(Note: This story was typed on a Czech computer, without the benefit
of spell-check, so I apologize in advance for the typos and misspellings.)

Four-Legged Therapy

Adam walked slowly down his parents’ driveway, his hands fidgeting with the small piece of paper and duct-tape he carried. His scuffed, well-used running shoes kicked small pebbles across the asphalt as he approached the garage, set off from the rest of the house. His right quad twanged with each stride, still sore from the previous night’s run. Ironic, he thought, that he had insisted on staying in such great shape, even up till now. But running and staying fit was what kept him sane, and he’d stuck with it religiously for almost four years.

Crossing over a small patch of lawn, Adam took several steps through the hay his father had spread over the grass seed and climbed up on the doorstep to the garage. Laying his hand on the dusty doorknob, the twenty-one-year-old young man stopped and took a deep breath. Turning slowly, he lowered himself to the ground and took a seat on the concrete step, looking up at his parents’ home with a newfound sadness. Exhaling slowly, he lay the paper down beside him and put his head in his hands.

“No, I’m not having doubts,” he explained to himself, talking out loud as he often did, answering the questions in his mind. “I just need to go over this one more time. This is it, and I can’t leave any loose ends untied.” He felt tears welling up and started to suppress them, a knee-jerk reaction from years of doing so. Since he wasn’t in the security of his bedroom, his automatic response was to fight back the sudden urge to cry. But, looking around, Adam saw that he was alone in the remote neighborhood of his parents’ house, the home he’d grown up in but now made him feel like a visiting stranger. Feeling safety in the solitude, he wept, silently at first, then with building intensity and volume.

They weren’t tears of regret or fear, as someone watching might have suspected. Adam wept tears of grief, heavy with the sorrow for the few people he loved. And he also cried in relief, the bitterly-sweet serenity that came with finally reaching a goal he’d set for himself, finally seeing something through to the end. More than that, Adam was finally going to stop hurting. He was going to end his suffering, the brain-numbing sadness and alienation he’d known for as long as he could remember.

Ever the analytical planner, Adam’s mind worked busily as he cried, reviewing his actions of the day. He’d left the note for his parents on the kitchen counter where he knew they’d find it. It still broke his heart to think of the pain its proclamation would bring them, especially his dear mother, but there was no other way. Along with that note were several pieces he’d written over the past few years, some poems and short stories from college, as well as a letter to each of his two close friends. Briefly, Adam considered the words on those papers, their utter ineptitude when it came to explaining his actions. But he knew there was nothing more he could do; he could write a whole book, and still people wouldn’t understand. They saw life through their own eyes and could never imagine the one he saw through his, the heartache he lived with every day. He just hoped that some day they’d forgive him. “I know it will hurt them,” he said to himself, rationalizing his actions once again with the common refrain. “But at least it will all be over and they can start to heal. If I stay alive, I’ll just keep hurting them forever.”

Leaning back, Adam rested his head on the door to the garage and looked up into the steel-blue Autumn sky. A soft breeze blew, and the young man closed his eyes, feeling the coolness on his skin, the gentle caress of the air brushing against his tear-wetted cheeks. During the momentary calm, his mind eased and he stopped crying. The pained expression on his face softened, and he took a deep breath. “It will all be over soon,” he said out loud with confidence and calm, opening his eyes and gazing into the clouds overhead.

A soft, sweet sound caught Adam’s ear as he sat there motionless. Remaining seated, with his neck still tilted back, the young man turned his head and looked down the length of the garage. He heard the shrill but delicate sound again and sat forward, sure this time that he was not alone. The noise came a third time, and Adam rose to his feet, recognizing the sound of a kitten’s meow.

