It’s Always Darkest

Early Snowy Morning

Sometimes I think my cat is better than my doctor at prescribing what I need.

Early Wednesday morning, Devil Cat woke me at 3 a.m. wanting to play, as he does every morning when we’re in Connecticut. It was our usual dance number—he leading, me following, of course. First he used his claws to pull himself across the rug—I guess you could call this his floor routine. Then he jumped on the bed and kneaded my chest with his lethal weapons, which he just honed on the rug. When I couldn’t take it anymore, we quickly two-stepped to the bathroom, dancing on each other’s feet, where he figure-eighted between my legs while I winced bleary-eyed into the mirror to see how much blood he’d drawn from my chest.

With only a few hours of darkness left to enjoy, I lured him into the hall with my naked foot as bait, then I slammed the bedroom door shut. Not 10 minutes later, he was crooning a plaintive, distinctly Irish-sounding ballad that I’m pretty certain featured feline lyrics along the lines of “Da ole son of a bitch locked me outta me room while all I was tryin’ to do was love ‘im.”

The One was completely oblivious to this performance, given that he was 80 miles way in New York, wiped out from having to care for our little Persian, Chloe, who is terribly sick. The situation with Chloe has flat out exhausted us. We’re both running on fumes what with toting her to the vet; trying to pill her; coaxing her out from under the bed so Emmy, the vet tech, can administer fluids under her skin to keep her hydrated—all four pounds, five ounces of her; and tag-teaming back and forth between New York and Connecticut so one of us can be with Devil Cat.

Now fully awake, I opened the door. But instead of bounding in and bouncing on the bed, not unlike Sylvester in Loony Tunes, Devil Cat looked up at me then ran downstairs lickety-split.

Please, God, no! I screamed to myself, visions of a closed basement door, his only route to the outdoors—and piles of pussycat presents throughout the house flickered on the screen of my sleep-deprived mind.

Turns out Devil Cat was hungry. Again. So I opened the fridge and fished out one of the cans of tuna that we use to mask the antibiotics Chloe has to take if she’s to have any chance of beating this infection. I slid down to the floor, back against the cabinet, can and fork in hand. One bite for Devil Cat, one for me. One for Devil Cat, two for me. And there we stayed, Devil Cat eventually ending up upside-down in my lap, paws twitching to some dream sequence samba that surely involved rodents now that his belly was full.

After an hour or so, I extricated myself from beneath him and figured I might as well work since I couldn’t go back to sleep. I sat in my studio with its five large windows looking out onto our property and realized it had snowed. I’ve already told you how much The One and I adore snow. The backyard was beautiful, but dark. I could barely make out the knuckles and crooked fingers of the old oak’s branches. Way in the back was the hammock–still hanging between two trees–always looking to me like a gentle smile, though today it sported a John Waters-thin mustache of white.

I don’t like predawn. It’s feels empty. Mournful. And it makes me feel out of sorts and awkward, like being the first one to arrive at a party. But yesterday was different. I watched as the sun, from behind a quilt of clouds, began to light the yard with a lovely blue chiaroscuro.

Devil Cat jumped up on my desk. I expected him to do his other routine, the one where he circles between my arms while I type, me dodging his tail and kitty parts until he settles in and falls asleep. This time, though, he leaned his head against my arm and extended his paw into my hand as if to say, “Stop working, poppie. Just sit here and breathe and watch.” I was flabbergasted.

So I looked out the windows. And I wondered why it is that I like snow so much. It’s undeniably pretty, at least when it first falls. And it’s cold, of course, and I like the cold. But beyond aesthetics and temperature, there’s an emotional component to snow for me. When it falls, I feel safe and protected–as if no harm could ever come to me. It’s a salve that soothes the ache of pain, a white gauze that covers the scars of loss that would–very soon–be ripped open once again.

That’s when the gut-shaking sobs came and came and came. But instead of jumping down with a feline equivalent of a disgusted grunt, Devil Cat did the most remarkable thing: He rolled over in my arms, placed one paw on my cheek, and just looked at me. It was a simple gesture, unblinking, undemanding. A tangle of gratitude and guilt knotted inside me. We were so lucky, blessed even, to have rescued this marvelous animal–as we had rescued Chloe and Raja–yet I wasn’t with Chloe when she needed me most.

