The Kitten

By Zoe Brock

Essay

This story begins on a dark and wintry evening and involves death and hormones.

You have been warned.

I was driving home, a passenger in my girlfriend’s car, with a belly full of El Mariachi’s and a head full of girlie-talk. Something mellow and groovy played on the stereo as the backdrop to a lively discussion about life and love and pain and weirdness and all the other good things girls talk about because we can.

Outside the air was cold and dark and crisp. Almost exactly like a burnt potato chip kept in a freezer. But not.

We turned a corner and drove up my street, past old Victorians with curtains drawn and windows darkened, storefronts and lampposts dripping with blinking Christmas lights. It was a very different scene from several hours before when my neighborhood was alive with multitudes of middle aged bourgeois pushing strollers to and fro the Whole Foods market, sipping soy lattes and waiting for the sleek, black Google bus to pick them up and drive them in luxurious, techy glory to their jobs south of the city; Jonahs in the belly of a streamlined whale.

The streets were glistening wet from an earlier rainfall as we approached my house. The music crooned from the speakers and our voices and giggles trailed behind us like happy exhaust fumes in the night. Good times, good times.

But then I saw it. Not a block from my front door. Curled up in the middle of the road, dead. It’s ears clearly visible, it’s body still whole.

A kitten.

My entire being deflated. My heart broke. All sound and joy rushed from my universe in one giant vacuumed slurp.

“Oh, no.”


I can remember distinctly the first time I saw a dead creature on the road. I was about five years old on a road trip with my dad and stepmother. The cat was fluffy, orange and white. There was no blood, no gore, just an empty body on a lonely highway, eyes dulled, ginger fur blowing in the breeze. It was a moment of lost innocence, my first understanding that life can be cruel and fleeting. I cried for a long time, a broken, devastated little girl in the back seat as we groaned and rattled our way along the country roads of New Zealand in our beat up, beat down Combi van.

As an adult, I have long wondered why humans don’t build underpasses into freeways; tunnels that deer, raccoons and other prospective road-kill could use to cross beneath our fearsome, ugly slashes of bitumen. Every time I see a dead animal on the roads and highways a part of me breaks.

Some would call me overly sentimental. I would tell them to go fuck themselves.


We pulled into the driveway. My body was home but my mind was still a block away. I could hear my girlfriend talking but I couldn’t process anything. I was obsessed. I was a five year old girl again, freaking out in that van.

Some platitudes were uttered and I was reassured that life was good. We said goodbye. I was alone. Alone and hormonal.

Nothing good can come from that combination.

I went inside my happy, hippy home and turned on the lights. I sat down on the bed and felt bogged down with heavy stuff. I yearned for some okayness. I wanted this to be different. I wanted someone else to deal with it, to tell me what to do, to make it all better, but my man was away on business; my go-to person was gone.

The five year-old inside me started to panic. “It’s still in one piece. Another car is going to hit it.” My adult brain tried to soothe my five year-old self, but she was having none of it. “We have to get it off the road! What if another little kid sees it? What if the person who it belonged to discovers it when it’s just a stain on the street?” I sat down. I stood up. I calmed myself. I lost it. I found it. I tried to breathe some serenity into my body. I meditated a little, tried to find my inner yoga. I began to compose myself. I imagined some grotesque visuals. I distracted myself. I heard a car go past and thought some gruesome thoughts. Then I picked up my laptop and IM’d my dude.

Me: there is a dad kitten outside on the street and I can’t get it out of my head
dead
it’s in the middle of the road and I wish you were here

Him: aw fuck
im sorry
does he have a collar?

Me: I dunno
it’s a kitten
it’s dark and I don’t want to get too close

Him: aww

Me: what should I do
another car is going to get it

Him: he’s obviously dead?
there’s a city organization for that
they will come get him

Me: who.

Him: i do’t know their name… but you can look it up

Me: I have my period and this is not going well for me

Him: they clean up animal bodies you can try to call SF Animal Control at 650.638.9029

Me: aaaaaaargh.