“Kitty kitty,” he called, looking around to try to locate the owner of the soft voice he had heard. He walked toward the far corner of the garage, slowing as he neared it. Creeping the last few steps as quietly as he could, Adam pressed his back up against the prefab siding of the garage and peeked around to its rear. Scanning the long grass and cluttered debris of an old workbench, Adam’s vision was suddenly caught by two alert and attentive eyes peering back at him. The young man was startled for a moment, as a bizarre-looking cat stared back at him. The cat was laid out on her side, and her stomach appeared to be a huge mass of tangled fur, almost as if a large, dead rat was lying beside her. Except the rat—or whatever it was—was moving! Adam stepped closer for a better look.

Cocoa, a wild cat whom Adam had named six years ago, rose to her feet suddenly, disrupting the five small kittens that were suckling at her heavy, milk-laden stomach. She looked warily at the young man invading her territory and turned her body sideways, making herself appear larger.

“Whoa,” Adam said seriously, stopping in his tracks and holding up his hands as if to placate the small mother. He had fed the scrawny, stray cat ever since she’d fist appeared at his parents’ house, and on occasion Cocao had allowed him to pet her. But Adam knew all bets were off when a mother cat had kittens with her, and he kept still and tried to appear as harmless as possible. He didn’t fear for his safety, but Adam had seen a stray cat take a hefty bite out of his father’s leg once when he was seven. Later, when he was about ten, Adam had been heavily scratched when he’d stumbled upon and upset a mother cat in a similar position to Cocoa. “I’m not going to hurt your babies,” he cooed softly to the anxious cat.

A short, high-pitched meow piped again, and Adam realized it was coming from closer than the position of the five, little kittens next to Cocoa. Glancing down, he saw a small, gray-and-white-striped tabby kitten trotting toward him. The baby cat bobbled along like its feet were too big and floppy for its stubby legs; its ears were definitely too big for the adorable, little face. Adam took a quick breath of air into his lungs and a large smile spread across his face.

Cocoa, however, did not have the same reaction. She let out a cautionary yowl and trotted briskly toward her wayward child, tail straight in the air like a car antenna. The kitten, looking like a miniature tiger, stopped in her tracks at the sound of her mother’s warning and hunkered down in the grass. Adam stayed motionless, waiting to see what the nervous animal was going to do to protect her young. She meowed again, a long, hoarse sound that echoed in her throat, not a threat necessarily, but a warning.

“It’s okay, Cocoa,” Adam said with a high-pitched voice, softly cooing as if he were talking to a baby. He sank slowly to the ground, assuming a half-seated-half-kneeling position with his legs cossed underneath him, keeping one hand against the wall of the garage for balance. The mother cat stayed still now, protectively close to her little kitten, watching Adam carefully. Her other five kittens were making their way over to her with varying speed. One of them advanced in short, quick dashes, stopping and looking about nervously with each pause. Two others simply trotted across the tall grass, high-stepping like show horses. The remaining two littermates, a black kitten with a gray muzzle and a turtle-shell with white paws, wrestled determinedly.

The mother cat meowed sweetly, imitating the delicate calls of her kittens, letting them know where she was. She looked from her flock to Adam, back and forth several times. Finally, satisfied that the seated human offered her and her children no threat, Cocoa slowly, deliberately lowered her body back to the lush grass. The tabby kitten, having already forgotten about Adam, bounded over and pounced on its mother’s head, trying unsucessfully to gnaw on one of her ears. Cocoa calmly reared her head back out of reach, and the kitten plopped down into the grass, rolling over on its back in a defensive posture.

Adam loved animals, and cats were his favorite. The world around him forgotten for the time being, the young man sat at the corner of the garage and watched as the six kittens wrestled and played around their mother. The scrawny but devoted parent patiently endured countless pounces, bites, scratches, and nudges at her stomach for milk. Her eyes were at half-mast, but the lazy expression didn’t fool Adam. He knew the matronly feline was acutely aware of her surroundings and had her ears perked for any movement nearby. He stayed still, watching the furry family in quiet and contented appreciation.