Eventually Devil Cat leapt off the desk. Several minutes later I heard the thwack and metronomic squeak of his cat door opening and closing. I watched as he ran to his favorite tree and filed those damn Edward Scissorhands blades that constitute his claws, then Iooked on as he terrorized a few sparrows that dotted the snow like ink dripped from a fountain pen. I knocked on the window and he froze, seemingly sniffing the air for the origin of the sound. He saw me and I waved. He sat down, watching me, almost as if he were making sure I was okay. Then he turned and walked away with that gunslinger walk of his through the brush on his rounds, and I smiled.

Morning had begun.

David Leite's signature



  1. Oh my. I came to the blog just because I wanted to tell you how much I love the site redesign, and I found this beautiful, funny, touching, ALIVE story. Please convey the very best wishes for recovery to Chloe from her feline kin, Giovanni & Bella, who are magic & have very powerful mojo. (Says the mysterious Icelandic voodoo queen who gave them to me. :^) And also, I’m sure I join many, who may not even have commented here, in wishing you & the One comfort while things are difficult. I fervently hope that Chloe recovers quickly and fully.

    And I thank you very much for this gorgeously told morning & Devil cat (who obviously knows a thing or two, and probably has Icelandic voodoo queen roots in his background as well). Both will remain with me a long time. Sending all of you hugs and love, even though I don’t know you-know you–those of us who love food (and cats) understand that it’s all about love, whether we know each other formally and in person or not.

    1. dawna, what a beautiful comment. Thank you. Chloe is doing better. It’s kind of a miracle. (Maybe it’s Giovanni and Bella’s mojo!) She starts a new mix of meds today, so hopefully she’ll get even better. And I know that you know that we don’t know–know–each other, but know that I appreciate the sentiment!

      1. Thank you, David. I appreciated a story from someone who clearly loves cats as much as I do, and who is going through what I am going through. Last month, I found out that my precious domestic shorthair, Ella, has a rare and aggressive form of cancer. I ask myself if there is anything I can do to make her last days extra special—but when I think of it, there aren’t too many gestures that can top the life I’ve given her. When things get hard, I think of this.

  2. There is a line from an old song, something about “I’ll tell you boys this life is cruel and hard…”. I couldn’t help but think of that as I read this piece, reminded that amidst the joys….
    Please know that as we’re saddened by yours and Chloe’s struggle we are thinking about you, wishing you well.

  3. You made my day. I thought I was the only one putting up with a crazy cat that can inflict bodily harm, no matter how unintentional, and eat everything left within reach, and some things you thought were well out of reach.
    Right now he’s laying on the printer, staring at me, wondering when we will be going to bed.

  4. Oh, that exquisitely beautiful moment when a pet reaches across the species. It truly is a magical thing. I am sending you all the comforting thoughts I can muster for all your family.
    Once years ago when we were in the midst of a failing career venture, our then female became desperately ill. She pulled through, but I will never forget the knife edge of pain in Bill’s voice when he said,”The bad stuff can bang and crash at our door, but it cannot disrupt our family or our home.” through sobs and anguish. It was so raw and vulnerable. So I know how deep and basic your feelings are. Keep each other close and warm. We will all surround you in thoughts and prayers. Bless you, David.

        1. Donna Rose, thanks for asking. At the moment she’s feeling better. She must have had some terrible infection, which the antibiotic has cured. She’s gained 4 ounces, which may not sound like a lot, but she weighs about 5 pounds! She’s also running around more, chasing the laser light. Today she starts a new regime of medication for her digestive system. So we’ll see how that pans out.

  5. I read this post last Friday when it was published and have not stopped thinking about it since. When it popped into my e-mail again this morning, I simply had to re-read it one more time. I’m not easily moved to tears by writing, but this piece did that. The beauty of the prose and the way you paint images with phrases draws me in again and again. But, more than the writing itself, I felt drawn to offer comfort to a friend (if I may be that presumptuous). The anguish you feel over your dear Chloe is evident in every word. Even though I’m not an “animal person,” I do understand the depth of the relationship with pets. I wish only the very best for Chloe and am so glad to know that you have Devil Cat to help keep your spirits up.

    1. Lana, you may indeed call me a friend. And thank you for your thoughtful words. Animals do have an amazing way of getting into our hearts. And Devil Cat has continued to keep my spirits up and Chloe is resting peacefully with The One. So we’ll see….

  6. David, I can never get enough of your story telling. You have a sheer elegance with words. I understand about your concern with Chloe, but cats are very resilient animals. I have had them all my life up until 3 years ago. I am sure that she will be fine and that Devil Cat is trying to take your mind off of her since he knows she’ll be fine as well.

    They really know how to get under your skin one minute (or in your case into your skin) and into your heart the next. Devil Cat was just showing you all will be right with the world.

    Have a blessed day.

