The Story of Tas, Part 1: Hello There
After 9/11, my wife and I were deeply affected, like everyone else in America. All we could do is watch the news, be scared, and theorize about other possible attacks. We were absolute zombies for a week, the TV or the radio, depending on whether we were at home or at work, blaring recriminations, guesses, concerns. We were being driven mad by inches, one channel and one station at a time.
A few weeks prior, in the sunny summer of 2001, I met a man down the block by way of one of his children. When walking back from work one afternoon, a small boy, no more than 6 years old perhaps, skidded his bike to a tumbling stop right at my feet. Shocked and concerned, I said “You alright?”, to which the boy meekly replied “No”, in a soft and hurt little voice.
I reached down, pulled him and the bike apart and set him on his feet. “Can you walk home with this bike?” I asked him. “No” he said again. I held out my hand, and asked him where he lived. He took my hand and pointed to a house just up the street. I picked up the bike, and held his hand while he limped next to me. As we got closer to the house, I saw another child look at us and go running into the house yelling “Dad!”
We came up to the front of the property as ‘Dad’, whom I came to know as Roger, came running out. He looked over his son, and seeing him covered in dirt and scratches, sent him into the house to get checked out by his mother. Roger thanked me, and we engaged in some polite conversation. I was new to the neighborhood, and kept to myself, so Roger was the first neighbor I had met. By way of our pleasant conversation, he informed me that he had a cat that had just had kittens. Now, we lived in a small apartment, and had one cat already, but for some reason, I thought getting a kitten might not be such a far out thing, a gift for my new wife. We made an arrangement, that when the kittens were 6 weeks old, I could stop by and have my pick.
Two weeks later was September 11th, 2001. My wife and I were going slowly insane with the news coverage. I was also informed by my employer that I would be taking a trip to a place called Quince Orchard, Maryland, right outside Washington DC. I wasn’t too worried about it. I looked at it (perhaps perversely) like the lead character played by Robin Williams in The World According to Garp, who while viewing a home for sale, witnesses a small plane smash right into the front of the house. He immediately insists on buying the house, and his explanation to his wife is ”Honey, the chances of another plane hitting this house are astronomical. It’s been pre-disastered”. But, I was more worried about leaving my wife alone while I’m visiting a ‘target’ for my job.
On the weekend prior to my trip, I stepped out of the apartment, and ran down the street to Roger’s house. Roger wasn’t home, but his wife was there, and thankfully she was informed I would be coming for a kitten. The only concern she had was that I was early. The kittens were only 4 weeks old, not six, as we had agreed upon. I told her, and truthfully so, that I had taken care of a motherless kitten from at least that age, and that I knew how to care of one so young. She agreed to let me in to see the kittens.
The house itself was mad, but pleasantly so. The little boy was there, along with his 3 sisters, ages a year above, and 1 and 2 years below him, all playing happily with 5 adorable kittens. Mom quieted the kids, and told them I was there to take one of the kittens to a new home. A resounding “aw!” of disappointment went up from the children at the idea that one of their smaller playmates would be leaving, but the little boy thankfully vouched for me.
“Ok, let him see the kitties so he can pick the one he wants” said Mom. I moved closer to where the kids were playing, and got down on the floor by a cardboard box. Inside the box was Momma Cat, and 5, no 6, little ones. The last was very small and tucked under his mother, hiding presumably from the children. I reached down to pet each of the kittens, and of course Mamma Cat first, lest one offend. I settled on the smallest one, and slowly picked him up from his mother. He mewed lightly, so I held him close so he wouldn’t think he was going to fall. “I think I will take this one.” I said, and was met by another load “aw!”, having apparently picked a favored kitten. The oldest little girl said to me “His name is Tiny”, and I told her “That certainly suits him!”
I bid fair well to the gaggle of children and their lovely mother, and headed back up the street. Now the most important part of any gift is Presentation. I’m sometimes lacking in this area of my gift giving, and at this particular moment, I hadn’t thought any farther ahead than ”Step 1. Get Kitten”. I looked at my new little friend, and concluded he would be the perfect size for the pocket of my Hawaiian shirt. I tucked him in to my pocket, making sure his head was sticking properly out the top, also that he had some wiggle room, and proceeded back to the apartment.
It took my wife all of 5 seconds to see I had something in my pocket. I gave myself away by the very act of leaving the apartment on a Saturday to tell the truth. If an anti-social homebody leaves the house on a weekend, he is probably up to something. My wife seeing the kitten, drew the biggest smile. She was thrilled, and I was twice as happy for it.
It was a few days before we had settled on a name. The only suggestion I recall other than the winning one was Shere Kahn from The Jungle Book, expressly for the reason that I envisioned myself so frustrated from some level of destruction caused by this kitten in the future that I would be forced to cast my face skyward and yell “KAHN!!!!!” like Captain Kirk from Star Trek 2. Ultimately, we choose a more personal name for him: Tas. Tasslehoff Burrfoot. A name taken from a story book for a mischievous character, thief yet hero. A name I had taken on as a pseudonym many years previous. I figured I was done having fun with it, and maybe he would enjoy it. So Tas it was.
Tas watched over my wife while I was in Maryland the following week. The news was still there, but then, so was our new friend. And where the world would have had us run and hide behind sheets of plastic and duct tape, Tas wanted for nothing more than belly rubs, playtime with loose bits of string, and the occasional attempts at affection toward the older cat Simbe, which she didn’t want, but from which he would not be deterred. Our 9/11 kitten came to save us from ourselves.