I recently spent some time driving from Maryland to California- via Memphis, San Marcos, and the Grand Canyon. And I could prattle on at great length about the endlessness of the drive, the joy at seeing my oldest friend get married, the excitement of visiting with good friends, and the overwhelming sense of awe elicited by the epic wonder of the Canyon. But instead, I would like to share a new story with you. This story came to me over the course of several long late night drives west. I’m not sure why it came to me. But it did. And I rather like it, so here it is. I hope you enjoy it! Please tell me if you do!
“Carpe Diem Tabbycat” by Aeri Rose
This was the third day she had to spend with her four siblings in this brown cardboard box. The box had a dirty green towel in the bottom and a red plastic bowl with water that her sister kept stepping in and knocking over. The box sat in a small square grassy yard next to a cement sidewalk and if she had been able to see the outside of the box she would have see the words “Kittens 4 Sale! $20, $10, FREE to a good home!” written with a thick black marker.
She was just contemplating whether she would be able to reach the edge of the box and climb out if she stood on top of her sleeping brother’s head, when suddenly she heard a great rumbling roar and a little yellow car stopped in front of the box. Out hopped a teenage girl with wild blonde curly hair. “Look at the kittens!” she squealed to her friend, another teenage girl- this one with black hair and glasses. “They’re free! Omigosh we have to get one!”
“Carolyn, do you really think your mom will let you have one?” asked the dark haired girl very practically. By this time Carolyn was leaning over the brown cardboard box, petting each mewing kitten in turn. “My 18th birthday is next weekend; call it a birthday present to myself” she said.
“I like this one.” The little kitten felt herself being scooped up in the young girl’s hands and found herself eye to eye with the curly haired girl. She swatted experimentally at one particularly bouncy curl and the girl giggled. “Look at those booties! She’s so high fashion.” The kitten considered her paws. They were a molted dark brown, much darker than the rest of her pale tan fur.
“Do you like her? Take her!” shouted a plump lady from the door of the house which the yard was in front of. “My landlord barely tolerates Cinnamon, the mother. I really need to find homes for her kittens quickly! Would you like one too?” the plump lady directed that last question at the dark haired girl as she walked over.
“Yeah Sarah! Get one!” encouraged Carolyn. “Oh I don’t know. I’d have to ask my parents.” Sarah said meekly. “Well, I’m taking this one.” Carolyn said decisively, tucking the kitten into the crook of her arm like a football.
“Wonderful! She’s yours. I guess I should take these guys in now. It’s getting kind of warm out here.” Said the plump lady. She picked up the brown cardboard box, now with only four mewling kittens, and went inside. Carolyn and Sarah got back into the little yellow car, and the kitten was handed to Sarah to hold while Carolyn drove. Sarah pet the kitten gently. She was much more delicate than the excited Carolyn had been.
“What will you call her?” Sarah asked. Carolyn thought for a moment. “Carpe Diem!” she finally declared. “Seize the day!” the girls giggled. The kitten had fallen asleep in Sarah’s lap. “She’ll seize the day a little bit later.”
Carpe Diem loved her new home. She had a big purple pillow with gold tassels on each corner which she used for her mid morning, afternoon, and early evening naps. Each morning Carolyn would feed her a different tasty food in a blue porcelain bowl with white flowers painted on the outside. Then Carolyn would leave. “Seize the day you lazy cat!” she would tell Carpe Diem. Carpe Diem would yawn and curl up on her pillow to nap.
Every evening Carolyn would come home and sit at her white wicker desk. Carpe Diem would sit on top of the desk and listen while Carolyn told her about all the wonderful things she had done that day. Then she would go to bed and Carpe Diem would curl up on the pillow next to her head.
But sometimes, before Carolyn would sit at her desk, she would shout with her parents. One evening, after a particularly long and loud shout Carolyn sat down at her desk in a huff. “I don’t want to go to college yet!” she complained to Carpe Diem. “I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life! Why do I need to decide now? What on earth will I study? There is so much to do and see in the world first! I don’t want to study hard just to get stuck doing a job that I might hate. I’m being responsible about this! Why don’t they understand that?”