    1. Pat in NC, from your mouth…. I hope that is indeed the case with Chloe. She does seem a little bit better, but she’s finished one medication so no vomiting. She’ll be starting another later this week. So we’ll see.

  7. Loved, loved, loved reading this. Such a colorful depiction of a familiar “breed” of cat that we both love and loathe (but mostly love) and the peculiar beauty of pre-dawn. Especially a snowy New England one. Good, speedy, healthy thoughts to Chloe! Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. Our 18 year old Margery just passed. Only five cats in the house now seems so few. But Margery was ready to go and went peacefully. I hope your Chloe gets better but if that’s not to be, I hope you can take comfort in what you have done for her and can do. Even though it was clear that Margery was declining and there was nothing to halt the inevitable, I felt a kind of peace about the little ways we could connect– giving her fluids (chicken broth was favorite) with a syringe (something she would not have enjoyed in her healthy days), wiping her down gently after “an accident,” just letting her be in my lap and hoping she knew we loved her then as she was. We took our cues from the other cats, who would give her a little bath or nuzzle–even her least favorite snuggled up to her–seemingly to let her know she was still part of the family, until she knew nothing else.

    1. CEN, I can’t tell you how comforting your comment is. I’m sorry about your Margery. But you’re quite wise to take cues from the other cats. We’re watching things closely. She’s had a few accidents, and we make nothing of it. I only wish she were a lap cat. She’s deaf now, so we can’t comfort her with our voices. And she has always screamed when we petted her. So we spend a lot of time in front of her nodding and smiling.

  9. Absolutely beautiful writing! You conjured up feelings and pictures with your words that I could never accomplish. I hope your dear Chloe is doing better. I know how hard it is when a pet is ill–they are your babies.

    I look at my “girls” and worry that they won’t be here long enough to keep me from having to go through the grief I know will happen. I had dogs when I was younger and didn’t really want another pet because I get too attached, but got suckered into taking two kittens from a feral, rescued mommy cat. I am now a “cat lady.” I’ve rescued a couple of feral kittens and luckily got them adopted within days.

    My girls are sometimes annoying (especially in the early a.m.!) but then they do something so cute, you can’t resist them. Cats are so amazing, I’m constantly surprised at their antics.

    Thank you for this wonderful story.

    BTW, you can reduce the bloodletting if you clip just the tips of Devil Cat’s claws. The cat can still climb and fight back, if needed. My cats are indoor/outdoor cats and I still clip them regularly to keep my wounds down to a minimum :-}

    1. Rosie, she’s doing a little better. The antibiotics seemed to upset her stomach. Now that she’s done with it, she eating more.

      And clipping Devil Cat’s nails? Oh no, no, no. He would never allow it!

  10. When you get to the snow, you’re downright lyrical- “…like ink dripped from a fountain pen,” “..quilt of clouds,” “hammock…looking…like a gentle smile” – priceless.

  11. David!

    This mirrors so much of what I have been going through with my cat, Spanky. He has been ill for over a year and I need to make the big decision soon. But being the selfish person I am, I want him with me just one more day. And than one more….I sit here with tears pouring from my eyes as write this.
    Thank you David for making me feel not alone and prayers for Chloe.

    1. Sarah, you are indeed not alone, as you can see by all these comments. It’s always a terribly hard decision to make, but as The One said, we need to let her go when she’s ready, not when we are. I wish you and Spanky the very best. Hang in there.

  12. Really enjoyed reading this. Our cat Prudence passed away at 19 years of age on Feb 17th. Since then our remaining cat, Tabby – now 20, has woken us up every night between 2 and 4 am. Tabby only ever wants a drink of water and a rub on the head. I have also noticed how uncomplicated the world seems at 3am.

    I hope Chloe makes a full recovery and that Devil Cat continues to prod you for years to come.

  13. My Cato starts the kitty chorale between 4:30 am and 5:00 am. I let him out this morning in the bitter cold and he spooked a deer munching on crunchy, icy kale. He chased her like the alpha male tomcat that he is.

    I opened my email and there was your warm and wonderful story about Devil Cat and Chloe. Big feline and human hugs to all of you from Kansas!

    Your blog and newsletter are the only ones I’ve kept over the years as they are always colorful, entertaining and chock full of new things to try. Thank you, David, for sharing not only your culinary genius but your very human stories as well.

  14. Predawn solitude, a comforting blanket of snow, an understanding kitty companion, and the words to give so much meaning and perspective to a range of emotions. Beautifully written. Perfectly said.

