Of Cats and Kids

It was very tempting to turn around, go home, and just not go to work. All of the signs pointed to a bad day ahead, beckoning me to heed their advice and call it quits. First off, my toilet over-flowed. Water streamed over the back rim as if it were fulfilling its dream of being an infinity pool. It quickly spread over the floor reaching all corners of the room. I scrambled for bath towels to mop it all up. The floor newly cleaned, I made my way to work.

Driving down the semi-country road, I saw it coming: a streak of black hell bent on getting to the other side of the road. I watched in horror as I tried to slow my car and swerve out of its way; my heart clenching inside of my chest as I tried to will the cat to stop. The thwack against my bumper was inevitable and I shot a glance into my rear view mirror and saw its black body twist and convulse against the asphalt. Shocked, I tried to collect myself–I had to go back. I was afraid of what I might see and the damage I caused. I pulled over to the curb and went to his body. His stomach rose and fell in quick succession: he was alive! His face was badly mangled and bloody. I found a piece of plastic in my trunk and carefully placed his body on it, put him on the floor of my car and took him to a nearby vet.

The vet tech hurried him into the back where the team of doctors could run tests and x-rays. The receptionist asked me questions. I sobbed. The cat wore a collar. He was somebody’s pet. Images of his bloody face and his concerned family wondering where he was– maybe he was a child’s favorite — haunted me.

“Okay, I have all of the information I need for the Good Samaritan report,” the receptionist chirped.

I stared at her, bewildered, “I didn’t find the cat. I HIT the cat.”

Distraught, I made my way to work. The only reason I continued to go was the fact that two of my classes were trying the new Common Core tests on chrome books, and after much training and preparation, today was the day to implement the test. I was not looking forward to it. I didn’t want to deal with the test, the chrome books, or the kids. The way my day was going, the Wifi would short out, the tests would freeze, and kids would riot. Not only that, but people from the district office were going to be on-hand to help out. Just what I needed, witnesses to the melt-down.

There’s a funny thing about kids; they’re like your pets in that they sense when you’re upset and try to make it better. One wrote me a poem accompanied with a Kit Kat bar. Another told me about how she watched Pride and Prejudice and loved it. Another connected Julius Caesar to Sex and The City. As we read the play, my “actors” tried to read with feeling. One boy brought cookies for our AP review. One former student came up to me holding something out in his hand, “It’s a lucky penny. I found it and it’s for you.” Another boy, seeing that I was upset, started monitoring the class and quieting everyone down. I didn’t tell them about the cat and had tried my best to be neutral, but they sensed it and tried to make things better.

The testing? For once everything worked. The helpers from the district? They wanted to see my duck collection and learn all about it.

The cat? I called the vet to hear how he was (if he was). “He’s alive, but I can’t tell you any more.” That’s okay. That’s all I needed to know.

Rick: The Relationship-Saving Cat

One night Steve came home from being out with the guys and invited our neighborhood stray to spend the night.  I looked at our guest, a randy orange tabby, and replied, “The cat does not want to spend the night.”  Steve, who had been enthralled with the couch-surfing cat in our building, disagreed, “Of course, he does!  See– he followed me in!”  The cat looked at me expectantly.  I capitulated.

That night the cat, knowing I was the one he had to win over, climbed on my pillow, curled his body around my head, and purred into my ears all night.  It seemed he liked our place the best since he became a regular, and Steve and I decided to name him Rick.  The name captured his man-about-town nature.  Rick got free room and board and quickly learned that he could come and go through our back window.  It went on this way for three weeks, but we hadn’t officially called him ours.  There was the tacit understanding that he was a stray and could leave us at any time.

Rick on my pillow.

On Rick’s three week anniversary, Steve and I left town to visit my parents.  We kept Rick, by nature an outdoor cat, outside and had our neighbor Wendy watch out for him.  The second day of our trip, Wendy called us.  Rick had been hit by a car and crawled into the basement of the home behind us to die.  The owners found him and recognized him as the cat they often saw in our back window.  They came over to tell us about Rick, but finding us gone, left a note.  Wendy found the note and contacted them.  Rick was still alive, in severe pain, and they took him to a vet.  Because he didn’t have tags, the vet wouldn’t take him.  They called around until they found a woman who ran a cat-rescue who vouched for our cat in order for the vet to see him.  At the time of this phone call, Rick received care from the doctor.

