The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
And love and loyalty would pour out with that look, and as long as I had that, there was very little the human race could do to harm my self-esteem. – Lewis Grizzard
In my early years of marriage, every person asked me about having babies. Don’t do this. It is a strange thing that people encourage other people to saddle themselves with offspring. Marriage is one kind of human condition. Parenthood is distinctly another. Marriage was enough during those years. I never once dreamed of babies.
By the time we were married for two years, the baby questions became annoying. I’d say, “I’m never having kids,” just to panic my mother and mother-in-law.
One morning, a co-worker sent an email to the office. She’d found a litter of discarded kittens on the side of the highway. They were in a shoe box at her desk.
I didn’t worry about motherhood. Cats, on the other hand, had been a part of my life since childhood.
I knew better than to look at the kittens. I would have to have one. I spent the day wondering how many kittens were left. I was glad someone had been kind enough to save them from near certain death. I remembered how much I loved all the cats in my life. At five o’clock, I took the long way out of the building to walk by that desk. To see if any cats were left.
There was one.
She fit in the palm of my hand. A black piece of fluff crawled up my arm and perched on my shoulder like a parrot. She meowed at my face.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.” She was mine.
At home, I set up food and water and a soft bed. She meowed loudly. She climbed up to my shoulder. That night my parents had tickets to the Braves game. We went on a lot of double dates with my mom and dad in those years. When we left for baseball, the cat didn’t have a name.
Greg Maddux was the starting pitcher. It was his last season with the Braves. My mom and I debated names for the cat between innings. Salem. Midnight. My husband and my dad enjoyed cold beers. Maddux pitched one of the best games of his career.
As we left, my husband said, “Why don’t we name the cat Greg Maddux?”
His idea seemed ridiculous for about 10 seconds. A girl kitten named Greg Maddux? But my husband knew I loved baseball and knew I loved cats. “We can call her Maddux or Maddie,” he added. I agreed.
Greg Maddux Salcedo entered our lives at the start of baseball season. She left us on a Thursday, 14 years later, a few month into baseball season and the day before the last day of school. Maddie entered our quiet married life and watched us grow into a family with four children.
My heart is breaking.
Maddie liked the warm crook of my husband’s arm. No matter the time, if I left the bed, I’d return to find her in my spot. If I was gone for one minute, she’d jump up and claim my pillow. She liked his heat. She loved my indifference. She sat at my feet every day as I wrote.
She followed me everywhere. I haven’t peed alone in 14 years. She followed me into the kitchen even though she never jumped on counters or tables. Not once in 14 years. But she begged for cereal milk. It was such a specific thing. She never wanted cheese or tuna or Thanksgiving turkey. I wondered if it was the sound of the spoon and bowl that attracted her. She never begged when we had a glass of milk, but if you poured a bowl of cereal and milk she would appear with her loud meows.
She meowed constantly. Loudly. Never in complaint. The first vet who saw her as a kitten told us she was part Siamese. “She’s a talker,” the vet said. This was true.
Maddie was reclusive. Many friends over the years have been surprised to find out we had a cat. She would appear when it was quiet. Even the kids didn’t see her in the early years. After they would go to bed, Maddie would appear to show her love. She was, after all, our first baby.
Maddie alerted me when I was pregnant. She was sweet and sassy, but not a lap cat. When I was pregnant, she would find a way to sit in my lap or lay on my belly.
She did this for each of my pregnancies. The last time she did it, I had no idea I was pregnant. She climbed on to my stomach and started to purr loudly.
My husband said, “You better get a pregnancy test.” I thought this was ridiculous for precisely 10 seconds. Then I went to the pharmacy.
Maddux was right. She slept next to each baby after they were born. She was a protector.
Maddux meowed loudly. She purred every day of her life. I knew it was her last night when we pet her and she stayed silent. She blinked slowly as the kids got ready for school. They pet her to say goodbye. She gave her last breath as my husband held her. She needed his heat one last time.
Frisco was my first cat. He was named after Jack Wagner’s character on General Hospital. Ginger was an orange tabby named for her color and our favorite spice. Brandy was named for our neighbor’s cousin. I have been a cat sitter for many sweet cats over the years. Morgan, Soap, and Legolas.
I have known this joy before.
I wish I could find the person who dumped a litter of kittens on the side of the road in Fayetteville, Ga. at the beginning of baseball season. I wish I could tell him that the cats all found good homes. I wish I could tell that person even the last of the bunch was loved. She was mine. She had a man’s name and was a good friend.
“Someone thought she was garbage, but look at all the love she gave us.” I didn’t know what else to tell my kids when they got home from school.
The floor underneath my desk is empty. I have known this grief before. It is the kind of grief you will eventually be grateful for. But not today. Merci, Maddux.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.