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San Antonio, Texas

July 3, 2011


Dear Readers,

I was out walking my dogs on the river this morning when my neighbor called out from his backyard behind a cloud of smoke where he was getting the barbeque started. "You're just who I was looking for," Dave the Cowboy said. "I'm sorry to tell you this, but you ran over your black cat." 

Of course, this startled me, because I do indeed drive a rather silent hybrid car and do own a black cat, but then I realized he was talking about the scraggly stray who made our shared driveway his home. I was horrified, but remembered I'd pulled into the empty driveway yesterday afternoon and hadn't moved the car since. Also, the dead cat was lying behind my car. It's likely it was struck last evening on our busy street and staggered "home" to die.

I checked on my own black cat, Apolonia, first, and was relieved to find her asleep in her office throne same as always. It was Gabino Barrera who was dead. His real name was Cinder. The neighbors down the block owned him. He lived under their house until the winter cold arrived and some bigger cats pushed him out.

That was a few years ago. Since then he'd been hanging out over here in the dead-end street my neighbors and I share as a driveway, even though we both have enough dogs to wake up the dead. I had taken Gabino to the vet to get him neutered and had paid for his shots, and that's when I found out Gabino was someone's pet, because he was already neutered. That didn't matter, he seemed to belong to no one, and never could find a house that would let him in.

Gabino Barrera hung out wherever he could find attention, greeting me in my driveway, or sometimes jumping the fence and hanging out on my front porch. In the winter, he even made an appearance in my office through the pet door, and it took a while before I realized he was an intruder, because from a distance he looks like Apolonia until you noticed his mangy face.

He had a freckly face from mold caught from the soil. The vet gave me medicine that required application three times a day, but who even saw Gabino that often? His owners left a bowl of food on the porch, but that's about it. He wandered up and down our block, skinny as a shadow, with a face as flat as a snake's and a meow that was more howl than hello. I wished I could take him in, but I already have three cats who dislike one another, and too many dogs who dislike the cats.

Pobrecito Gabino. Just looking at his dusty fur made you itchy. I don't know where he went to drink water except maybe down the back to the river. Sometimes I put a box with towels out for him in the winter, but he ignored it and preferred sleeping in Dave's old truck or in Dave's half-covered boat moored in our driveway. Both were dry and safe.

Gabino Barrera's grave marker. Photo ©2011 Sandra Cisneros

Gabino Barrera's grave marker. Photo ©2011 Sandra Cisneros

This morning I tried calling Gabino's owners to come and retrieve the body, but they didn't answer and are most likely out of town. In the end, my associate Bill Sanchez came over, and he and Dave dug a hole behind my fence on the river side in a nice spot under a huisache tree beside nopales and flower vines. Bill scooped the body with a shovel and carried it over to the grave, and Dave arranged the cat so he didn't look too uncomfortable in the little bed we'd made for him. I gathered some orange vine flowers and chokeberries into a bouquet and tossed those in before we blanketed him with dirt. It made me sad he'd lived like trash. I wasn't about to let him be tossed into the trash at his death.
The writer/educator Amada Irma Perez told a story about how when her class found a road-kill, she taught the class a prayer of gratitude, to thank the animal for his life and to send him on. It was a beautiful prayer I haven't forgotten and which I chant silently when I'm on the road and have to avert my eyes from feathers or fur on the asphalt. So today as we gathered stones to place on Gabino's grave to keep any other animals from digging him up and placed a borrowed marker there, I said my own silent prayer. Thank you, Gabino Barrera. You asked for little and were grateful for little. You belonged to no one and to everyone. I hope your spirit is at rest. 


July 4, 2011

Today on our morning walk along the river, Peanut discovered a turtle in the water with a beautiful green and yellow shell the size of a child's bike helmet. It moved too quickly, sending up tornadoes of mud, and hid under a patch of moss, but only its head was covered. I had to call Peanut away, though she was as frightened as the turtle.

We had a lovely time sitting on the lap of the Texas Cypress tree, the sacred one near where the river bends at Constance and Crofton. No matter how terrified or sad I am, this tree is like that cloud of moss the turtle hid under. Nothing can hurt me there. Sometimes folks on the opposite shore ride by on their bikes and wave.

They're always in a hurry to be somewhere. But the dogs and I are at home under its branches. It reminds us to just be.

If I'm lucky, I can lie back and look up at the sky through the tree's green and take in some of its strength and calm. When I was little the trees told me many things, because I was ready to listen. Now when I'm terrified I go there to see if they can guide me back to myself. I always feel better afterwards.

Chamaco lapped up the sky and clouds on the skin of the river, and the water quivered like the flank of a horse flicking flies. His narrow tongue created circles that grew out and out to include the silos on the opposite shore and the world beyond the shore.

They say the fluttering wings of a butterfly can disrupt the weather on the other side of the world. Climbing uphill carrying the sun, I thought of this. How I am sensitive as water, wind. So are we all, all human beings, all things human or otherwise.

abrazos fuertes, fuertes,