The Cat Came Back …

The Cat Came Back …

Originally posted at Substack, 12/13/2020

Black cat curled up on white wicker chair with purple plaid cushion.

Wednesday about mid-day, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. It was the animal shelter.  Someone had turned in my black, one-eared cat who went missing in January. 

I thought she was dead.

My funny, noisy, oddball cat is back, although she’s lost a full 1/3 of her body weight. She’s just skin and bones. 

But she’s back. 

After almost a full year.

No one ever comes back. 

But there she is, on the other side of the room, asleep in her chair again. After a few days of being fed regularly, and lots of lap time, and even getting to sleep in our bed where she parked herself right in front of Himself’s face for about an hour “purring like a fucking chainsaw” as he said, without rancor, because he’s also very glad she’s back. 

No one ever comes back. The dead stay dead, no matter how much you pray, or hope, or cast magic spells. Even before Patrick died, Truly Madly Deeply was one of my favorite sad-day movies. “You’re here!?” Juliet Stevenson says, ugly crying and pressing her hands on Alan Rickman’s chest which seems, miraculously, to actually be there

I only had one dream in the years after Patrick died in which I could actually talk to him. It only happened once. He was back. We were on the porch, in the wicker chairs, having a gin and tonic, as we did that whole first year I lived here. “What do you mean you’re back?” I said. “You’re in there, in the living room, in that urn.” 

“I’m back,” he said, looking very pleased with himself. “I had to go all the way to the top. To the big guy himself.” 

I heard from an old friend this week that her husband lost both his parents to Covid, within days of one another. His father was starting to fail, but he was holding steady until he got infected. “His mother was fine last week,” my friend texted me. “And now she’s dead.” That they couldn’t be there made it all the worse, and for my friend, who lost most of her family in an accident when she was a child, well, this doesn’t get any easier with practice. They were fine, and now they’re dead. 

Three hundred thousand families are missing people. 

They were fine until they weren’t. 

Three hundred thousand families are missing people, and somehow, it hasn’t sunk in.

Three thousand people a day.

Himself and I are pretty much sequestered at this point, as numbers in our county have spiked. We can sequester, so we are. As much to stay out of the way as anything else. We’re fine, we have our houses in town (we met late in life, kept the houses we already owned), and the cabin down valley. “If we don’t have it, or can’t order it,” Himself said the other day, “We don’t need it.” 

I did have to dash into the grocery store to get more of the cat food in a tube that the prodigal loves. It’s not too disgusting, sort of the texture of bologna, and she needs fattening up. I picked up a few other staples, and we’re set. It’s not like we’re having or going to any Christmas parties anyway — my normal Christmas with my BFF’s family and her 5 kids is just not happening. 

The woman who turned my cat back into the shelter said she’d been hanging around their shed for a while. That she was even skinnier then. She fed her for a bit, I’m not sure how long, then decided she probably should turn her in. Somehow my kitty wound up at least five miles away, on the other side of our busiest road, on the other side of the interstate, way out in the country. There’s a crazy lady down the alley who, I found out in January when my cat went missing, has a reputation for trapping cats, “relocating” them to the country. All I can figure is she catnapped my cat. In this year when people have been acting in ways I’d never have expected, I think my cat got napped. 

Betty Boop had been a stray before I found her, and while I let her go in and out the dog door, she had very regular habits. (I know, birds, but I also rely on the cats for rodent control. Harriet the new kitty got a packrat last summer. Good girl. Earning your keep.) She was used to me being gone for a day or two, for Himself to come by and feed pets, play with everyone for a bit. The roofers were here, but they were nearly done. It was January. 

Himself and I walked every alley on this side of town. I leafletted for blocks. I looked everywhere for this cat. I was sure she was dead. 

And so I adopted a new cat, Harriet, in April. It was too lonely here without a cat. And so Harriet, who is a very fluffy Russian Blue, lives here too. The lady at the shelter seemed to imply I might be thinking about returning her, which no, I wasn’t. If the two of them hadn’t gotten along, someone could go live with Himself. There’s no returning anyone. 

My cousin Matt was about five when my Aunt got a call, there was another kid in trouble in their area, would she consider adopting another child? Matt bursting into tears at the dining room table. He thought we were trading him in. 

There’s no returning anyone. 

I don’t have any grand summation here. People are dying, we’re in a pandemic, a lot of people are having to weigh whether and how to travel, our old folks who aren’t sick are isolated, our kids are having to go to school on Zoom. 

But the cat came back, and on Saturday morning while I was shoveling the walk, all the families with little kids came out on the street. You could hear the firetruck siren. You could hear Christmas music. Santa was coming. Santa on the firetruck. Every year Santa drives through every block in town, stopping to give a little bag of presents to every kid who comes out. Santa was coming and the kids were beside themselves. The adults chatted from a safe distance. Amy went down the block to let the new people know, the ones with the twins who aren’t quite two. Steve had decorated his entire front yard this year. It’s been years since he did that. He used to have a plywood Santa in his sleigh with reindeer. When I first moved here he put it on the roof. It’s been ages since Steve has decorated and this year there’s a ton of lights, and those light-up reindeer in the yard and it’s great. As Santa pulled up, Steve’s oldest, who lives in Alaska, came out with a new baby. 

It felt like normal life again. It reminded me how weird everything has gotten, how little low-stakes interaction we’ve all had. Just standing around outside, watching the kids nearly explode from joy as Santa, who must be real because look at that beard (he was a very good Santa) arrived on the firetruck, with sirens and music and firefighters with masks handing out candy and presents. 

So maybe we’ll all get through this somehow. 

Santa did finally arrive on the firetruck. 

The cat came back. 

It looks like we’ll have a new administration. 

There’s a vaccine. 

The light starts coming back to the sky next week.

Hold tight everyone. We’re nearly there. 

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