O’Brien: Raising Levi

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After receiving my second Pfizer dose, I didn’t expect to come home with a living creature. 

I was stopped at a red light, 40 miles away from home, when a lady approached my car, motioned for me to roll down my window and asked if I wanted a kitten. 

“Are you serious?” I asked. 

“Dead serious.” 

“–Yes.” 

She plopped him on my passenger seat as the light turned green, and the cars behind me started honking impatiently. She thanked me profusely, and I was off. This jet black creature fit in the palm of my hand. I laid him in the center of my jacket and he nuzzled his face against the sleeve. He was motionless, petrified at the speed and the unfamiliarity with a moving car. 

I wanted to name him something thematically relevant to the circumstances of his adoption. I decided to name him after my favorite character from my favorite show: Captain Levi, from the Japanese anime “Attack on Titan.” 

This was the single geekiest decision I had ever made, but the character’s origins are identical to the kitten’s. The character was abandoned in a sewer by his mother at age 10, but he still grows to be a badass, as I was sure this kitten would. 

Levi. It’s perfect. 

Levi was cute, but clearly malnourished and scared. He was starving, desperate for his mother’s milk. My dad ran to PetSmart to grab formula for him. We cuddled on the couch while we waited for dad. He slipped out of my arms, crawled to the other end of the room with what little energy he had, and started nursing from the dog. He thought Charlee, the rottweiler-shar pei mix, was his mom.

This broke me. His poor little body needs his mother to survive. I fed him formula for a few weeks, he didn’t know that his mom wasn’t around anymore, that this was all we could give him. He tried to nurse my finger, my shoe, my pillow, everything really. It was adorable.

I took him outside to play. He clawed and nibbled at my hand. He tried to eat the grass. But he never walked more than a few feet from me because his young eyes weren’t developed yet. 

I placed him in the middle of the backyard, and walked away. I called his name. He whipped his little head towards my voice and dashed towards my feet, like a black panther ambushing his prey. I repeated this, but a bit farther this time. I kept doing it until he covered the whole yard. 

Kittens can not go to the bathroom on their own. When they’re nursing age, their mother has to stimulate this process herself. That responsibility fell to me now. Yes, I had to teach him to pee and poop. When I took him to the veterinarian, he demonstrated the procedure: take a cotton ball, cover it in warm water, and rub it in a circular motion. It felt exactly as weird as I thought it would. 

It had been three days and I was already attached to him. So much so that, my dad and I left the vet crying relieved that he didn’t have some crazy barn disease.

After a few weeks, he was unrecognizable. He had better eyesight, was twice as big, and had a lot more energy. I was proud of him, bursting with joy at his progress. However, I soon found myself in a sort of “Anakin Skywalker” scenario: he’s too powerful, and it’s everyone’s problem. 

He’s a natural predator, and he made sure we knew it. He liked to sprint back and forth across the house, scratching up every exposed hand and foot. He would calm down at night, letting everyone pet him before sleeping peacefully at the foot of my bed. 

“Levi, no!” was the most common phrase in my vocabulary. He earned the nickname “murder mittens,” in reference to the deadly weapons hidden underneath his adorable paws. He knocked things over as he gallivanted around the house and antagonized the dog, But I loved him and this meant he could do no wrong.

He took that kindness and ran with it, darting out of the front door and into the woods next to my house. I lost sight of him as he went on a jungle adventure, and I thought about every worse-case scenario. What if he gets eaten by a fox? Or gets pricked by a thorn and gets an infection? What if he gets bitten by a tick with Lyme disease? He was still really small and fit perfectly into the snug vice of a turkey vulture’s claws. 

My only option was to pace around the front yard and call his name until he came back. He escaped fairly frequently and after a while, I let him out willingly. He would charge at fireflies, jump to try and catch one. He’d run up a tree and meow for me to bring him down when he got stuck. He’d disappear, sometimes for an entire day, and scratch at the door when he was ready to come home. 

Despite my paranoia, I accepted that Levi would never stray too far, or for too long. 

Levi was instrumental in helping me get through online learning and my stressful summer job.  But eventually, I had to go back to campus. When the time came, I was nervous. I had the irrational fear of the dog finally snapping and eating him whole while I was away. But, mostly, I felt sad. There’s no elegant way to describe the gut-punch of having to leave behind someone you care for so deeply.

I hugged everyone else goodbye and I tossed him a treat. We played with a laser pointer, I gave him a kiss on his tiny forehead, set him down, walked to the car, and embarked on a slow and lonely drive back to school to spend three months of life without my new best friend.

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