted sky and clouds and stars, the image of a powerful purple cat took shape, too. His sharp yellow eyes searched ahead and behind, keeping alert watch. His rider must be safe. He would set the direction.
Was this the animal nature we all have? The body that carries our entire past experience and great wisdom? Gradually, it seemed so...the body, the vehicle of the dance of freedom.
As the painting developed over weeks, I was nourished and refreshed by its energy. Finally, I knew it was time to stop. I also clearly knew that as I had painted, something intangible had shifted inside me. It was hard to name, but real, nonetheless.
After brushing the last coat of varnish on Cat Dancer, I smiled at Billie, curled up in the corner of the couch. My friendly grey cat did seem a protective fellow. Or maybe a ‘mamma’ in disguise?Clever. Wearing all that innocuous grey camouflage! I scratched his ears and told him, “You aren’t fooling me, Bill. I see your true cat spirit...and it has to be purple!”