The minutes passed quickly, as Adam watched the various personalities of the kittens show through their actions. The black one with the gray muzzle was the bully of the family, and Adam assumed it was a male. After he’d finished wrestling with the turtle-shell kitten, the feisty, little boy attacked another of his littermates, bringing it down from behind just like a lion attacking prey. This kitten, a tabby and turtle-shell mix just like Cocoa, squawked in fright and wrestled to get away from its brother. A second all-black kitten, after chasing a small, flying bug around for a minute, settled down next to its mother. It nestled in next to the smaller black-and-white tabby that was already nursing once again.

That left the bigger black-and-white tabby, whom Adam had already internally named “Tiger,” the one who’d originally approached him several minutes earlier. For whatever reason, Adam had already made the assumption that Tiger was female. After several minutes of tussling with her mother and a brief wash of her face, the energetic, little kitten had once again resumed her investigation of the strange, two-legged creature that had invaded the family’s area.

“Hello, little kitty,” Adam cooed sweetly, after the brave, baby feline had ventured to within a few feet of him. She stopped and cocked her head back at the sound of his voice, suddenly unsure of herself. “It’s okay,” he told her, slowly holding out his hand and placing it in the grass in front of him. The movement startled the kitten, and she crouched down and backed away a few steps. Adam wasn’t deterred, though. Trusting that the animal’s innate curiosity would countermand her fear, he began wiggling his fingers around in the grass.

From her resting position fifteen feet away, Cocoa alerted to the movement in the grass and stretched her neck up for a look. Satisfied that there was no threat to her family, she returned to her languorous position, though she kept her eyes intently focused on Adam. Tiger concentrated with her whole body at the strange creatures—Adam’s fingers—wriggling in the grass in front of her. After a few seconds, her little bottom started to quiver, and her ears slicked back on her head. Adam knew he had her now; she was going to pounce any second. Sure enough, after a couple more adjustments of her positioning, the tiny predator sprang forward, skidding to a halt an inch from Adam’s fingers.

Despite his inclination to pick up the small, cute animal, Adam stayed still, letting her sniff his hand. He knew any sudden movement would send the animal running back to its mother. After she dotted his hand a couple times with her tiny, moist nose, Tiger looked up at Adam. She seemed to start at his size and backed away a few steps, but then she stopped and cocked her head, looking up as if to study him.

“Bddrrrrrp” Adam chirped, mimicking the contented noise cats often make when greeting their owners or other cats with whom they’re friendly. The kitten’s ears flicked back and forth, but it didn’t seem to recognize the call. Cocoa was unimpressed as well; her eyes were again at half-mast. Tiger stayed where she was, staring intently at Adam, as he did the same to her. They remained that way for several minutes. Then Adam became aware that his right leg was sore and getting numb from the way he was sitting, but he didn’t want to move and disturb his furry visitor.

Finally, the little bully disrupted the scene himself, rushing through the grass toward his sister. Tiger heard him coming and took off, ears slicked back like a race horse. “You little rascal,” Adam said to the fuzzy, black kitten, as he stopped to clean his face after deposing his sister. Stopping in mid motion, with his little paw poised in front of his mouth, the bully looked over at Adam as if suddenly aware of him for the first time. “Yes, you are the little punk of the litter, aren’t you,” he told the kitten with an amused smile.

Sighing softly, the dark-haired young man eased himself down onto his butt to rest his legs. The motion and noise sent the black kitten tearing off toward its mother like a bat out of hell. Several of the other kittens scrambled, and Cocoa raised herself up, immediately alert. “It’s okay,” Adam assured the four-legged bunch, raising his hands to show he was no threat.

A while later, Cocoa rose from her seated position and slowly walked away, back toward the woods on the far end of the garage. She looked over her shoulder several times to make sure Adam wasn’t pursuing her and gave several sweet, soft meows to make sure her litter did follow. They, of course, took their time, stopping to tussle and tumble along the way. Bully wrestled with the smaller tabby before taking down his turtle-shell sibling again. Then he proceeded to dart around in a quick figure eight, as if displaying his prowress to the other kittens, or perhaps to the strange, two-legged giant who’d scared him earlier.