Carpe Diem wasn’t quite sure what Carolyn was talking about. She was sure it had something to do with the motto after which she had been named. That was Carolyn’s favorite topic, and activity, after all. Then, with her signature decisive huff, Carolyn opened her closet door and rummaged around in the back of it. She came out with her red canvas duffle bag, which she threw on her bed. It was followed by jeans, a leather jacket, and a few choice t-shirts that Carpe Diem often saw her wearing. One said “The Clash”, and another said “get lost” with a broken compass in place of the “o”.
Lastly she rolled up a blanket and stuffed it along with a pillow into a pillow case and tied the whole thing to the duffle bag with a long black ribbon. Then she picked Carpe Diem up off of the desk and held her up at eye level again. “Carpe Diem, I have to go.” She stated firmly. “There are too many things I want to see in this world to just settle down. But don’t worry. I’ll come back for you soon and we can go on adventures together. Be good while I’m gone.”
And then she left. And she didn’t come back. Carpe Diem was confused and a little sad. For the next few days she heard a lot of shouting. The parents held the white plastic thing with the long cord that hung on the wall and that she sometimes liked to play with, and said things like “Where are you?” and “Come home this instant!” There was no one to sit with Carpe Diem in the evenings and tell her about their day. Often the parents forgot about breakfast, or when they did remember, they shut the bedroom door when they left and Carpe Diem was trapped, bored, and alone in Carolyn’s bedroom all day.
One day, a no-breakfast-door-shut day, Carpe Diem was sitting on her nice purple pillow and feeling very hungry and bored when she heard her name in the shouts. “What about that cat, Carpe Diem?” The Mother yelled, at the white plastic thing with the cord, Carpe Diem assumed. “That cat you had to keep. You just left her here! She is out of food. Do you expect us to buy more? That isn’t being very responsible now is it?” There was a pause. “No. No, Carolyn. If you want to be an adult, you must deal with adult consequences. You can come home, and take care of your cat, now, or we will take her to the pound.” The pound? What is the pound? Carpe Diem wondered. She hated the vet. She hoped it was not something like that. There was more shouting, and then silence.
Carpe Diem heard The Mother coming down the hall. But instead of breakfast, Carpe Diem was very roughly picked up and dumped into a cardboard box. I remember these. Not another one of these! Carpe Diem fought to get out, but the box was closed tightly. She felt a lot of moving, heard the roar of a car, and finally a metallic clunk as the box was set onto a cold metal table. Then the lid was removed, and Carpe Diem escaped with a bound. But she was not in Carolyn’s bedroom. She was not at the vet’s either.
Where was she? The Mother was nowhere in sight. She had not made it very far with her escape. An old man with a grey beard and calloused hands had caught her. “Woah girl! That’s ok. Shhh. Welcome to Pet Haven. You’re a pretty thing, aren’t you? I’m sure we’ll find you a new home very quickly.” He looked her over quickly and made notes on a white sheet.
“Carpe Diem. Female. 15 months old. Has all shots. Healthy. Reason for being here? Why are you here, sweetheart? That woman just dropped you off and left in a huff. We’ll say ‘family moving.’ How’s that? That’s usually a good one for getting adopted. Lets the new pet owners know it wasn’t the pet’s fault. Not that it ever is really” he continued to mutter to himself.
Then he walked Carpe Diem down a long beige hallway, past a loud room full of barking dogs, and into a smaller room full of crates and cages, each with a small animal inside. The man placed Carpe Diem inside a black metal cage with a lumpy brown blanket and an ugly grey plastic water bowl. She didn’t want to go in there! She wanted to be back in Carolyn’s room! She wanted her purple pillow with gold tassels and her blue porcelain food bowl!
But into the cage she went. And there she stayed for days and days. Sometimes the grey haired man, “call me George” he said, would come and take her out of the cage. They would sit on a blue metal chair and he would pet her head and talk.