Steve and I rushed to the vet once we rolled back into town.  The prognosis was not good.  Rick had not used his hind legs or walked at all and could possibly be crippled.  He was also unresponsive to people. The vet tech said, “He’s going to need help with everything, including going to the bathroom.  Are you up for taking care of him?”  We nodded our heads– we would do anything for Rick.  She took us back to his “hospital room” to see him.  He was a pitiful sight with dried blood on his face, bandaged legs and lying in the back of his cage.  When he saw us, he began to shift around and pulled himself up onto his hind legs to walk over to us.  The vet tech burst into tears.  I comforted her while Steve comforted Rick.  And so began our journey as Rick’s humans.

Family portrait.

As humans, Steve and I had our own issues.  We had just moved into together a few months before.  I was new to the area, having left college life full of friends, activities, and comfortable surroundings.  I had had three roommates and there was always something going on.  Now I was in an unfamiliar place, living in a tiny apartment with my boyfriend who had been living here for six months and had established friends and routines.  I had no job, no routines, and no friends.  Lonely and frustrated doesn’t begin to cover it.  By the time Rick showed up, I had a job and Steve’s friends were my friends, but he and I still struggled with what it meant to be together.  We are both independent people determined to have our own lives, yet be a couple.  We argued a lot, and there were times I wondered how long we would last.

The cat’s in the bag!

Rick, an easy-going cat, wasn’t receptive to our arguing.  He realized that he could make a bigger stink than either of us, and used it to his advantage.  Shortly after bringing him home from the vet, we had a fight.  As our words escalated, Rick hopped into his shallow litter box by the kitchen, impersonated Niagara Falls, and kicked urine-soaked litter all over the walls, cupboards, and floor.  Suffice to say, we stopped arguing.  Enemies seconds before, we were now comrades-in-arms cleaning up the mess, laughing at the disgusting mess and at Rick, who looked rather pleased with himself.  And so it went.  We’d argue; he’d make a toxic dump.

He was very good at holding the towels in place.
Sleeping in his favorite spot.

Rick also loved to get into trouble by climbing up on stuff and hiding wherever he could hide.  He loved to sleep in Steve’s underwear drawer.  One day I came home and couldn’t find him.  I looked and looked, growing concerned until I saw the underwear drawer closed.  I opened it, and there he was curled up asleep oblivious to the fact that he had been locked in a drawer all day. Rick also enjoyed riding in cars.  I had a little Toyota pickup with a bench seat, and I’d take him for rides.  He enjoyed putting his paws on the passenger window and looking at the other cars passing by us.  When he got bored with that, he ‘d climb up onto the back of the seat, curl up, and look out the back window.  Rick eased my loneliness and gave Steve and I something to work together on: taking care of him.  He made us laugh with his antics.  Especially the day when he caught a bird and strutted proudly indoors with it, still alive, in his mouth.  At my shriek, he dropped the bird which pummeled itself into the sliding glass doors and pooped all over the blinds.  I tossed Rick into the bedroom, and eased the bird to freedom.  Later as I cleaned up the mess, Rick swatted my hands and me, angry and disappointed that I didn’t fully appreciate his efforts.  His anger didn’t prevent him from participating in our bedtime routine.  He’d sit on the chest of drawers waiting for me to go to bed; once I did, he’d hop onto the drums to the bed, crawl onto my stomach and bite the bow at the neck of my pajamas.  Every single night he did this.

Perfect.

We had Rick for three years until another car took away his ninth life.  That was an awful night and the first time I saw Steve cry.  It didn’t hit me until I went to bed.  There was no good-night routine, and Rick’s absence permeated the room.  Steve and I realized that even though he was gone, we still had each other.  Rick had taken us through some of our most difficult moments and kept us laughing (and cleaning).  As it is with all pets, I have to ask, who rescued who?  In this case, Rick rescued us.

(I apologize about the quality of pictures.  We don’t have a scanner, so I had to do this old school.)