Him: he’s dead.. there’s nothing you can do. he’s not in his body anymore.
that thing on the street is just matter.
breathe.

Me: k

Him: i love you.


I called some numbers, Googled some names and came up with nothing. I tried to let it go. I left the room, turned on some music, put a smile on my face and told myself that everything he said was true. It was just a body, matter, nothing alive. Meat. I pottered around and kept busy for a while but it kept coming back. It stalked my brain. I let it in. What if a little kid sees it? What if it was only injured? What if it is ALIVE?

Me: question. I am just assuming the kitten was dead b/c it wasn’t moving when I drove past. what should I do?

Him: you have a few choices re: kitteh
1.. ignore it. if its dead… which it probably is since cats don’t like to sleep in the street… then there is nothing you can do. unless you want to go out there and clean it up…

Me: call me please


By the time the phone rang I was halfway there, running, determined. I would deal, and deal alone. I would either have to scrape its little body off the street or, preferably, rescue it and make it better. My heart raced. My boyfriend, on the other end of the phone in Texas, clearly thought I was insane, but he’d seen nothing yet. I ran faster. I could see it now, a lump on the road. I got closer, something seemed different about it. Was it in a different place? Had it moved? Was it alive? What was I doing? Suddenly I was upon it. Standing over it, looking down. My heart thumped in my chest and my boyfriends voice could be heard above the roar in my ears.
‘Babe? Is it alive? What’s going on?’
I stared down at the thing on the road. The unmoving thing. The fluffy, fuzzy thing.
‘It’s a beanie.’
‘What?’
‘It’s. A. Beanie. It’s a hat.’
‘Are you fucking joking?’
I burst out laughing. ‘No. Haha.’ Relief flooded my being. ‘No. I’m not.’
‘It’s a fucking beanie!? Do you know what you just put me through?’
‘I’m sorry, but I’m just so happy!’
‘A beanie.’
‘You’re allowed to give me as much shit as you like for as long as you like.’
‘Oh I will.’
‘It was just a beanie, baby!’
‘Sigh’.

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ZOE BROCK was born in New Zealand and raised in Australia. She has lived in more cities and on more continents than she can count (truly, she's a model and can't count) and is currently residing in the deep fog of San Francisco. Her true home lies on the dusty plains of Burning Man where she feels safe and challenged and truly alive. Zoë once had a very popular blog on MySpace and writes everything from awful poetry to truly delicious dark satire, and all sorts of sexy things in between. She has appeared on the cover of Elle magazine, inside the pages of Vogue, Cosmo and Marie Claire, to name a few, and is working on her memoir, an expose of 'growing up model'. Zoë is also a certified yoga teacher. Yes, that means she's bendy.

60 responses to “The Kitten”

  1. Ed Arenas says:

    Its funny but being a film person, I was able to visualize the whole story from the first few words and the title. Zoe’s style is visual fun and you know there is always going to be a payoff (if not a reach-around). Love getting lost in the fun of her words.

    • Zoe Brock says:

      Thanks Ed!!!!!! No story is complete without a reach-around in my humble opinion (neither is dinner, going to a movie, showering, a walk in the park, grocery shopping in the supermarket or attending a church service).

      Sorry about some of those visuals, your only consolation is that they were MUCH worse for me.

  2. Matt says:

    This just made my week. Great story, Zoe. Love the ending, too.

    Your grasp of prose is great, byt the way. “Jonahs in the belly of a streamlined whale” indeed!

  3. Anon says:

    You still get good karma points. 🙂

    I am not exactly what most would call “sentimental” or “hippy” and I still tell a lot of people to go fuck themselves. However, I once noticed an obviously dead cat during my morning rush-hour commute to work – and then I saw it lift its head as I drove past. I came within a hair of causing an accident, putting on my hazards, whipping a U-turn and then essentially barricading a lane in each direction to give it cover. My wife took the wheel while I basically improvised a back board with some scrap wood from the back of my truck and then wrapped the poor thing with a towel. We remembered there was an animal clinic about twenty minutes away so she drove while I comforted and examined the cat, who seemed mostly unbroken but was bleeding from the head and ear.

