You can’t Reason with Cats

It’s 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday and a cat is crying on piteously on my porch.
I have lived with cats long enough to recognize the sound of terror versus hunger, versus general surliness. This is fear, the kind that wells up when you realize you’re lost outside and can’t get back home and there’s nowhere to hide.
I’m not very much awake and the cat on the porch is begging to come in, squeaking out her confusion and helplessness, so I shut my cats in the bedroom and invite her in. She acts like she belongs here, crying in relief and skittering into the bathroom. I go ahead and close the door, shutting her in there. She’s huge, orange and white, with long hair drooping from her tail and draping over her body like a shaggy blanket. She’s clean, without scars or scratches, and her teeth (which I can see clearly every time she opens her mouth to squeak out little cat sobs), are nice and clean. She’s not interested in being comforted, but neither is she losing her mind and trying to escape after realizing she’s now contained in my bathroom. So clearly not feral. Someone will be missing her in the morning.

Porch Cat

The animal shelter can check for a microchip to identify her owner, but it doesn’t open for 4-1/2 hours. I tuck towels against the doors to keep her from snagging my heel or spooking my own cats with her snakelike white paws searching under the gaps. Quinn stands guard in the hall long after I turn out the lights and return to bed, just in case the stranger tries to escape. When she doesn’t escape and eventually stops crying, he trots over to the bed and curls up beside me. Clearly he thinks that’s that and we can go back to our normal lives now.
Three hours later I wake and slip into the bathroom. Porch Cat is sleeping on the floor beside the toilet. She stretches and rubs against my legs as I brush my teeth, letting me know she was lonely. Since we’re being warm and friendly I scratch her ears lightly and she pushes her face into my hand. After a few moments of this congeniality, she hops onto the counter making gurgling, chirping noises I take for curious vocalizing—until she growls and slaps my hand away.
Stop. Touching me.
So…not warm and friendly, then.
I have three friends in Austin, and one of them kindly agrees to shuttle us over to the animal shelter (making the trip by bicycle is an ordeal I don’t want to attempt). I leave her alone and get to work making a carrier large enough to hold her. It’s a cardboard apple crate left over from moving that says ‘fragile – crockpot’ on the top. I line the box with a small blanket and venture back into the bathroom.
Porch Cat huffs at me. She wishes I would knock before entering. I try to coax her into the box, first with my bare hands and then donning thick work gloves and Jeremy’s long-sleeve winter biking shirt. She is now positive I’m going to murder her. She becomes an amporphic mass of white fur, golden eyes and lighting-fast claws. She evades my grasp, squeezing impossibly into the crevice between the toilet and the wall. She must be cramped, yet manages to ignore physics and her bone structure, clawing at me from whichever direction I approach.
We agree to take a break. I sit back against the door while she eyes me with one pupil visible over the lid of her toilet fortress. I question my first assumption that she is not feral. I slow blink at her, and after a moment she blinks back. Not feral, just scared. Scared of the human with huge hands who trapped her in this tiny room and keeps grabbing at her.
I can sympathize. I explain the situation to her: I mean no harm, I’m only trying to help her get home. She blinks at me some more.
Feeling better after our heart-to-heart, I approach again but she refuses to participate in any more peaceful exercises. She enters some fourth dimensinon of space, practically disappearing into the wall. She is taking no chances and states her position firmly. Meanwhile, Quinn sits outside the bathroom door, wondering loudly what’s going on and why can’t he come in too.
Fortunately I know where my towel is.
Porch Cat is unprepared for towels, which pop her out of the fourth dimension. She zips up onto the counter, where a towel dropped over her from above ends the struggle. I set her, towel and all, into the box and close the lid. She protests this treatment, shooting claws through every airhole simultaneously. I pointlessly apologize for helping her like this and tape the box shut while she calls me bad names through the airholes.
Once I return from the animal shelter where Porch Cat (who was microchipped) waits for her owner to take her safe home, Quinn meets me at the door, most irritated. I’ve been unfaithful, he claims. I left the house with a strange cat, and he’s always petitioning to go outside and why should a stranger get to go outside and that’s not fair.
I explain the situation and cuddle him and he calms down. But he spends the rest of the week staring at me accusingly. Finally I earn his forgiveness with a tuna offering, and life returns to normal. You can’t explain to a cat, but you can solve most problems with tuna.
Or failing that, with a towel.
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The Vet and Spartacus and Us

It’s April 6th, a Monday. I’m sitting in an exam room at the vet while Quinn gets blood drawn and x-rays taken.  Hoping to find out why he stopped eating.  I haven’t eaten yet, speaking of food.  We left the house with just some lemon tea in us, too full of anxiety to consider breakfast.  Now we’re hungry so Jeremy walks across the street to a grocery store and buys a bag of little Babybell cheeses.  We eat them and throw away the wax shells in the garbage can under the sterile sink.  The lab values come back 45 minutes later and tell us what we already know, that Quinn hasn’t been eating for about a week. Who knows why things happens with cats.  Maybe it’s a painful tooth.  Maybe it’s his liver.  Pain meds.  Call back on Wednesday.  Feed him whatever he’ll eat.

That whatever turns out to be canned tuna I find in the cabinet.  Now he’s finally eating and we can eat.  Bacon, eggs, coffee.  Watching Bob’s Burgers on the couch, plates in our laps, plate of bacon cooling on the ottoman.

Happy anniversary, Jeremy says to me.

Happy anniversary, I say back.  We smile.

Having kids would be ten times this intense: hospital and ER visits, food spilled on the carpet (we do get our share of cat vomit), school clothes, toys, baby food, diapers. Graham cracker sludge in every blanket fold and seat cushion. Runny noses. Sleep deprivation. Earaches.

That’s why we opted for cats.

We leave Quinn resting under the bed, reeking of tuna and rubbing alcohol, and go ride mountain bikes at an indoor park.

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He’s still under the bed when we get back, and emerges for more tuna.  We shower and after I take a nap we go out to dinner.

Well, Jeremy says.  Thirteen years.

Yeah.

How did we get here?

I almost say, ‘I led you here. For I am Spartacus’ — quoting a favorite movie.  But that’s not very romantic.  We’re pretty amazing, aren’t we.

You’re supposed to say, ‘I led you here.  For I am Spartacus.’

Sometimes I’m on, sometimes I’m not.

Our lives look so different than we imagined when we got married.  Nineteen years old, with little besides each other.  No furniture, unless cardboard tables and bookshelves count.  Slowly acquiring handoffs from friends.  Finding decent jobs after months of searching, of twenty dollars a week for food, refusing to go on welfare.  Struggling to find decent housing because nearly all of it went to people on welfare (California is a magical place).  Years later, Jeremy losing his job to company downsizing.  Packing in a hurry, driving to a new job in Wisconsin.  Totaling our car on the way, arriving deep in debt.

Rebuilding our lives slowly.

Learning who we want to be.

Learning who we aren’t.

Growing into new ideas, out of old ones.  Growing up together.

I kind of thought we’d end up doing things more…normally, Jeremy says. I didn’t want to, I just assumed we’d have to go the direction most people go.

If we’d had children and taken corporate jobs, our lives would have developed in that direction.  Instead we chose different, and became what we are now: writer and a musician, child-free, travelers. Cat lovers. Bacon and egg enthusiasts.  Adventurists.

I regret nothing.