Saturday, March 9, 2013

March 9, Mikiko!

This is Mikiko, my friend Maggie's companion, who lives with her now in New York, and has quite an amazing story~ in Maggie's words~
I met Mikiko in October 1999, when I was teaching English in Japan.  Walking with a group of coworkers on a late evening in a rural town, I had just spent that evening at a Shinto shrine to enjoy a ceremony led  by one of my fellow high school teachers, who was also a high ranking Shinto priest in the local community. The ceremony was called a “full moon viewing ceremony,” a fall ritual that honors the fall harvest moon.

 As we walked from the Shinto shrine to the train station I was walking a bit ahead of the group. Walking past a tree I heard a meow and thought, “I cannot take care of a cat. I am visiting. I should not pay attention to this cat.” I kept walking. A few moments later I realized all the people I had been walking with had stopped at the tree and were looking up at the little kitten. She was hard to ignore because she was meowing loudly. I walked back to the group. After a short discussion, I put my coworker Megume on my shoulders to reach the kitten. At 5’ 10” I was almost twice the size of Megume, so putting her on my shoulders was easy. As Megume took the kitten from the tree she gave her to me. I placed her in my hat.

 I named the kitten “Mikiko” as we walked to the train station, recalling a discussion earlier in the day. I had been learning the personal names of our fellow teachers. Typically teachers were referred to through their family names, such as Yoshida-sensei or Murakami-sensei. On that day I had learned that Murakami-sensei’s personal name was Mikiko, which meant either “tree trunk girl” or “beautiful tree girl.” As we walked with our group to the train, kitten held in my hat, I decided the kitten should be named “Mikiko.” Everyone joked with me that this was my cat, but I denied the idea. I wanted to find her a good home.

 In fact, I was forbidden to have animals in my apartment and as part of my contract as an English teacher at the school. Megume and I decided that we should announce finding the kitten at the school to see if we could find someone to adopt her. The next week, Megume told the story of finding Mikiko in Japanese at our morning teacher’s meeting. I heard the 40 teachers of school laugh at each telling of the story. Megume explained how we were at the full moon viewing ceremony of our fellow teacher, how I had put Megume on my shoulders, and how we had named the kitten after our fellow teacher Mikiko Murakami. Megume told the story several times over several weeks. Each time she asked if someone would adopt the cat.

With time it became clear that no one was going to adopt Mikiko from me. It became unspoken knowledge that I had this kitten. My Japanese friends joked that Mikiko spoke English, so she must stay  with me. I love cats and had several when I was growing up. However, in my early youth I had adopted two cats while briefly living in Alaska and I had horrible memories of not being able to find them an  alternative home when I left. I don’t know what happened to those cats, but I had no choice but to put them in a “pound” when I left Alaska. That memory haunted me. I was afraid that I would not be able to take care of Mikiko.

Mikiko and I have been together for almost 14 years now. After spending two years together in Japan with few visitors we had established an intimate relationship. From Japan we flew to New York City (26 hours travel, she only meowed once). In New York we lived in a brownstone in Harlem and a loft in Brooklyn, with a few other temporary arrangements before and after. After my mother’s death, we moved to Minnesota for three years. While in Minnesota Mikiko ran free at a friend’s home near the St. Croix river and got lost, hiding for a night underneath my friend’s home. I think she had a great time at the river. I believe Mikiko enjoyed our time in Minnesota most of all the places we have lived together. While there she enjoyed many sunny days in beautiful homes with hardwood floors and views that showed her the tops of trees. She still likes to climb to high places. I still hope to give her similar experiences now that we have returned to New York.

Mikiko and I sleep together every night, as we have since the night I brought her home. Every time I turn at night, Mikiko changes where she sleeps. She always wants to spoon against my neck with her head positioned a certain way on my pillow. This makes it hard for me to sleep, but I love her for it. I sometime joke she is my “ball and chain” and my “lesbian lover.” Yet, it is my attachment to my small companion that gives me a sense of home.

My friends often remark that Mikiko is unusually attached to me. I think this is because she was almost the size of my hand when we met in 1999, so she was probably very young. She is still a small cat, weighing only 5 pounds. She is a maneki-neko, otherwise known as the “lucky cat.” Her breed is three-colored tortoise shell. You may have seen ceramic versions of her cat breed sitting in shop windows to beckon people inside. Maneki-neko are meant to bring wealth and good fortune.

Mikiko has been my companion through many moments, from my parent’s deaths to my graduation from a master’s program, to lovely gatherings with friends. Recently Mikiko has developed kidney disease. Little  by little I realize she has become a senior. I am committed to giving her the highest quality of life possible in our last few years together. It’s hard for me to imagine daily life without Mikiko, but when the time comes I will have fond memories of her. I tell her often that I have never loved a cat the way I love her. Even if another cat comes into my life in the future, I think my love for Mikiko will be unique. Like the Little Prince’s flower who tortured him because he loved her so much, Mikiko is my rose among many roses.
 I hope I am like the Little Prince’s fox for her. I am tamed because I return to the same place and she is always there.

1 comment:

Maggie Jarry said...

I love how you used colors in these two portraits. The green and purple are so complimentary. I plan to hang these together as a set. I have been really looking forward to this and I am very pleased. Thank you!