Alamo Encounter 

Michael Crifasi

© Copyright 2001 by Michael Crifasi

Cats know nothing of the human condition, nor would they care if they did, I think. They are free animals, quite content to roam wherever and whenever they choose, with not a thought as to anything else’s concerns on the matter. They tread upon whatever gains their fancy, their only aims their own amusement, and occasionally, survival. Perhaps that is why we humans look upon them with such awe and such longing.

As I sit here in San Antonio, it was those thoughts that were passing through my head. I’m in the Alamo, one of the most somber reminders of human cruelty and destruction still standing upon American soil, (bravery as well, but we always remember the worst of it first, don’t we?), sitting on a bench across from the memorial wall. This is where I was able to find a much needed rest from trudging along after my companion through the old mission. My companion is quite the history buff, and appears so enwrapped in the experience, that he has not even noticed my absence from his flank. I am quite happy to be able to slip away, and I doubt if it would bother him at them moment if he knew.

It’s not as if I don’t understand or appreciate the depth and impact of this place, nor do I have anything but the deepest respect for those who gave their lives to let this place have a mark in history. It’s all just a little too heavy for me, leaving me feeling drab and depressed. I suppose I’m too emotional too look at it all objectively and with interest, it just seems too sad, so it brings me down.

So here I am, on a rather pleasant Sunday morn in San Antonio, looking at the mason walls and rich vegetation within this historic site, resting my weary legs, and feeling, well, a little down....

All of a sudden, I see it.

And I can hardly believe my eyes.

Making its way between the small ferns planted before the wall covered in maps and names, disappearing and reappearing behind the legs of tourists who pay it no attention, is a feline with smooth black fur and white patches. My heart lightens as I gaze in amazement at what seems to be such an out of place visitor. It stops and sits up, its tail swaying lazily from side to side behind it, right across from the little bench to which I have laid temporary claim.

I can still not get over my shock that such a creature would be found in this hallowed ground. I am also quite unaware that this new presence has swept away my disillusionment, although I’m sure some small part of my soul is very thankful for that. I sit up a little myself, interested in what the cat will do next.

It just continues to sit and stare at me, tilting its head a little too the side, as if amused more by my attention than I am surprised by its entrance. Its eyes have that squinted look that means in people that the sun is bothering them, in cats that they are either coming from, or on their way too, a delightful nap.

Ok, so we have acknowledged each others presence, but what now? Like too shy teenagers in the thralls of young love, .....we continue to sit there. I am in my own small way, a “cat person”, so I do what any person of that guild would do, I attempt dumbly to call it over to me.

I also continue to stare right at it, hoping that it can somehow sense in my stare that I am a companion, a kindred spirit. While my gaze holds its focus, I lift my right hand just the smallest bit from its perch upon my thigh and begin to rub the first two fingers and thumb together gently, in what I guess must be a universal cat call motion. I don’t really expect much out of it, it generally just leaves you feeling dumb as the cat eventually walks away to look for something more interesting to play with, like a bug, but it gives me something to do. something better than dwelling upon history of my own kind sometimes best left forgotten.

That’s when my new feline friend surprises me. After another look, head nod, and further squinting of its sea green eyes, it begins to walk towards me.

A few nearby tourists take casual notice, ( not my companion of course, he’s still too deeply entrenched in who shot at who where, and how many times.) Right now all my attention and consequential excitement is placed upon this strange cat, that somehow, I am getting to come and spend time with me.

It reaches me and stops. It then looks up at me with a curious stare and sits. I stare back and it seems like an eternity before I notice it doing the signature bunching up move cats do before the are about to spring up upon something. After a few good moments of preparation, it leaps onto the bench beside me.

The cat stands there for a moment, apparently still trying to decide if it really wants to trust me, holding its ears back and its body prone. Then cautiously, it leans forward, raises a paw with white ends like a sock, and lays it upon my leg. The rest of its limbs are soon to follow, and all of a sudden I have an unknown cat in a strange city going about the immediate business of rubbing against me and requesting petting attention. And who am I to deny that?

Rubbing behind its ears, under its neck, and along its back, I continue to be amazed of this small miracle. Maybe I just like cats more than the next person, maybe I just crave companionship, but regardless, I tell you, this cat purring under my touch is bringing me more happiness than anything else I have come upon today.

People have turned to look. Passerbys who have happened to witness the encounter comment softly about the cuteness of the situation. It’s the same reaction the newborn brought into the relatives room for the first time receives. Now the whole congregation of people about the wall are watching our interaction, even my companion, who is also my father ( and finally looking like it as he raises the camera for what I note in my mind as sure to be a refrigerator masterpiece when we get back home). I don’t need to look up from my endeavor, and the contented feline pays no heed to anything but finding the best angle from which to receive maximum strokeage, but I think we both feel the power of what our simple action of trust has accomplished.

A whole group of strangers: young couples, old gentlemen, and the occasional wide eyed child, have turned from their attempts to feel the impact of one of their kind’s tragic events, to the greatness of an everyday event at hand. They have been taken from their distance and been brought together by seeing two alien parties come together over nothing but pure goodwill, and the wish for some simple enjoyment. And in those minutes, not one of them has a care in the world that they can remember, and nor do I.

I pet the cat some more, and eventually the bliss passes, (people never let themselves be happy for too long, they have been taught too well to feel guilty when they leave their problems behind). The onlookers move on, my father turns back to his wall and his names. After a final look, he begins to move on too, telling me warmly that it’s time we finished our tour.

A sadness washes over me as I finally admit to myself that I will eventually have to leave this new friend. Still it is totally unlike the cloudy haze that had gripped me before the cat strolled so casually into my life. It is a bittersweet twinge in my soul, a knowledge that while leaving it to continue its roaming and care free life will hurt, I will always carry the memory that we spent this magical time together, and for a a while our experience touched lives other than our own.

I stroke its length one more time and then stop. It opens its eyes and looks up to me, and I swear it was saying without having to speak, that, yes, it understood everything I had thought and felt, and that the impact had been the same for it too. It’s as if it understood and accepted it better than I myself in that infinite wisdom any cat person can tell you felines have. The hope from that thankful gaze, I think, I will keep with me always.

I set the cat down and after a final grazing of my legs, it moves on, tail raised and swaying gracefully.

I rise and smile after it, thanking it in my mind and wishing it a good journey, whatever that may be. I move on, feeling all the better that it had touched my life, however briefly, and believe for the moment, at least, that somehow, everything, from now on, will be ok.

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