The cat was gone. I had spent the whole day, Christmas Day, alone fuming about my recent fight with my wife. She had taken off to spend the holidays with her host family in Denmark and I had decided to clean the house because it seemed less depressing than drinking and watching Die Hard again. Plus my neighbors kept stopping by, clearly concerned. They had used the oven to cook a Christmas Eve meal and were returning the borrowed plates and chairs one by one, using the opportunity to check in on me. “Here’s the one plate we borrowed of 4, how are things going alone over here on Christmas?” I appreciate the thought but the obvious suicide watch 2019 was a little grating. I’m way too selfish to self harm. The cat, on the other hand.
A few months before the cat had jumped out the window and escaped. This isn’t a problem per say, like there’s a lot of green space for him to walk around and our house is easy to find. The problem is that the second he gets out he freezes in place somewhere hidden and stays put. I spent hours looking for him the first time and without the dog literally dragging me over to where he was hiding, I would have walked by him for the third or fourth time in a row. He cut a pathetic figure and we took him to the vet immediately. He had been outside for 48 hours and been rained on quite a bit.
The vets office was nice but I don’t know if I fully approve of the “tell the harsh truth” approach. I drop off the cat to be checked, which required wheeling the cat carrier covered with my rain jacket on the bike in a downpour while I got soaked. I get home, change my sweatshirt only to get the call to come back. I head back to a very blunt vet. “The cat, he is old and frankly, not worth the tests. I would put him down.” I understand the tests are $500 but still you’d think there would be at least some consideration of whether I want all the bad news at once. He seemed unconvinced, crossing his arms and demonstrating to me how sick the cat was. “You do know that you can get a new cat for free, right?”
To be honest with you, I don’t care about the cat. Cats really aren’t my jam. Apathetic when you come home, they sometimes pee on things you love or throw up on carpets you just bought. Kittens are great, but cats feel like roommates I didn’t ask for. However because I feel so guilty about not caring about the cat at all, I therefore cannot just put him down, even though he is glassy eyed and unable to keep his eyes open. Instead I pay the $500 for medicine and antibiotics, which require us to wrap him in a towel and force feed him pills twice a day until he begins to recover his strength. Then he’s trying to attack us while we’re giving him expensive medicine.
After that we tried to keep the windows closed and the cat inside, which at first was easy because he seemed scared of the outside world. Then over time he seemed to forget he had almost died out there and began exploring the windows, trying to open them again. That day I had seen him try to escape out the first floor window, prompting me to chase him away and close the window. Hours later when going to bed I realized I hadn’t seen him for awhile. At first I didn’t care because its a cat and honestly it would be easier for me if he just disappeared, but then I felt guilty and started to look around.
I fully understand that at this point in the story a lot of you hate me. My apathy towards the cat had turned you against me. I want you to know I respect why you hate me and I don’t think it is without grounds, but I also don’t think you can convince me these animals are worth it! Cats are just there. This is the first cat I ever made the decision to obtain from a shelter and I think he’s been one of the better representatives of his species. This is a cat that gets along with dogs, that is fairly playful for an adult cat and doesn’t generally bother me.
But with cats you are asked to accept crazy shit. Earlier that day I discovered that at some point in the past the cat had peed on my christmas stocking. Now let me just set the scene. You wake up, alone on Christmas Day, about 50% sure your marriage is going to collapse, in a foreign country away from your family. You had gone out the day before to get yourself stuff to put into your own stocking, something that is already depressing. The entire time I was buying it I was imagining me pretending to be surprised by the things I had bought myself. “You shouldn’t have, me!” I would exclaim while sitting in silence on the floor. It’s Christmas Day, you finally work up the enthusiasm to go downstairs to complete this pointless exercise, you grab the stocking to treat yourself to some candy and the cat has peed on it, ruining this small piece of joy. I wasn’t even angry, I just sat there staring at the floor for a few minutes.
