…these are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.
— Herman Melville, Moby Dick
There are times when I ponder how much of the predator I take for granted, how safe I assume myself to be when in the presence of master hunters. But years of love and pure trust cannot restrain the killers hiding behind gentle purrs.
When Grendel began suffering from debilitating asthma attacks—before we knew what was happening, we visited a veterinary specialist to have an ultrasound performed. Our fear? Cardiomyopathy. The prognosis included an unrecoverable illness and a short life.
Standing in a room of cold metal furniture and porcelain tile, where even the fluorescent light cast pale shadows made of sickly forms, tears welled up in my eyes as I pondered the future of Sponge, of the cat who knew no strangers.
Curtly, as though describing some experimental object with no feelings, the doctor explained how the exam would be performed and what I should expect. I made clear then that Grendel should be given anesthesia. The doctor disagreed.
He called for a veterinary assistant to help manage the situation, after which I placed Grendel on a slab of metal and told him everything would be alright.
But I lied, something I did not know at the time.
The moment the vet turned on the clipping shears to shave away a bit of fur to make way for the ultrasound equipment, my little tiger became a ferocious beast.
All four paws pierced the doctor’s hands with splayed claws expertly utilized, each sinking deep and penetrating flesh until the vet dared not move. And in the blink of an eye this gentle feline turned and bit through to the bone of one the of the veterinary assistant’s hands.
Meanwhile, I tried my best to calm and sooth the savage beast, to assure him no harm was meant and no harm would occur. This had the unfortunate side effect of placing one of my hands directly in the path of destruction.
Grendel’s teeth pierced my skin and went clean through to the other side of my hand—from both directions.
Then in the blink of an eye, a movement so quick as to be invisible to we humans, he released each of us, stood, turned, leaped from the table, scurried to the opposite side of the room, and promptly sat in a corner and watched us with the same compassion-filled eyes I’ve come to expect from him. It was as though he immediately regretted the mayhem, that he understood the cries of pain were caused by him. . .and he found it distasteful.
As for me, I could see clean through my hand. Two holes made for a perfect view.
Needless to say, the doctor followed my advice and used anesthesia (gas) to ensure a less deadly exam. He also assured me he would not report the wounds to the state as required by law, especially considering they resulted purely from his own negligence and failure to abide by my wishes. Good thing, too, for I would have owned that veterinary clinic before it was over.
But the point is this: Melville was right about how we too often ignore the dangers lurking beneath the dreamy quietude. Whether it be the ocean, a thunderstorm, raging rapids, or a beloved animal sharing our home, we must respect nature, respect what she can do without warning. We must always respect the beast she represents.
Do I ever fear Grendel? Or the other cats? Of course not. Even at that moment when I stood looking through my hand watching blood waterfall into the sink, I knew he meant no harm. We caused the episode. He merely acted in self-defense like all living things would.
Yet even now when I think of that moment, I realize within each of The Kids rests a slayer who only several thousand years ago was a wild animal, and that wild animal still lies within, wrestling just under the surface for the right trigger to set it free. Thus is nature.