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Jenny and Tzippy and that aching middle place

Of mothers and daughters, and cats and kittens, and that time of maturity when surely we will all get along

I didn’t tell you about Jenny, our kitten Tzippy’s mom.

A lovely tortoise shell cat with huge golden eyes.

She needed a home, and I wanted to give her one.

(I’m all about the mother-daughter relationship these days – and I thought it would be nice to bring them back together.)

I guess you can say it’s all part of being in the achey middle space of the pandemic, missing my family – especially my mom, and wishing – more than anything – I could talk to her.

She died before I really got to know her. I was still a kid, really, and I was never able to know her through my grownup eyes.

I was never able to look at the different shades and shadows of our relationship — looking at her was like staring at the sun, into bright, blinding light — either all good and loving, or all evil and destructive — she was never anything in between. Never human.

But I get it now.

She was human.

She was human.

And I would give half of what’s left of my life to have my mother back for one day – to talk to her, to understand her, to know what frustrated her, what made her smile, what she dreamed about, what she gave up when she had me.

(If you’ve also lost a parent at a young age, you know what I mean.)

I’m also in the achey middle space with my daughter – she’s 12.5. And I am either all good or all evil — never anything in between. Never human, either.

I know it’s normal, and part of growing up – to carve your own space and claim it with claws and teeth barred.

After all, I did.

But I thought maybe if I could bring Jenny and Tzippy together again, I could bridge that achey middle space between MY mother and MY daughter – that aching maw inside me that stares back into me with unfathomable eyes.

The thing is, cat’s aren’t like us. They don’t remember. Once a kitten leaves her nest, within weeks she forgets her mother’s smell, and they become strangers, even foes.

And sure enough, the first night that Jenny came to live with us, Tzippy arched her back, her pupils turned to huge black pools, her little fangs and claws barred.

Her mother responded in kind.

So we tried to take it slow between them.

We kept Jenny in the kitchen with her food and water and litter box and toys and special blanket. We kept the room as quiet as possible. She hissed and hid behind the oven.

I would come in periodically and just sit quietly so she could get used to my smell and my sound.

She’d come out to eat, then hiss at me, and run for cover.

Meanwhile, her daughter would stand on the other side of the kitchen door, her back arched, and she’d hiss at the space beneath.

But she is a wild one, that Jenny – a cat of the street, of silver pavement glistening in the rain. of gilded window sills and hiding out in flower boxes. A cat of the street, and the wind and the clouds and eating leftover takeout from garbage cans — Thai, or Italian… maybe sushi. A cat of the street who knew the sound of cars and buses, the thud of 10,000 footsteps, the rattle of an old garbage truck.

A cat who answered to no name, and no person.

And when she would creep out from behind the oven, she would stare longingly at the window.

Her daughter would sit on the other side of the door and yowl and hiss.

Jenny would hiss back.

On the third morning, the window was open. And the screen was torn. And she was gone.

My daughter shook her fist at the sky and screeched at me, her back arched.

“HOW COULD YOU?’

As though I had done it on purpose.

As though I popped open the window and tore the hole in the screen.

As though – the evil mother, wicked witch, she-beast that I am! – had somehow orchestrated the entire thing just to break her heart.

“HOW COULD YOU!!” she yowled.

“I’m sorry,” was all I could say, my heart in my stomach.

She stalked off.

She walked through our village looking for Jenny, crying her name.

But she is a wild one, that Jenny. A cat of the streets, now of the open road, running through fields with the wind and the clouds, and she answers to no one and to no name.

We left food and water for her outside, but she didn’t come back.

We’d see her from time to time with the other cats in the village.

Tzippy now sleeps on Jenny’s special blanket.

And I haven’t seen Jenny in a while even though I look every single day.

And today was a hard day — a hot day — a sticky middle day as summer grinds on, and the number of COVID cases rise, and I miss my mom and I’m fighting with my daughter.

But tonight while I washed the dishes my daughter came into the kitchen and sat down.

“Hey Mom, guess what?” she asked.

“What?”

“I think I saw Jenny today,” she said.

“That’s great, baby.”

“Yeah. I’m really glad.”

“Me too!”

I finished the last of the dishes and sat next to her at the wooden table.

“You know, I was thinking,” she said, “Maybe when Tzippy is 40 years old, she will go to a pub somewhere and meet Jenny and maybe then they’ll recognize each other and get get know each other all over again.”

“I like that. It sounds perfect.” I answered.

“Maybe we can do that, too.” she said.

“Oh, you want to wait that long?” I asked, and winked.

“We’ll see,” she smiled.

And winked back.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered and the New Media Editor at Times of Israel, She was raised in Venice Beach, California on Yiddish lullabies and Civil Rights anthems. She now lives in Israel with her two kids where she climbs roofs, explores cisterns, opens secret doors and talks to strangers, and writes stories about people. Sarah also speaks before audiences left, right, and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau, asking them to wrestle with important questions while celebrating their willingness to do so. She also loves whisky and tacos and chocolate chip cookies and old maps and foreign coins and discovering new ideas from different perspectives. Sarah is a work in progress.
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