This I Believe–I Believe in Scamp

Melody - Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
Entered on September 13, 2007

Scamp was born to violence, neglect and abandonment. Scamp was born in Brooklyn. Latino Brooklyn. loud, dirty, crowded, poor, mangos and coconuts spilling off boxes, taco meat frying in gigantic saucers, free-floating “f” words and in-your-face-bass, bigger and bigger gold hoops and crosses, every color of skin in pedestrian seas of disconsolate heat and beauty. Scamp was born in a rough hood in a rough town.

He was black, all black. The color suited him, Santa Ria saint, Egyptian god, voodoo dude, a real tough guy. His entrance and exit from our lives were equally dramatic, gifted with the violence nobody can take from the poor. But his entrance and exit were also comic, as the dark lamp of slapstick belongs here, too. Scamp, though, was no social statistic. Scamp was just a cat, a valuable, lucky black cat. I hid him at Halloween, for this was a neighborhood where cats, when they weren’t thrown out, could be sacrificed to gods, those old African gods by way of the Caribbean. Stuff white ladies like me don’t understand. There was power in that cat.

Nothing’s worse than sentimental journeys about a pet…how he purred, etc. Scamp was the antithesis of sentimental, purring like a Harley, wild and head-strong, tearing down curtains to get to alley cats, secreting presents in the basement. No plate of food was safe on the table. After we moved to the suburbs, he scandalized the new hood with decapitated birds and offerings of sewer rats–in a place where there weren’t supposed to be sewer rats, where bird feeders tweeter on clean-swept porches. Scamp lived for a cantankerous 21 years, and, when I put him down, it was the end of an era for me. Somehow, he was the soul of Brooklyn and the soul of a time when anything was possible, when white ladies like me believed we could understand, when I could live in a ghetto with little worse than daily annoyance besetting me, when I believed that vision was the single most important thing.

Scamp was a menace and terrifyingly loyal. All testicles, he came by the howl. He started low, stretched out to a long peak that reached the end of the block, and died down only to rise again, a firehouse siren pitched for the length of the day. I was in no mood for this. I had just closed on my first house, had picked up my cat dead of feline leukemia from the vet, and my first order of business was to bury kitty in the yard. I was young, sentimentally-cursed, and in mourning for kitty #1. In other words, I was a sucker. I picked up this tiny black ball and looked for the “off” button. House to house I went, with a suddenly quiet kitten. “Es su gato?”–I asked. “No, no es mi gato,” came the replies. I would soon learn the first line of survival here: nobody had seen or heard a thing. So, he became mine, yowling till I called out for him to follow, room to room. He would not be left alone. He had to be in the lap, on my desk, on the tub, sleeping on me, even on the step ladder while I painted, balancing as I moved it, an acrobat of proximity.

He calmed down, and we were domestic. He lasted longer than my marriage, and I was residence in his house longer than I lived with anyone. When I drove to put him down, a wild storm broke out, and trees were blasted up and down the hood, a proper suburb where they make good schools, where blonde Moms line the playground to whisk the future college-bound into the SUV ride to sports and Irish dancing. Scamp stood at the window of the vet’s, balancing on the sill, looking out, as though orchestrating the wild. My sycamore tree, a towering giant, was split from the top, like the temple curtain. Heirloom maples and oaks were upside down, clotting the streets. I had reached a point in my life where I valued fewer storms, tree-lined streets, and what high taxes bring. I no longer thought anything were possible, that I could always understand, or that vision was the most important thing. But I did observe power and situation over the years. And as I said, Scamp was a powerful cat. It’s all about where you are and how fast or loud you are, Scamp showed, eyeing the storm in his final moments, purring as trees split and the disruption he was heir to waved, swayed, howled, and flew. The clean up is still going on. Of course, Scamp wouldn’t have had it any other way, and, in spite of my concessions, I believe, still, in a couple of things–like his mess, his spectacular dark. I believe in his big Brooklyn mouth. I have a vision of this furry black fury surfing the worst storm this tidy place has seen since no-one-remembers-when. I believe in disruption, little hellions, the beauty of disorder. I believe in hearing them, the buddhas of our discontent, in seeing the abandoned, the trash, the inconvenient, what we don’t own up to. On my safe plot, the roofers are hammering the golden day long, and I can’t think, blessed with as I am with disorder. I believe that all my life I’ve been on the outside, a roofer, too, of sorts–cobbling life together. Like everyone here, I’m skilled at the fiction of control, calling chaos the other guy. Scamp was one ball of paramount disorder and supreme good luck, and he taught me they belong together, untidying assumptions, messing up exclusions, unsilencing the partnership of power and chaos, letting the cat out of the bag.