As Adam watched the group go, a faint smile spread across his face. “Bye guys,” he said softly, not realizing yet just how relaxed and content he felt. As he began to stand up, Tiger stopped midway to the woods and looked back at Adam as if she’d heard him. As her siblings trailed after their mother into the trees, the little tabby scampered across the grass and slowed to a trot as she neared Adam. She stopped five feet from him, and they looked at each other. Knowing it would scare the kitten off, Adam went ahead and stood up the rest of the way. But, the inquisitive, little kitty just looked at him and meowed once.

Adam took a step toward the furry tabby and started to ask if he could pet her. But the action frightened the formerly-bold animal, and she fled quickly after her mother. Watching her go, Adam had to laugh to himself. “If I didn’t know better,” he said out loud, “I’d swear she just said goodbye back to me.” Chuckling again, Adam turned and walked back into his parents’ house.

He was all the way inside and heading toward the refridgerator when Adam remembered his previous plans for the afternoon. Turning, he saw the stack of papers on the kitchen island, and he ruffled through them slowly. Looking at them in his current state of ease, the notes and letters seemed starkly harsh, troubling. A voice in his head told him not to get second thoughts just because he had gotten sappy about some silly kittens, and Adam turned back toward the door.

“Wait,” he said, stopping and turning back to the papers. Come on, we’ve been through this, the voice said, and Adam spun again and walked toward the door. You know what you have to do…you know it’s the right thing. Just do it. “I know,” Adam murmured, but he hesitated anyway. As he paused there with his hand on the knob of the back door, the phone rang.

“Hello,” Adam answered it, after debating for two rings whether or not he should.

“Oh good, you’re home,” his mother’s voice said from the other end. “I was afraid you wouldn’t be there.” There was true emotion in her voice. “I just wanted to let you know we got here safely,” she added.

Amused and slightly annoyed at the same time—his mother always called to check in with him when she and his father went away—Adam said, “Okay, thanks.” He looked across the kitchen at the pile of papers on the island.

“We’ll see you Monday, okay?”

“Okay Mom,” he answered, getting ready to say goodbye.



“Are you okay?” his mother asked.

“Yeah,” he answered automatically, then added, “sure, I’m fine,” with a bit more feeling.

“Also, I forgot to ask you before we left, but if you have time, could you mow the grass some time this weekend?”

“Sure mom.”

“Thanks. Okay, we’ll see you then. Have a good weekend. Bye-bye, son.”

“Bye Mom.” Adam hung up the phone and looked at it for several minutes, a jumble of thoughts swimming in his brain. Idly, he walked outside and up to the garage door again. Squatting down, he picked up the note he’d written to tape on the door and read it again.

“DANGER: Do not enter garage. Carbon Monoxide fumes inside. Call fire department."

Thoughts and images swirled in his mind again: Tiger running up and meowing “goodbye” at him; his mother’s voice echoing in his ears, “have a good weekend”; the kids in his youth group wondering why he wasn’t at church on Sunday; his parents finding his note.

Adam shook his head and came back to the present and found himself standing over the trash can in the kitchen. Sighing deeply, he slowly tore up the note and threw it away. He stood there for another minute, staring silently after the bits of paper, then he turned away. Grabbing the stack of writings from the kitchen island, Adam went downstairs to his bedroom and put them in the chest at the foot of his bed, sliding them under his model-building supplies.

It was then that the impact of what he was doing set in with Adam. After so much thought and planning, so much waffling and pondering, now he was changing his mind once again. So now what are you going to do? It was a good question, and Adam wasn’t sure. But he did know he wasn’t going to die today, not after all. Heading back upstairs, he opened the doors to the entertainment system and grabbed the remote.

“I guess I’ll watch some TV and then go mow the grass,” he told himself. Laying down on the couch, Adam flipped on HBO and was asleep within five minutes.

© Hylo Bates, 2002