Sunday, July 3, 2011

The One That Got Away

"There are no ordinary cats." -Colette

Then one day, she went.  From sunning herself on the sill where I’d lifted the window—she: peaceful, plump, and nodding off in the June humidity, me: post-coffee and pre-yoga, admiring her stillness as I scrambled to make it out of the door on time—to sliding through the tear in the screen, nudging wider in the wire mesh the hole that seemed gaping when I found it hours later. 

I imagine a breeze ruffling her fur first, towards her tail where the open spot was.  Then (I imagine) her, eyes wide, jerking her head in that direction.  Seeing in the ripped slit of the screen a portal to a different existence.

A three-feet leap to the ground. A cat’s gallop across the lawn.  Not seen since.

B . . .

I admired her entitlement.   The way she bounded onto a freshly-made bed, linens still warm from the dryer, to sprawl in the center.  The way she could “sleep 20 hours/ a day/ without hesitation/ or remorse,” to reference a poem by Bukowski, another cat lover.  But I also admired her ability to be perfectly low maintenance, to nap just as comfortably on a crooked pile of books and papers.

She had a streak of the savage.  She cooed like a tropical bird when pawing at moths.  She annihilated cockroachs, leaving the litter of their limbs for me to find later.

She intently watched the acrobatics of the squirrels in the tree outside the windows of my old house, rushing along the ledges in pursuit as the squirrels leapt between branches. 

A kittenhood injury had left her right leg weaker, so she extended it when seated upright, dangling it over the edges of beds and bookshelves like a lounge singer.

It impressed me that she intuited whom I should trust, and whom I shouldn’t, often before I did.

She had many meows and loved hiding and pretending to be invisible.

“Losing this cat is making me act kinda weird,” I wrote to a friend a week later. 

I wander around the neighborhood calling her name.  I crawl under the houses of people I don’t know with a flashlight.  Then, when they catch me, with cobwebs in my ponytail and grass imprinted on my knees, I say things like, “This cat was like my family,” or “I wanted us to grow old together and retire to the Riviera.”   

I leave bowls of water and food by each entrance to the house.  When I hear rustling, I rush down the stairs and throw upon the door and watch as a stray scuttles off.  

I mention buying a cat trap then wonder aloud to my housemate if I’ll just end up with rabies from the strays.  Then she says, a little more earnestly than one would expect, “Well, maybe you need to go ahead and catch rabies so you can be sure you’ve done everything you could do.  I’ll give you the shots afterwards.  There aren’t as many now as there used to be.”

A few days later, I’m talking to a gardener who thinks he spotted her, after seeing my LOST CAT ad taped to the stop sign.

“So, the cat had never been outside?”
“No.  Well, sometimes she’d dart out for a second till I grabbed her.  But . . . no.”
“And the cat’s five years old?”

He shook his head. 

“You can’t do that.  Not with people, not with cats.  A cat’s a wild thing.  Free spirit.  Same as you.  Don’t like to be closed up.  Maybe she just wanted to go on a little walk around the neighborhood.  Who’s to say she’s even LOST?” he said, his voice faintly echoing the alarmist font of the flyer.  “She could know exactly where she is.” 

Could I blame her? 

For wanting to dirty up her coat and hunt something bigger than a bug and sharpen her claws on bark and play cache-cache with the other cats and sleep in the shade of a banana plant.

Maybe this wasn’t the vision she had for her life.  Sitting on the desk, watching me plod and peck at my thesis. 

I’d type in something Homi K. Bhabha said, then she’d yawn, stand up, walk across the keyboard in response: ;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;; mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm000gggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggj77777777777777777777oo’/taaaqaqau9ds Ut-----l[yµ?

“I know, B,” I’d cheerily corroborate.  “That’s what I think, too, but we may have to phrase it differently.”

Then, she’d leap off the desk and onto the bed for a nap, irritated that I was always dismissing her contributions.

“Don’t look like that,” said the gardener, “You’re gonna get me crying.  I've cried over a horse, a chicken, a goat, a dog . . . But I think it's pretty bad when you cry over a plant.
And I laugh a little, because I think it's hypothetical.  Then I remember that he's a gardener.

I glance back at the house where I see the plant in the window where B used to sit.  Think of its browning leaves.  When I had asked the man at the nursery around the corner about indoor plants, he commented, “It’s already a lot to ask of any plant for it to live inside, but it can survive fine, with enough light and water.”

"I know someone musta poured something in that plant. I KNOW it . . . I took such good care of it," said the gardener.  His eyes go glassy.

And I think . . . it always feels the same.  Being separated from something you love.

Plant. Goat. Cat.
The funny injustice of loss, that leaves you, fifteen years later, in a different part of the country, saying to a woman you just met, "But I watered it every day."

1 comment:

  1. Wow Tara.... i love this post... i welled up reading it. I fear most days for the lives of my three cats, even though they live in the country here and chances are better than in urban areas. I hope she is just on a long vacation... Laura