The Ballad of Alvin and Theo
By Kim Sandstrom Hawksey
Six days ago, on an early Monday morning night, a little after midnight or so, our indoor/outdoor cat, Alvin, a beautiful ginger and white Persian, whom we've had for as long as my husband, Simon and I have been together, which is a little more than five years, and whom we adopted from the local shelter when he was twelve weeks old, was outside. This was not unusual for Alvin and in fact was what he preferred, but it was a little risky. Where we live, in the wilds of Fellowship, Florida, we see amazing hawk, deer, armadillo, coyote, bobcats and much more wildlife than you might imagine in this part of the Deep South that is also known as north central Florida. But, unbeknownst to us, not only was Alvin outside, but so was our newly adopted rescue cat; a 3-legged kitty, whom we named Theodore. Yes, we really did have an Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, all in our little home and Theodore, whom we called Theo for short was outside, and Alvin, whom we NEVER called Al, but whom my Dublin-born husband sometimes called Alvo, was outside, which was common. That Theo was outside was NEVER supposed to happen, because we believed a 3-legged cat could not defend himself, or run fast enough to escape danger, but somehow Theo had bypassed our watchful eyes and snuck out during a moment when the door was open.
Theo, about, twelve weeks old, wanted to go out all the time. He would sit on the settee under the picture window of our 3/2 bought-as-as double wide, watching Alvin have full sway over the property. But we couldn't let Theo outside like we did Alvin. Alvin weighed twenty three pounds and was nearly three feet long! Alvin had always been an indoor/outdoor cat and he roamed the Fellowship countryside, where we moved last autumn from the neo-urbanity of Ocala, Florida, like a Persian prince. Alvin was fearsome too, and all the other cats had great respect for Alvin, giving him a wide berth when Alvin passed by. But Theo, who only has three legs, due to being mowed over by s a lawn eater, and cast into the bushes as a three week old kitten, (the pastor that married Simon and I, well his daughter and he rescued the 3-legged kitten out of those bushes, bandaged him up and put a notice on facebook that this kitty needed a home, and due to our challenging times, I thought Theo would cheer everyone up and make us realize, that even when we are down one leg, and life doesn’t look like it did prior to the Great Recession, (that I had renamed The Great Humbling), and even when construction jobs for Simon are scarce, our health not what it was used to be, and our grown children blame us for all their woes, we were still pretty freaking awesome), LOVED Alvin. Theo tried so hard to say, “I love you Alvin and I want to play, and be your pesky little bro!”, always jumping at Alvin’s big, fat, furry gingery tail and just causing all kinds of headaches for Alvin, and after we adopted Theo, let me tell you, Alvin was none to happy about it!
Alvin barely tolerated humans, but he loved Simon and I, and when I cried for missing my daughter Diana, (who left us to be with God when she was 25), (which still happens, but not as often as it used to), Alvin would look at me, and he "knew". He would walk over to me, stop, and look me square in the eyes, and lay down by me to comfort me. He was more like a dog than a cat that way, even following us on walks…something that Theo observed and now does just the same.
Alvin also saw how protective we were of Theo and he did his best to help us with Theo...but he was still the first cat in the house, after all, and Alvin would swat at Theo when Theo wanted to play, or ate Alvin's food and such like, but the most amazing thing Alvin did was, when Theo got old enough to escape between our legs out the front door, Alvin would be like a sentry/soldier cat and would run at Theo, corralling him back up onto the porch and into the house. I promise you, it is true…every time! But then Theo got older, bigger and faster, and even with 3 legs, Theo was now faster than Alvin, and the last time Alvin tried to make Theo get back in the house, he couldn't, and Alvin looked sad, and walked away, like maybe he didn’t “have what it took” anymore, and I could see this....well anyway, back to that early morning night, nearly six days ago. We went to bed after a very challenging day, week, month, year...whatever...challenging times were all around. I was awakened by a terrible cat cry. I heard what I thought was a cat fight in front of the house. It happened fast, and then the cat, which I now know was Alvin, screamed out for help. I know this. And quickly, the struggle ended up on the front porch near where we slept. There was a loud cat yell, then a terrible, horrible, extremely loud thump against the door. The struggle was so violent and fast and loud, and it was so bad I knew not to open the door. Had it been an ordinary cat fight struggle, I would've...but it wasn't...I just knew. I was within feet of the door. I was so scared I knocked over a lamp trying to turn it on. I screamed for help in the darkness, but by the time Simon woke up, it was over. There had been quick loud movement and then complete silence. Simon opened the front door and with a flashlight, he walked all over the property searching and calling out for Alvin. Until 1:30 in the morning, he searched for Alvin. During this whole time he was looking for Alvin with no thought for Theo, as we both thought Theo was asleep under the couch, where he usually slept. We were not even aware or worried that Theo had been outside.
