“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”—Wm. Shakespeare, “Macbeth”
I am here to give my sorrow words. I am here to tell our sweet Bamalam’s story, or at least the part of her story we know.
In the summer of 2009 I was addressed by a cat loitering near the shed across from the post office on Willow Street. She was the most vocal cat I’d ever met, and I was sure she was trying to tell me something. She let me rub her head and neck, and as I did so, I remarked on her beauty. She was a street cat, I could tell, thin and with a ragged, matte-black coat, but exceedingly friendly and with startling green eyes. Her outgoing, talkative nature, I soon discerned, was well known to the denizens along that stretch of East Pacific Avenue. The cat even inspired a letter to the editor of this paper written by a woman from Georgia, who, on a hike up Bear Creek, was taken by the talkative cat and implored readers to find it a home.
The cold months eased in, and Pacific Avenue resident and avowed cat-lover, Ellen Toland, aka ET, took it upon herself to pluck the friendly cat from the streets and place it inside the Telluride Marshal’s Department’s animal control vehicle. The Dearly Beloved was a deputy marshal at the time and let me know the cat who’d charmed me in the summer was now prowling around the patrol room, still homeless, but at least warm and fed. However, she would not be able to stay there over the weekend — could we take her in? It would be a temporary arrangement, I was assured. Despite my misgivings — we had a cat, notoriously aloof and averse to intrusions — I agreed. We kept her confined so she wouldn’t run off, and she prowled the windowsills and shut doorways, begging to be set free. By then, we were smitten — it’s inevitable — and had decided if she wanted to stay she was more than welcome. By Sunday, her cries ever more plaintive, I decided to cast fate to the heavens and let her out. After she inspected the immediate surroundings, she sashayed right back in, and we breathed a sigh of relief. She liked us!
Our new feline companion was a mystery. She was chipped, but it was blank. No clue who she had once belonged to, or who abandoned her. Her fur, we discovered, was beautiful and unusual, black-tipped with a soft grey base. The internet told us she was a smoke. She also shed like a December blizzard, and we surmised this extraordinary off-loading of downy fur could have led her previous human to banish her to Telluride’s mean streets. Bad human.
Once she chose us, we named her. We’d been calling her Black Kitty, but that wouldn’t do. Rock ’n’ roll junkie that I am, I’d been singing the Ram Jam hard rock nugget, “Woh-oh Black Kitty, bamalam,” on repeat, subbing Black Kitty for the song’s title vixen, Black Betty. Bamalam stuck.
Her insinuation into our household’s rhythm was effortless. She left our retiring Miss Ella alone and exhibited her lifelong affection for our laps. Come summer, she proved herself an adept hunter. Our housemate, Decline, called her Killer, but she was only doing what living on the streets had ingrained in her, endless kibble notwithstanding. I imagine starving beings never assume there will be a next meal. In her first months with us, her weight ballooned until she sensed she didn’t need to clean out her bowl each time it was set before her. She settled into her true self in our home — lithe, strong, glossy-coated, emerald-eyed.
What impressed us was her sweetness. Indeed, the word Sweet often preceded Bamalam. Having a home and reliable food and vet care and accommodating laps quieted her, save for dinnertime excitement or return-from-work greetings. The sentences I heard at the post office that warm summer day were stilled by contentment. We had given her what she had been asking for.
The more we got to know her, the more anger I felt toward whoever had abandoned her. While it was true that grossly unfeeling act on someone’s part had been our reward, I could not help but feel dismayed that this astoundingly good-natured, affectionate cat had been left to fend for herself. We wielded lint brushes for our clothes, and good humor for the constant vacuuming.
If we are lucky, we will outlive our furred companions. In 2015, we laid Miss Ella to rest. By then, we’d added another cat to the menagerie, a kitten named Flip, taken home from an adoption event in front of the thrift shop. Daughter-Friend pointed to a crazed-looking tabby clinging upside down from the top of the little shade tent protecting an adorable litter from the sun, and we, at great peril to our skin and clothing, brought her into the fold. Bam, with cool precision and lightning fast paws, taught the little hellcat — who’d been orphaned at just days old and raised by a saint of a woman in Paonia — how to be a cat.
We don’t know how old Bammers was when she let us know it was time to leave us. In 2009, the vet’s best guess was she was anywhere from 3 to 7, so, on Dec. 31, when Daughter-Friend and I stroked her fur as she breathed her last, she was perhaps nearing 20. I promised her I would tell her story. It’s a story of abandonment, a forever home and the kind of enrichment that can only come from a good cat.