People who love cats accept this stuff and they don’t really question it. Cats just pee on things, you wish they didn’t but sometimes they do. Maybe they’re mad or maybe they’re actually happy to see you. Or maybe at a certain point they’re not convinced you have the backbone to kill them anymore. Whatever the reason, this barrier is eventually broken down. You are left with an animal that seems to bother you when it wants food and then runs away to hide somewhere, sleep and occasionally destroy something you love.
Guilt has overcome me though as it usually does and I begin to hunt for him. I open all the drawers and closets, I explore everywhere in the house. Then I realize he has to be outside. So I grab my flashlight and head out. I’m terrifying my neighbors, I can tell, by wandering up and down the rows of houses shining a flashlight around. Probably assume I’m one of the holiday burglars I have heard so much about, criminals who target Danes who travel for the holidays since so many do. However after hours of searching I turn up nothing. I eventually go to sleep, setting an alarm to start again in the morning.
At 7 AM I start my hunt once again and at noon I finally call it. I’ve checked everything within 300 yards of the house in a circle and to expand it further involves breaking into peoples property. Wherever he is, he’s going to have to get back on his own. I set out food and a towel that smells like Betsy and we wait and I start to get used to a life without a cat. To be honest with you, after having a pet for over 10 years, I kind of assumed there would be more adjustment to do. I gave the dog his left over kibble, washed his bowl, cleaned out the litter box and was…pretty much done. We like to talk a lot about legacy with death but this cat didn’t even leave enough behind to fill an hour of work. I’ve had internet subscriptions that were harder to purge from my life.
I broke the news to betsy who took it well. Despite our argument we were both on the same page. She cared more for the cat than me, but we had learned over the last few years that we weren’t cat people and this was going to be our last cat. Despite my best intentions I felt some relief. I wouldn’t have to put down the cat and sit there and comfort him while he died. The cat would just…disappear. It’s the perfect conflict-free way to get rid of a pet you don’t want. I didn’t kick him out or stop caring for him, he chose to end his own life. Who was I not to respect his choices? Suicide by throwing yourself out the second story window and disappearing into the night wasn’t my ideal way to go but I believe we all need to choose our own destinies and he had made his choice.
Over the next week we both made our peace with what had happened. I was pleased I had an office free from the faint odor of cat urine and Betsy was happy sometimes the cat wouldn’t randomly pee on clothes she owned, or expensive purses. We mourned and moved on. I was just about to donate the literbox itself when the fateful event happened. We’re in bed and I’m reading when suddenly Pixel goes insane. He’s barking and sprinting for the front door in a way that is super unusual. I hop up to see what is happening and behind me Betsy quietly says “maybe the cat came home”. I roll my eyes and head downstairs. It’s been two weeks and the 11 year old cat is certainly dead.
However when I get downstairs the dog is going ballistic at the door, launching himself at it to try and open it. I don’t hear anything and looking out the side window there isn’t anybody standing there. I hop on the counter to get a better look and holy mother of god. Sitting patiently by the door, staring forward, is the cat. He has returned. I open the door and he sprints in, runs to where his food is and then tries to throw himself up to the counter to get it. He’s too weak though and he is just throwing himself against the side of the table. I lock the dog up and get him some food, trying to be sure not to overfeed him and kill him that way. Then I take him upstairs, get him a nice warm place to rest and some water and then lock him up.
The entire time I’m in shock. Did the cat rise from the grave because I finally admitted I didn’t miss him? There’s a small part of me that thinks he is actually dead, a specter from beyond sent to punish me for my lack of caring. Because really what greater punishment is there for a bad cat owner who doesn’t miss their cat enough to get back a sick cat?
Friends and family declare this to be a Christmas miracle, but my skepticism persists. Is this actually a miracle or divine intervention, a punishment from god for not being a good pet owner. People look overjoyed but I continue to stare at the cat suspicious. In a month where it is raining every second of every day, the cat is mysteriously dry.
The cat is still here. He is the same as he was before. I’m still a little suspicious, but I’ve started buying him better wet food. Both to help him bulk up in case he escapes again but also a little bit as penance for giving up on him so quickly. “I’m sorry” I think as he screams at me to put the food in the bowl faster. “I won’t assume you are dead so quickly” as I examine my legs for new fresh scratches that I would have obtained in the night.