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Commentary: Bandit (A Boy and His Cat)

Madisonville author Patricia Wiles returns as a WKMS commentator after a hiatus of many years. She reflects on "Bandit," the story of her son and his cat, from kitten to college.

Bandit

Patricia Wiles

Bandit was born in the spring of 2002. His mama was a wanderer who had already given birth at least once. Of the strong, feisty, healthy kittens in the litter, my son chose the tiny ball of quivering black fur with a stub tail and green eyes big as lima beans. “I know how it feels to be the runt,” my son said as he cradled the little one in his hands. Bandit came to live with us partly because I wanted a cat, but mostly because I believed my 15-year- old son -- who was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes a few months before -- needed a distraction. High school is stressful enough without mixing in a chronic illness and all the medications, restrictions, and misunderstandings that come with it.

In the beginning, Bandit got the tender newborn baby treatment. He was cuddled and snuggled and swaddled and spoiled. My son spent many afternoons in the rocking chair, Bandit sleeping contentedly against his chest. But kittens, like children, grow up quickly. Soon Bandit was ready to do his own thing, and so was his best buddy. As Bandit set out to stake his claim on our indoor territory, my son set out on a white water rafting trip to West Virginia, proving to himself and his mother that insulin could travel safely just about anywhere and that it was indeed possible to tame the diabetes lion.

Each boy matured into new roles. The human boy got a job and a driver’s license and began preparations for college. The feline boy patrolled the house at night on stealthy paws, watched for rogue squirrels congregating outside the windows, and developed defense tactics to deal with the annoying older sisters who came home for visits.

Then came the first goodbye. The car was loaded down with the essentials of dorm living -- the minifridge, the guitar and banjo, the jars of peanut butter, the laundry baskets and towels and sets of twin sheets. Before leaving for college, my son gathered Bandit in his arms for a long, good-natured nuzzle before closing the door on his childhood.

After that, even the most ordinary goodbyes seemed to upset Bandit. I’d leave for work, feeling guilty as his hopeless meows echoed in my ears. I’d come home and be greeted by hoarse yowling which, translated, meant, “I have languished in the bowels of despair, alone, desolate, abandoned for hours on end by those in whom I have trusted.”

Over the years goodbyes have gotten easier for Bandit – in fact, he usually sleeps through them. But the truth is – and I suspect Bandit knows this -- the goodbyes are getting harder for me. I may not yowl like my paws are on fire, but my heart hurts a little more each time I part from my daughters and their husbands, my son and daughter-in-law, and our six sweet grandchildren. Airports, once gateways to adventure, are now launchpads for family reunions as we depart for western cities where our grandchildren reside. They’re also bittersweet stops where we cling to our darlings before they depart for home.

Bandit came to our family as our last child transitioned to adulthood. He’s paced the empty nest with us, and is now coasting with us toward life’s next phase. Today, he’s 64 in people years. He’s lost a fang or two, his tummy waddles when he walks, and he sleeps a lot – so much that he often doesn’t notice when we leave. But when we come home at the end of the day he’s waiting at the door, not ashamed to let us know, once again, we’ve been away too long.

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