Stone, Karen.  2001.  Ugly.

photo of K. Stoneblank space Everyone in the apartment complex I lived in knew who Ugly was. Ugly was the resident tomcat.

Ugly loved three things in this world: fighting, eating garbage, and shall we say, love. The combination of these things combined with a life spent outside had their effect on Ugly.

To start with, he had only one eye, and where the other should have been was a gaping hole. He was also missing his ear on the same side, his left foot has appeared to have been badly broken at one time, and had healed at an unnatural angle, making him look like he was always turning the corner. His tail has long since been lost, leaving only the smallest stub, which he would constantly jerk and twitch. Ugly would have been a dark gray tabby striped-type, except for the sores covering his head, neck, even his shoulders with thick, yellowing scabs.

Every time someone saw Ugly there was the same reaction. "That's one UGLY cat!!"

All the children were warned not to touch him, the adults threw rocks at him, hosed him down, squirted him when he tried to come in their homes, or shut his paws in the door when he would not leave.

Ugly always had the same reaction. If you turned the hose on him, he would stand there, getting soaked until you gave up and quit. If you threw things at him, he would curl his lanky body around feet in forgiveness. Whenever he spied children, he would come running meowing frantically and bump his head against their hands, begging for their love. If you ever picked him up he would immediately begin suckling on your shirt, earrings, whatever he could find.

One day Ugly shared his love with the neighbors huskies. They did not respond kindly, and Ugly was badly mauled. From my apartment I could hear his screams, and I tried to rush to his aid. By the time I got to where he was laying, it was apparent Ugly's sad life was almost at an end.

Ugly lay in a wet circle, his back legs and lower back twisted grossly out of shape, a gaping tear in the white strip of fur that ran down his front. As I picked him up and tried to carry him home I could hear him wheezing and gasping, and could feel him struggling. I must be hurting him terribly I thought.

Then I felt a familiar tugging, sucking sensation on my ear - Ugly, in so much pain, suffering and obviously dying was trying to suckle my ear. I pulled him closer to me, and he bumped the palm of my hand with his head, then he turned his one golden eye towards me, and I could hear the distinct sound of purring. Even in the greatest pain, that ugly battled-scarred cat was asking only for a little affection, perhaps some compassion.

At that moment I thought Ugly was the most beautiful, loving creature I had ever seen. Never once did he try to bite or scratch me, or even try to get away from me, or struggle in any way. Ugly just looked up at me completely trusting in me to relieve his pain.

Ugly died in my arms before I could get inside, but I sat and held him for a long time afterwards, thinking about how one scarred, deformed little stray could so alter my opinion about what it means to have true pureness of spirit, to love so totally and truly. Ugly taught me more about giving and compassion than a thousand books, lectures, or talk show specials ever could, and for that I will always be thankful. He had been scarred on the outside, but I was scarred on the inside, and it was time for me to move on and learn to love truly and deeply. To give my total to those I cared for.

Many people want to be richer, more successful, well liked, beautiful, but for me, I will always try to be Ugly.

I wish I knew who wrote this awesomely moving piece, a piece that will probably become a classic fable in due time.

There is not any part of our lives untouched by the truths expressed here. As a child, I remember enduring those battles. As an adult, now disabled, the scars still hurt as much.

Yet, so much love and compassion dwells within. And every time I reach in to give some of my love and compassion to others, I often witness a non-caring indifference, a rejection.

Does my wheelchair mean I'm that much of a persona non-grata, that I do not have feelings or can not express feelings?

It seems as my disability increased in scope, my due respect and dignity normally expressed from others also fell away in equal proportion.

The saddest part is that the other known 54 million Americans living with a disability, plus untold millions of disabled people living worldwide, endure this very same phenomenon.

And we are often left dying in a wet puddle in some cold, strange institution, with no one around to hear our loving purr.

In my work as a writer, I interview many people with disabilities (PWDs). In the process, one of the most important jugulars I seek out is that of The Purr...what makes someone tick?

We, PWDs, all purr, in our different ways, missing eye or broken foot regardless. To assume my wheelchair negates that is to assume an unpurring cat has no feelings...

Copyright© by Karen G. Stone


Born and raised in San Francisco, Karen Stone, now 53, studied photography, and later obtained a B.A. in Communications from Antioch College. She then worked as a professional photographer for over twelve years in California. Later, upon entering the marketing field, Ms. Stone made use of her photography, writing, and business skills. After relocating to Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA), she worked in marketing architectural/engineering services until slowed down by Multiple Sclerosis.


Ms. Stone has produced an award-winning, bimonthly column for the Albuquerque Journal newspaper (Meeting the Challenge) for 10 years, and currently continues to write pieces for national magazines and additional publications overseas. She has authored the non-fiction book, Awakening to Disability: Nothing About Us Without Us (1997, Volcano Press). She lectures frequently on disability issues, and continues to photograph unassigned work.