    They took him in as a charity case and he lived, though he lost an eye. Two weeks later, they called me to say he’d been adopted out. I irrationally wanted to visit violence upon every fuckwit that drove past that poor thing….

  4. Zoe Brock says:

    YOU ARE MY HERO!!!!!!

    My heart is singing and I’m doing internal cartwheels right now (it’s hard to type and actually cartwheel, see?)

    you glorious human being. I cannot heap enough praise on you. I once woke my ex-boyfriend up in the night and made him drive me an hour through the suburban wilds of South Florida to help me deliver a baby possum to a clinic after my cat brought it inside.

    And I think the love of my life got his first inkling of a crush on me after I picked up a bee from the sidewalk to save it.

    We are big clunsy creatures and we need to pay more attention to our smaller/hairier brethren.

    Have a great day!

    • Anon says:

      Ha. Thank you for that excess of praise. I’ll suppress my natural impulse to self-deprecate and will just enjoy it.

      I’ve seen enough dead stuff to appreciate live stuff and, while I’m perfectly comfortable with the naturalness of death, it offends me when it’s meaningless. Kitty gets eaten by coyote (or deer gets eaten by, um, me)? Sad but ‘yotes (and I) gotta eat, too. Kitty get whacked by a car and left to rot? Just not right.

      And my day is now officially great, thanks to your reply.

    • Anon says:

      Okay, just a little humorous self-deprecation. While I certainly have smaller brethren, I’m of Sicilian descent so “hairier” might be a stretch. Unless we’re talking, like, Sasquatch or something….

  5. Hey Zoe…. your beanie called… it said… nom nom.

  6. Tawni says:

    I once spotted a puppy in the road. When we passed it with the car, it was in the middle, lying completely still. I made my boyfriend turn around, yelling, “That was a puppy! Go back!” and we went back. He parked the car and I ran out into the street to check for breathing. It was alive! He stopped traffic and I grabbed the puppy. It woke up in my arms and was whimpering and shaking while I held it on the side of the road. My boyfriend called the emergency animal clinic number and they sent an on-call vet, as it was night and nobody else was open. It took the vet about 20 minutes to get there. It felt like forever. I was sitting in the grass next to a restaurant parking lot, hugging the poor puppy and crying along with him because it was breaking my heart that he was so scared. The vet finally arrived and took him to safety. When I called the next day, they told me he was only stunned by whatever car had hit him, and was going to be placed up for adoption. Isn’t that lucky? He was knocked out cold, but no permanent damage, no broken bones. It was a busy-ish street, too. I told them to call me if he didn’t get adopted, but he did. Yay!

    I thought you might like to hear my animal in the road story with a happy ending. Not as good as “it was just a beanie” but still happy, right?

    I loved reading this, Zoe. I totally understood it. And if anyone called you overly sentimental, I would tell them to go fuck themselves too. xoxo.

  7. Zoe Brock says:

    you beautiful wonderful thing!!!!!!

    poor wee mite.

    I once saw a dog on a freeway running along a lane, we screeched to a halt and opened the door and yelled “GET IN!” and he did! He sat straight down in the back seat and acted like nothing was up. We spent hours driving around the area until we found someone who recognized him. Crazy ass dog.

    xxx

  8. DCPrincess says:

    I would STILL be having nightmares!

    So glad for a happy ending 🙂

  9. A good friend of mine once made her boyfriend stop in the middle of the road so she could chase a goose that had gotten lost. She chased this goose all down the city streets and made her boyfriend put it in the car. It was wild and not nice. The boyfriend soon broke up with her.
    Your boyfriend sounds like a great guy who would never do that.
    I am so freaking happy it was not a real kitten. I was so sad. I guess that makes me sentimental too.
    Great story! Your girls’ night sounds fun, too!