Looking at our porch, we could see that there was no sign of any cat struggle. There was no blood, no fur, simply nothing to indicate the ferocity of what I heard. Simon walked around the house one more time and to our surprise, there was Theo on the back porch, which had never happened before.
The next day we looked for Alvin, but for the first time in five years, Alvin didn't come home. Simon continued to open the front door all that day and evening, loudly calling out for Alvin. I told Simon, Alvin isn't coming back to us anymore. Because Simon didn't hear the struggle, he didn't know like I did, so he had hope, but I knew...
The very next day, I cried on our way to work, and Simon patted my leg. Simon still believed Alvin would be there when we came home from work, rolling in the fine sand of our Fellowship, Florida property, for that is what Alvin did, as soon as he saw our car, every day, when we returned from work in the "blue-per" Suzuki, coming down the road, Alvin sprang from the bushes underneath the piney woods, where he lay to keep cool and went to the sandy driveway and started rolling; a tumble of ginger and white, all the way up to the creakity wooden front porch, rolling, rolling in front of our car, showing us how happy he was to see us. But this first day after that early Monday morning night, there was no Alvin.
That same next day I cried again and this time Simon cried with me...and Simon walked our property and asked the neighbors if they had seen our Alvin. We thought then, it was a bobcat/wolf/coyote...and began to accept that it was now going to be Simon and Theo, without our Alvin. There simply was no sign of Alvin anymore. Theo was subdued for about a week. Life went on.
On our porch are two little statues, both of St Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. St Francis loved animals...one is small and cream colored, plastic and cheaply made, the other is ceramic, larger, pale green and broken and hasn’t been put back together again, yet, but it is all we have and we love St. Francis and we love animals and so they are on our steps along with a smooth ceramic thingy that says “Celebrate Life”. While Simon was at work, yesterday afternoon, I bent down to pull weeds and as I did, I looked up and at eye level was the littlest, cream-colored St. Francis statue. What I saw made me blink hard and then my eyes watered. On St. Francis bent head, as he looked down at a bird in his hand, there were two drops of blood, and at St. Francis feet was a little ball of white fur. In my heart, this confirmed what I felt in my soul had happened. Alvin gave his life defending Theo, and this tiny moment spoke this to every part of me. And the other Grace given to me was this...it is good I didn't open the door that night and interfere with this Grace. If I had, I would have seen something terrible, something I wouldn’t easily forget. I might have wanted to save Alvin and the Lord knows we couldn't have afforded any vet bills. And I can hear some saying, well if you hadn’t adopted another cat, Alvin wouldn’t have been or done such and such, or if we had made Alvin an indoor cat against his will, or if such and such, Alvin would still be here, but I don’t see it that way. So, as awful as it was, we have begun to accept that things pretty much happened, the way they were supposed to, so that much Grace abounded. As sad as we are and so much miss Alvin, and feel guilt, and some blame, and “What if! What if!”, and all the things that go along with this...we are thankful for it all now; just thankful, thankful to have had him, thankful to have loved him and been loved by him and thankful for little Theo, who is still with us. Someone, actually me, wrote once...."There is more Grace in the Universe, than any of us can bear to imagine." Alvin gave his life for Theo. I know this. This is just a little bitty part of a greater Grace unfolding every day, but I can see it….and did you know, Theodore means “God’s gift”. All of it is a gift at the moment, every part of what happened almost six days ago this early Monday morning night, a little after midnight or so…
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