“Carpe Diem. That’s a pretty interesting name for a cat” he said one day. “Do you know where it came from?” No. Thought Carpe Diem with disinterest. “It is a very old saying. It was penned by a Roman poet over two thousand years ago in a poem called ‘Odes’. His name was Horatius Flaccus, but his friends called him Horace. Carpe Diem means ‘seize the day’ in English.” At that Carpe Diem’s tail twitched. That was what Carolyn always said to her. George noticed her agitation. “Oh, you’ve heard that before have you?” he asked kindly. “Well, did you know that there was more to it in the poem? The full line is ‘carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero,’ but few people know that, and besides that is much too long a name for a cat.” George laughed to himself. “The rest of the line means ‘put no trust in the future’.” George thought for a moment.
“Seize the day, put no trust in the future. What do you think he meant by that? Hmm?” he asked the cat. You should spend more time on your purple pillow. She thought. Because without warning your curly haired girl might leave, and The Mother might take you here; and then you will have only a cage with a lumpy brown blanket, and an old man named George for company. “I think he means we should find things to enjoy every day and make the most of our time because our time on Earth is short. We should find things that make us happy every day, because the next day everything can change.”
George stood up, and Carpe Diem sighed. She knew it was time to go back into her black metal crate. “You think on that, kitty-cat.” He said with a final pat on the head. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I think.” he said with a wink.
The next day came, and Carpe Diem did see George. He came in the afternoon, and he brought two people with him. One person was a man with shaggy brown hair and brown eyes that looked a little sad, but there were lines around his eyes that said he liked to smile. Nice enough Carpe Diem thought. The man carried the other person, a very small girl with messy brown hair, tired brown eyes, and a limp and dingy yellow blanket. Her blanket is even more worn than this one thought Carpe Diem. But the girl clutched the blanket tightly while George and the man looked at all the cats and talked about them. “Carp Deeum” the man said when they stopped in front of her cage. “Well that’s a funny name for a cat, naming it after a fish.” The girl picked her head up off of his shoulder. “No, Daddy. Not Carp. Carp-e. Carp-e Di-em. Its Latin. It means ‘seize the day’.” The small girl corrected him.
“That’s my little bookworm.” The man said. To George he said “She’s so smart! She reads all the time, great big books. She’s going to be an author one day. Isn’t that right, sweetheart?” The little girl smiled a soft smile. “Yeah Daddy, maybe.”
“Carpe Diem would be a great kitty for you then” said George. “She’s a sweet little thing. Likes to sit on your lap and be pet. I bet you could read books to her, or tell her all the stories you make up.”
The little girl smiled again. “How does that sound Allie? Is this Catfish the one?” asked the man. Allie smiled again and nodded. And that was how Carpe Diem found herself in yet another cardboard box, ready to go home with Daddy and Allie. Before closing the lid, George gave her another wink. “Remember to seize the day, little lady. Enjoy your new home!”
Seize the day thought Carpe Diem on the quiet car ride home. To Carolyn, the more adventures you had and the more you did the better you seized the day. To George you seized the day by finding and doing things that made you happy. Carpe Diem wondered how she might seize the day with this new family.
When they got home Allie took Carpe Diem out of the box. Daddy carried Allie, and Allie carried Carpe Diem inside the front door, down a long hallway, and into Allie’s bedroom. The room had a bed with a purple blanket and four green pillows, a brown table with several little yellow bottles with white lids, a pile of stuffed animals beneath a window with white curtains, and a small pink rug with white fringe. The Daddy put Allie and Carpe Diem down on the bed. On the bed next to them was a big blue fish with yellow fins and a wide open mouth. Allie giggled. “Do you like your new bed?” she asked Carpe Diem.
Seize the day thought Carpe Diem. Today is Fish Bed Day. So Carpe Diem seized it. With a lashing tail, extended claws, and a tremendous leap Carpe Diem seized the fish bed. Her leap was so strong that both she and the bed tumbled end over end off the bed and onto the floor. Or rather, she landed on the floor, and the fish bed landed, mouth open, onto her. From inside the cavernous mouth Carpe Diem heard the little girl’s laughter. It was a light and tinkling laugh and Carpe Diem absolutely loved it. This is how I will seize my days. I want to make that sweet little girl with the tired brown eyes laugh as much as I can Carpe Diem decided.