    • Zoe Brock says:

      HA! I love the visual of this. Poor goose.

      we once had a similar moment with a baby bird in the park and a mild case of hallucinogens. I don’t think this is the right forum to go into it, however….

      xx

  10. Wait… I don’t understand. Did you rush the beanie to the hospital? Was it OK? Did it need stitches?

  11. Zara Potts says:

    Oh Zoe Brock, you little guardian angel of animals.
    I’m with you honey, I try and save any creature I can including rats.
    Go fuck yourself is an extremely appropriate response to anyone who calls you sentimental.
    You are kind. Kindness is everything. There should be more of it.
    xxx

  12. Antje Kann says:

    Zoe: Your beautiful story so resonates with me! Starting with the roadkill experience as a small child–substitute a duck for your orange kitty, but I still remember the desperation.

    I once made Dave slam the brakes and pull over because I saw a terrified lost kitten on the sidewalk on Webster St in the lower Haight. I coaxed it out from behind a trash can and we brought it to the SPCA. We both fell in love with it on the drive over, as it climbed all over us and was clearly enjoying our body warmth. After a week of no one claiming the little guy, we adopted him– and ended up with our beloved Webster.

    So, keep walking back to those lumps that may need you–worst case, you get a new beanie!

    • Zoe Brock says:

      hahaha. Your comment had me laugh out loud in the doctors office.

      Lucky Webster!!! I which I’d thought to keep the beanie…. it definitely looked like it was in need of some love.

      I promise to keep watching over lumps.

  13. Richard Cox says:

    There’s a cat in the parking lot of the Krispy Kreme! What should we do? Chase it into a tree! Get our arms clawed to death and then lose it anyway. How ’bout a doughnut?

    You’re kind of crazy, but that’s okay.

  14. You earned a ton of karma points from rushing to save the beanie. Now you can call all sorts of people fuckwits and fucktards or whatever and you’ll get great parking and still have karma left over! oh, and i love this: “I have my period and this is not going well for me.” i’m just wondering why “nom nom nom” is one of your tags, but not period? (It’s fun to make boys uncomfortable!)

    (Are you teaching yoga? Where? I’ll come see you. I want to be bendy, too!)

    • zoe b says:

      Oooo. the yogas!!! teaching private one on ones at my home studio. come over!! send me an email via this site, it’d be lovely to meet/teach you! xxx

  15. sarah says:

    good. i would never think the citizens of sf would stand for a kitteh injured, dead or even too close to the road.( i called animal control b/c there was a kitty sleeping in a weird spot by my house, i thought it might be sick) i’m surprised also that so many people would pass a beanie and not one had stopped, picked it up and placed it on a sign or a mailbox or a branch etc…

  16. You know, funny you should mention this Zoe. Just the other day I read an article about how there’d been a recent outbreak of beanie killings up in the Bay Area. All those poor things hit and run by hipster baby strollers and Google buses. Argh. What’s this world coming to? Where’s the humanity? Where’s the huuuuumanityyyyyyyy?

    • zoe b says:

      that’s a hate crime.

      beanie executions are still a localized crime wave however. in colder climes the damn pesky things are revered!!!! weird!!!!

  17. Irene Zion says:

    Once around 400 years ago when we were living in NYC, we were driving on the West Side Highway and every single lane was full of cars, we passed a cat hit on the road, but it wasn’t dead, cause it had a little paw up in the air waving, asking for someone to stop and help him, but it was the West Side Highway and it was full of traffic and you couldn’t stop. I can still see him.

    Just to show you that things sometimes have a way of helping you out with this sort of thing, my son, Benjamin, who is a real softy and wonderful was driving in Chicago on Lake Shore Drive, he saw a kitten in the middle of the highway. He stopped his car and scooped her up. He named her Freeway. Freeway is a happy cat and never got smushed.

    Sometimes bad things happen, but then, sometimes good things happen.

    I think that’s all you can hope for.

    Some kind of balance.

