How easily we can be deceived about the things we think are solid in our lives. I’m not talking about the big stuff that comes with grating and whining as the gears of the universe grind and clash together and the seams of your life shred.
No, I mean the little things. You think you know something for sure, but you don’t.
You think you know how to bake bread; have baked 100s of loaves. But discover that you've been doing it all wrong.
You think you know the fastest way to drive across town. But managed to miss, for decades, the best shortcut.
You think you know your cat. And I don’t mean, you know your cat’s personality and quirks. No, I mean, you know if it IS your cat or not. But you don't.
Not long ago, I lost my cat Oolong. She was a new cat from the shelter. Slim, small, jet black, with yellow eyes and a passion for being outside and not coming back for a day or two at a time. I had promised the shelter that Oolong would be an indoor kitty, but she watched the door like it was a mouse hole, and given the right moment, would be out like a shot, in between feet and dogs, under the gate and disappeared faster than a loose window can slam shut.
On an October evening, right after I’d had cataract surgery, a big thunder boomer storm crashed around outside. Oolong was out there somewhere. I stood on the front porch, the side stoop, and next to the deck railing and called for her. “OOOOOOolong. Here kit kit. OOOOOolong.” No cat.
The next morning dawned fresh and clean. But the porch was empty of cat.
I decided to walk the neighborhood in a grid, hoping to unearth the cat like a hidden pot in an archeological dig. Above me the colors of the trees were brilliant orange and yellow against an electric indigo sky, startlingly psychedelic after the removal of the gray cataract veil from the lens of my eye. Up and down the alleys that bisect my historic neighborhood, looking under porches, behind garages. My “OOOOOOolong, here kit kit” call sounding much a strange caterwaul. I saw myself, the weirdo, old lady, walking the alleys sounding like a fog horn.
This peculiar behavior didn’t take long to get the attention of my neighbors - all who had seen a black cat somewhere: crossing the street, lingering at the back of the house, or napping in the bushes. And indeed, there Oolong was, lurking just out of reach, skittish. Maybe the storm had spooked her. Being out all night in the driving rain and dangerous winds. I put cat food in my pocket and began circling in on where I had seen her.
The fourth sighting I had of her was in an alley, just yards from busy cat-killer Kirkwood Avenue. She wouldn’t let me touch her, but she didn’t run away, and she didn’t run into the traffic. I sat down in the alley and put one piece of cat kibble down. And then another, creating line of snacks to lure her toward me. She ate one piece. Stopped and looked at me. Moved to eat the next, and the next, and the next. Then in one flash, I grabbed her by the back of the neck as she set up a terrible yowling that continued all the way home. My grip on her neck was tight, her loose skin was pulled back, her yellow eyes bulged wild.
Once released in the house, Oolong darted and dove for the shelter behind the couch. Only four days and nights gone, and she turned feral?
“You are never going out again,” I told her. She hunkered and hated me with squinted eyes.
The next morning, I awoke early to angry and pitiful squalling from behind the living room couch.
I got up, let the dogs Digs and Lila out to pee, and took my breakfast to the daybreak light of the deck. And, up strolled Oolong, with a sweet meow, cozying up and purring, happy to see me. I wondered, how in the heck did she get outside? Decided she must have slipped through unseen when I let out the dogs.
Somehow, she had turned from furious wild cat monster to her sweet self. Lila and Digs nosed and sniffed her from end to end. “Maybe she decided to be rescued from madness,” I told the dogs. Petting her, I felt a large abnormal swelling under boney ribs. Oolong walked in the house to the water dish.
I was amazed at her stunning attitude change and counted myself lucky.
After finishing the newspaper, I went upstairs to my office to call the vet, and there sat ANOTHER black cat on the couch in the office, snarling and furious. This, the cat I captured, was NOT Oolong. Black yes, but she didn’t really even look like Oolong. She was much bigger and not near as elegant or sleek. How did I ever think this was my cat?
Not-Oolong ran down the steps into the kitchen, running into Oolong. Caterwauling ensued and a fight began to loom on the horizon. I grabbed Oolong and put her upstairs in the bedroom, closed the door, and the closed door to the office. I put the dogs outside on the deck and closed the deck doors. I opened the front and back doors to the house thinking the cat would just run out.
I found Not-Oolong on the kitchen counter, a desperate air about her as she was stretching up into a narrow opening behind the wall cabinets.
This would not be good.
I got the broom and tried to shoo Not-Oolong out. She attacked the broom, ripped out straws, howling and growling, she took off up the stairs to the bathroom - I had stupidly left that door. I was afraid. I’d had feral barn cats attack with all four clawed feet before, and knew a threatened cat could be a bundle of hurt.
I wanted to shoo Not-Oolong out, but before I tried, I stuffed a shoe into the opening in the back of the cabinet to take that option off the list. Then I broomed Not-Oolong out of the bathroom. She bolted down the steps and back into the kitchen. I ran after, in my haste forgetting again to close the door to the bathroom.
Lila and Digs were standing at the deck glass doors, eager for a chance to join the shooing but wary of the broom. Not-Oolong was back on the kitchen counter, now looking to jump up to the top of the cabinets eight feet up.
This would not be good.
I cleared a pathway free of dishes across the counter on the side near the front door hoping she would just go, but instead she headed up the steps again, into the bathroom, into the sink.
I broomed Not-Oolong out of the sink, out of the bathroom, fighting and hissing. I closed the bathroom door. Following her downstairs, I found her in the middle of the kitchen floor considering squeezing into the space between the refrigerator and the wall.
This would not be good.
So, I tried to broom her out of the kitchen again. Again, she took off up the steps. But this time, Not-Oolong was cornered on the landing - all the doors were closed. My brilliant brain told me to capture her by throwing a blanket on her. I got one from the bedroom, but, this did not work. What did work was to use the blanket to toro-bull-fighter madator style the cat down the steps and Not-Oolong finally, thankfully, dashed out the open back door.
This was good.
She stopped, threw one more yowl at me over her shoulder, and then headed down the culvert toward the place where I had captured her.
Go ahead and berate me for animal cruelty. First in capturing the wrong cat and second in brooming Not-Oolong out. But the situation - a scared furious cat hiding in my house, my recently returned and injured, very thin Oolong that needed to be attended to quickly (she had an abdominal hernia, likely from being attacked by a dog), and riled-up Lila and Digs - seemed to dictate a quick and decisive shooing.
Not-Oolong left behind an uneasiness that can’t be shooed away. I have always known I had a weakness for me talking me into things. Oh yes, that’s a great business plan. Oh yes, you have gotten up and are getting ready for work (while still snug under the bed covers). Oh yes, I can keep up with three zucchini plants. But for me to talk me into the wrong cat – that’s a whole new level of self-deception. It makes me suspicious of me. What might I be telling myself right now that’s just some fantasy?
I often see Not-Oolong on my neighborhood walks. She always stops, squares up to face me, and prepares for battle. I pause, apologize, and use the moment to take measure of myself for tall tales lurking inside that need to get the broom treatment.
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