  15. People are always saying cats are aloof. I know it’s not true. They are observant and reserved until they decide it’s time to interact. It’s my favorite thing about cats. I’m currently guardian to my daughters “devil” cat, Virgil, the one who refuses to get along with her two other cats. I was reluctant at first because I had sworn to have no more pets since we had to put our dear, 18 yr old dog, Trixie, down a few years ago. But here I am, with another pet, a cat, and I couldn’t be happier. I don’t know how I’ll ever give him up if they decide they want him back. His antics make me laugh and his quiet affectionate cuddling soothes my soul. I do hope Chloe gets well and is back to bringing you the joy you’ve come to know.

    1. Susan, so…you know. I was always a dog person growing up, but when I moved to New York and saw the size on my first apartment–I went feline. And since then, I’ve been a dedicated cat person. I find them infinitely fascinating, each with their own distinct personalities. I hope you get to keep your Virgil. It’s so stressful when an animal has to attach to a different owner.

  16. “…like ink dripped from a fountain pen.”

    When I sit up in bed as the sun rises, feeling alone, or sad or both, it’s always the birds chirping outside my window that remind me that that life is going on outside my window, whether I’m ready for it or not.

    I suspect I’d be looking at those birds the Devil Cat was worrying, watching them fly away, and then imaging them heading in the direction of New York, taking my good thoughts for Chloé with them.

    Just as I am sending my good thoughts your way, my friend.


    1. Michael, thank you for your good thoughts. I need them this morning, after an especially hard afternoon and evening for Chloe yesterday. It’s so amazing how exhausting sadness and grief are.

  17. Our pets are our babies and eerily human – playing, demanding attention and our time, forcing us to heed and answer every whim any time day or night. Yet as selfish as they often seem (like children), they know when momma or papa is hurting and sad and they stop their childish antics and give back, stopping and showing they love us and are, in fact, there for us. I also know that Marty comes and demands a “calin”, a long hug, curled up on my lap, when he wants it but it actually is just what I need on a regular basis because I turn off my laptop, stop my household chores or whatever I am doing and sit pinned underneath him on the sofa, his odor, fuzzy warmth and his heart-beating little life curled up in my lap bringing me down to earth, calming me and reinforcing me like a blood infusion. What a beautiful story, David, and hoping Chloé pulls through. xo

    ps I adore snow, its beauty, its quiet calm presence, its mystery. Sadly we get very little of it here in Nantes.

    1. Jamie, the thing a friend of mine once said that ha stuck with me is that animals come to us as small, dependent creatures–just like a baby. But no matter how old they get, they remain as dependent upon us as they were when they were puppies or kittens. They are forever our babies.

  18. You are a fantastic writer. Why didn’t I know this about you? Oh, yeah – back then you were all about photos and page layouts and such. If it’s any consolation, there have been several times in my life where I felt I wasn’t where I needed to be, especially at the end of my father’s life. It happens, and it hurts. And you’re doing your part by being with Devil Cat, and Devil Cat’s doing his part by comforting you.

    1. Actually, Anne, it was your sister (when she was my 9th grade English teacher) who saw something in me. it just took 15 years after that before I started writing. Sorry about your dad. I remember him well.

  19. Beautifully written. So difficult being away from loved ones and a sick cat, as well. Hoping Chloe gets better. Hugs to you and Devil Cat too (we have one of those cats!)

    1. Hi Mary. I appreciate your well wishes. Im now in NYC and The One is in CT. And I’m not sure what’s worse: Feeling guilty about not being with Chloe, or being here and seeing the continual decline.

  20. What fun! My cat regularly invites me to dance at 3AM. I seem to be at my most desirable when bathed in the low level light that seeps in from the illuminated apartment building across the street. I call it ‘kitty’s last call” or ‘sidewalk sale’ because at 3AM I imagine the cat bars have all closed.

    1. Low level light is always more flattering. Especially if it’s tinged slightly with a wee bit of tungsten. Makes the skin glow and smoothes out the…shall we say “signs of life experience”?

  21. My heart is so heavy for you and you family right now. It sounds like “Devil Cat” has his own style of care giving but caring comes through loud and clear. Such an able escort through this
    hard time!

    1. Penny, thank you. Yes, Devil Cat administers his care both through claws and hugs. And I love that: “Such an able escort through this hard time.” So well put.

  22. Truly great, and something anyone who has ever owned a cat can appreciate. Love your picture too. Between those two trees holding the hammock, and right above the hammock that might be playing a game of disguised chin strap in this case, I spy a face made of shadowy and snow touched folage. The face has a tiny smile, a wide nose and dark wide set eyes. With the branches from the forefront tree it almost appears as though it is wearing a top hat, as seen on many a frosty the snowman story book. This picture is truly a story book one, as well as the relationship with your pets. They both warm the soul, even on an early snow kissed morning. Thank you for sharing both of them with us.