She crept out from beneath the fish bed and the Daddy set it right side up in the corner of the room, near the table with the yellow bottles. That night the little girl did read to Carpe Diem from quite a big book and the when it was time to sleep, Carpe Diem sprawled across the little girl and purred and enjoyed the gentle rise and fall of her chest while they drifted off to sleep.
In the morning the Daddy came in to help Allie get ready, and then they went out. Carpe Diem sat on the edge of the bed and wondered when they would be back. A little while later the Daddy returned, but there was no Allie. He came into the bedroom with fresh sheets and began to remake her bed. “Thank you Catfish.” He said quietly. “You know, Allie is a very sick little girl. But she loves you. You just keep doing what you’re doing. Ok? Will you be part of our little team?” Carpe Diem flicked her tail.
When Allie came home she smelled like new plastic and strange chemicals that made Carpe Diem’s nose sting. She was very tired and went straight to bed. Carpe Diem rested curled up on a pillow near her head.
Carpe Diem continued to find ways to make Allie smile when she was home. She played with bits of yarn that Allie danced in front of her. She pawed at the little cloth mice Daddy brought home. Sometimes she batted at the white fringe of the small carpet on the bedroom floor.
When Allie was gone, Carpe Diem sat on the edge of her bed with her tail wrapped around her brown bootie paws and waited for her to come back. One day Carpe Diem was in the kitchen looking for something to play with when she heard Daddy and Allie come home. She bounded down the hallway into Allie’s room and jumped onto the pink rug. Everyone was quite shocked when the pink rug went sailing across the room with Carpe Diem on it! She crashed into the pile of stuffed animals beneath the window and both Allie and the Daddy started to laugh. Carpe Diem had found a new favorite trick!
Sometimes Allie just wanted to hold and pet Carpe Diem, and at night she would purr loudly and let Allie hug her just a little too tightly while she fell asleep. But Carpe Diem never cried or tried to move until she was sure that Allie was fast asleep. Then she would curl up on the pillow by Allie’s head, or lay her head on the gently moving chest.
One morning, a going-away-morning, Daddy was helping Allie eat breakfast when Carpe Diem surfed into the room on the carpet. She leapt onto the bed while the carpet was still moving and spilled the milk on Allie’s tray. “Catfish!” the Daddy yelled. “Allie needs to drink that! She’ll need the energy! She has a big day ahead of her!” But Allie was laughing, and when Carpe Diem meekly tried to lap up the milk from the tray even the Daddy couldn’t help but break a smile. “I guess you need your energy too.” he said
That day they were gone for a very long time. The Daddy didn’t come home to change Allie’s sheets, and in fact he didn’t come home at all. Finally, the next morning, Carpe Diem heard the front door open and the tired steps of the Daddy as he walked down the hall. He came into Allie’s room, but he didn’t carry Allie. All he carried was her dingy yellow blanket. Why does he have that? Carpe Diem thought with alarm. Allie needs that! Where is Allie?
The Daddy sat on the edge of the bed. Carpe Diem remained on Allie’s pillow. She sat completely still; only the tip of her tail twitched in agitation. The Daddy sat quietly on the edge of the bed for a long time, holding the dingy yellow blanket in a tight ball. Finally, he sighed. “It’s just you and me now Catfish.” He put the yellow blanket on the bed, stood up, and walked back down the hallway. From her spot on the pillow Carpe Diem heard the TV click on in the living room.
Carpe Diem looked at the dingy yellow blanket. So this is life she thought. Sometimes there are lessons to learn, and sometimes there are lessons to share. Sometimes you must do great things, and sometimes you must enjoy the moment. And sometimes you must just be there for the people you love.
Carpe Diem looked again at the dingy yellow blanket. She looked at the blue glow flickering down the hallway. She jumped off the bed and padded towards the living room and towards the Daddy watching TV. She leapt up onto the couch and sat on the man’s lap, and he rubbed her head. Carpe Diem purred, and the man cried.