A Second Chance
I stood transfixed as the golden eyes of the kitten in the corner of the cage held mine. Black and white and gorgeously fluffy, he was the image of Sylvester, the cat I had grown up with. I would rather die than leave the market without him.
A few days later I met with highly recommended young builder who was to do some work on our old barn. The builders of my family wore kahi overalls with rulers and pencils in the pockets; this builder had piercings, tattoos, a shaved head and drove a panel van with a pit bull terrier for company. He drank Red Bull and lived on Mars Bars. I had never met anyone like him. And yet, I felt I knew him.
Keeping a safe distance from the dog, I explained the alterations planned for the barn. The alarm I felt at my first ever encounter with my wayward looking friend was soon forgotten as he gently nudged the century old framework for strength and squinted at rickety walls, just like my father would have done years before.
Hours later, I placed my builder as a student I taught when a relief teacher in the mid 1980s. He was just as striking then, but in a different way. As a sixteen year old he was handsome with a strong, square jaw, tanned skin, and blond hair that flopped like Robert Redford’s to one side of his forehead. But it was his manner of entering and exiting the classroom, when he greeted me with a ‘good morning Miss’ or ‘Good afternoon Miss’ that really set him apart. Students suffering the transience of an emergency teacher are never so polite.
Monday morning, my kitten snuggled in my arms, I greeted my builder. I glowed with a strange carefree happiness, like a teenager in love, like a little girl with her first pet. Over the next few weeks I watched my builder enjoy fresh sandwiches, muffins and coffee from my kitchen. I mothered him as I mothered my kitten. We talked about the pets we once had and our families. Stayed away from the deeply serious.
I told him about Sylvester, how as a ten year old I crawled under an old house where spiders and snakes lived and snaffled him as my own. How he slept on my bed every night of my life until he died when I was 21. I told him of my early life in Northern Victoria, how my father grew grain, and how I loved to watch the draft horses pulling the harvester up and down the paddocks in the hot sun, the border collies frolicking along beside the horses.
As I remembered these things I slowly realized that my life had turned full circle. From kitten to kitten – from grain farm to grain farm. I know that as people near the end of their lives they return to the site of their first years. They tell you about their favourite dog, how they swam in the river, fell off a roof, rode a horse and walked a long way to school.
Here I was, at fifty-five years of age, reminiscencing like an eighty year old with someone half my age. Was I soon to die? Should I make contact with family and friends I might never see again. Should I go to church, thank God for my good life, and hope that he would save me?
Then one morning as I sat with my builder I told him of my worry. Of my full- circle life.
My builder looked at me, ran his hand across the stubble of his shaved head and said, ‘I wouldn’t say that Miss. What I would say is that you’re lucky. You’re being given a second round of life, that’s what I would say.’