  23. David I could feel the claws, smell the tuna, and shivered from the snow. I will be praying for both of you and Chloe. We have a senior dog and cat and love them as family. Devil Cat can sense all is not right with your world. They are there for us with their unconditional love. Hugs to all of you.

  24. A beautiful tribute to Devil Cat. Chiaroscuro? Had to look that one up. Thanks for expanding my vocabulary – but I’ll forget it by tomorrow. No more room in the brain storage space. Wonder if I can buy a few more gigabytes.

  25. Your words brought tears to my eyes. Been there, done that. And I love cold and snow, too. Best to you and your kitties. :o)

  26. I enjoyed reading this. Our fur babies are amazing aren’t they? Sometimes they just know what we need even if we don’t. I do hope Chloe will be well soon.

    1. Joan, thank you. They are indeed amazing. We don’t expect Chloe to return to normal, but we do hope that she will be healthier for the time she has left. I just hope she’ll communicate to us when she’s ready. The thought of keeping a pet one day beyond when they’re ready is excruciatingly heartbreaking.

  27. David,
    What a lovely reminder of the amazing connection we are privileged to have with our pets. We can never go wrong if we listen to the animals and the children. Best wishes to you and family.

    1. “…the amazing connection we are privileged to have with out pets.” Indeed “privileged.” Sometime we forget our pets are more than just animals we bring into our lives. They’re represent another relationship that we build day to day. And, boy, how well they communicate in those relationships!

  28. It’s always good to receive the gift of recognizing a quiet beautiful moment, especially when things are bleak. Glad that Devil Cat was there to point it out to you, though next time I’d encourage him to skip the scratching. Love to you xo

    1. LOL, jenijen. Just what I need today. I was quite fortunate that Devil Cat was there. It allowed me just to let go. And now that I’m back with Chloe, and I’m having crying jags, I do feel a bit better. I think because of all that I got out that morning.

  29. I have only recently become a cat person after having distrusted them all my life. I think I got it from my mother who was forever yelling at neighborhood cats to get out of our yard and our sandbox when I was growing up.

    When we moved to NC from FL, we told The Universe that we were now open for pets, and we fully expected to get a dog. What we ended up with a mere five weeks after we moved into the new house–were three kittens. Which became 4, 5 and 6 as we started working with a cat rescue and fostering cats.

    And what I have come to know is that cats are magical.

    I read a quote over on a friend’s page–she had to have two of her lovely cats put down within a mere days of each other– “The furry little buggers are just deep, deep wells you throw your emotions into.” – Bruce Schimmel

    Thinking of you guys and of sweet Chloe, David.

    1. Jenni, I appreciate your stopping by and your words of comfort. And thank you again for letting me fall apart last night. (Google+ Hangouts now turn into therapy sessions!)

  30. This really touched me. Your writing is just lovely and I don’t know if I could ever express myself so eloquently. It’s so heartbreaking to have a sick animal. I’ve been there and it’s agonizing. I hope everything turns out ok with Chloe. I’m sending everyone virtual hugs.

  31. Oh David, I feel your pain. It is heartbreaking when animals are sick and in pain – I do hope your Chloe will be okay.

    My lovely wolfhound bitch had surgery on her nether regions this week to get a grass seed which had burrowed under her skin out. She now has an Elizabethan collar on her head (the Cone of shame) and a 6 inch incision with 8 stitches and 2 drains in her bum. Not life threatening, but painful and frustrating for her. Not to mention costly. No, we won’t mention that to The Husband.

    1. So sorry to hear about your wolfhound. All that from a grass seed, poor thing. I she’ll be okay. And, no, no need to mention anything to The Husband.

      And thank you for the kind wishes for Chloe. We so desperately hope the same thing.

  32. David,

    What an eloquent, poignant, and witty read. I kept wiping tears off my face yet laughing at the gunslinger kitty. What a great kitty, gun slinger with a heart of gold and an amazing “poppie”

    Hang in there, David, miraculous happenings are the norm rather than a rare event. So trust in the universe. With love and hugs. S

    1. Devil Cat is a great pet, and over the years of taming him has gone from a feral wild beast to a very loving lap cat.

      We’re trying to hang in there, Sita. It’s hard we feel so helpless.

  33. What a journalist
    It was like I was there with you……..
    Sorry you were alone
    I would have liked to have……….but, then again…………

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