  18. Greg Olear says:

    One of our cats died a few months ago. Some asshole ran him down and didn’t even have the courtesy to stop. So I’m really glad what you saw was a beanie. And, come to think of it, that’s really what you must do with a beanie, if you find yourself wearing one…toss it to the side of the road.

    Do they still make beanies with the stalk and the propeller, like in the cartoons?

    • zoe b says:

      I don’t know but I want one!!! I want one with a heater in it, instead of a fan.

      I am sorry for your kitty loss. very very very big love to you and yours.

      • Sorry about your cat, Greg. If someone hurt either of my cats I think I’d probably end up going to jail for what I’d do to them… I’ve screamed at people for hissing at my cats on the way to the vets before.

  19. “This story begins on a dark and wintry evening and involves death and hormones.”

    I would expect no less from you. Also, I totally believe every last word of this, and would, again, expect nothing less.

    Because you’re awesome, is what.

    I would never call you overly sentimental. I think you’re just sentimental enough. So there.

  20. I’m here. And I have a story from this summer about a kitten that I hit with my car but I’m too lazy to tell it properly here – may blog it one day I guess.

    After I scared her with my car (I don’t think I hurt her), that kitten came for a drive with me because I wanted to make sure he was OK. He threw up a little in the passenger well, which was probably fair revenge, then I fetched her some ham from my house and some pillows to make sure he was confined to the passenger well and couldn’t get into any trouble in the car, and together we went about the business I had for the day.

    So he came with me to my cousin’s place in Alhambra village where he met other cats and kittens, and my cousins wife and kids, and he ate some cat food and some scraps from the bbq, and had a bit of a sleep under a tiny olive tree. The special ones among you can see her here – http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=2634699&id=625751408.

    After a day spent driving half way across Cyprus with me, I took her back to where I found her, which unfortunately was very close to a very busy road. And I was paranoid that she might follow me back to the main road, so I sat in a bar across the road and nursed a lemonade for an hour with my eyes fixed on the sideroad where I left her.

    Never saw her again, but even though I couldn’t rehouse her in the village my cousin’s mamacat didn’t like her city ways and was getting overprotective) I like to think she got a taste for hitching rides and travels with people across Cyprus now, kind of like a vocation. Like the Littlest Hobo.

    So maybe I wasn’t feeling that lazy after all.

    Hi Zozo!
    🙂

    (Does my Gravatar work?)

  21. Great story. I’d so glad it was just a hat. As long as there wasn’t a Cat in the Hat… Oh, sorry, that was terrible.

    Glad that you were so concerned about it, too. That’s the hallmark of a good person.

    • zoe b says:

      the comment section of this blog turned out far far nicer than I was anticipating. I was dreading the stories but mostly they’ve been so verah nice.

      I feel all warm and loving towards you all. Bless!

  22. sheree says:

    Dead kitty and a reach around….. Only on TNB can such truths of life be found.

    I’m confused. When you said “There is a dad kitten outside on the street” Did you mean dead kitten?

  23. PJ says:

    You, my dear, are the beanie’s meow.

  24. Marni Grossman says:

    It’s a family joke, this oft-repeated line of mine: “why is there so much roadkill?” I say it with a whine. Possibly an exclamation point. It baffles me that no one else is nauseated by it. But you, Zoe! We’re kindred spirits!

  25. Mary Richert says:

    Ahh! I wish I had read this earlier. This is so funny. You’re such a good-hearted person, though, to go out and check on that poor beanie, lying there alone in the road on a cold dark night like that.

  26. Joe Daly says:

    I was told I needed to read your work, and boy, what an introduction piece this was! Thanks for the morning roller coaster. Well done- the happy ending made my day.

    I live on a canyon where there are coyotes, rabbits, groundhogs, etc., etc. An Aussie friend of mine, as he was petting one of my dogs, asked if I agreed that while dogs were ok, coyotes needed to be shot because they were “vermin.” Not realizing that the dog he was petting at the time was half coyote. I think he’s still puzzled by my somewhat animated response.

    Great to see a kindred spirit out here!

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