Can You Hear Me?

For someone living the simple life (out in the country, no HOA, no employer, just me and nature anytime I want), I sure know how to complicate things.

Take for example cats. I do not own any cats. I have never purposely owned a single cat, and yet now I take care of two cats. My only long-term pet as a child was also a cat. She just sort of adopted us.

I thought my childhood cat behaved more like a dog than a cat, so I preferred her company. She wouldn’t get in my face or ruin my things. She would follow me when I went for walks and wait for me at the door when I was at a neighbor’s house. She presented us with dead mice (and birds, sadly) and would even condescend to do a couple of tricks.

The cat we live with now is much the same. Just short-haired, outdoors-only and not actually mine. I will call her Grack because that is what her greeting sounds like.

When I moved to our temporary home, I vaguely understood that a cat belonging to my in-laws would be among the residents. She had been indoors in a prior life, but was now banished to the outdoors due to allergies. I had no idea what to expect, but if on any given day I didn’t see her, I rapidly concluded that she had been hit by a car. Or carried off by a coyote.

Everyone who knew her assured me over and over that the cat would be fine. “She hunts for food and drinks from the creek and sleeps in the barn rafters, so don’t worry.”

OK, got it. Just the old, anxious brain acting up again. Thinking there is a problem when there isn’t.

So when a feral cat started sneaking into the remnants of Grack’s kibble meals last month (she is now spoiled because I feed her daily), I would shoo it away if only to help it move along to its proper home.

But then as Grack greeted me on the driveway one Saturday after my short jog, the feral cat showed up. It proved to be quite social. And its little “mew” sank right into my cat-hating heart.

I mean, I don’t hate hate cats. I just hate typical cats. The kind that have to put their face in your nose hairs or lick your lips while you sleep. The kind that jump up on the counter and lick.the.precious.butter. That kind of cat.

Regardless of its sweet greeting, Grack did not approve. She hissed at it and howled a low warning. She spat and swatted and arched her back. I didn’t see a threat. The whole display amused me a little. Because I don’t know cats, I thought Phase One in transitioning to a second cat was going well. I let the kids meet “Mew” and see for themselves what a friendly cat had found us.

Without going into the whole story, I want to introduce you to a side effect of anxiety. I want to call it alarm fatigue. You get so used to hearing alarms going off in your brain that finally you put the little twerp in his place: “Listen you little liar, if you want to cry “wolf!” for no reason, that’s your business. But don’t expect me to listen.”

And so I stopped listening to the warning voice that said, “You have no idea what you’re doing. These cats are not going to make friends. And remember how those dog rescue applications always asked if ALL adults in the household had agreed to the new dog? Have you talked to everyone?”

I jumped through the hoops as they came up. And if they never came up, I didn’t bother. I’ve got this, I reassured myself. My anxious brain was only sounding the alarm out of habit. I would figure this all out by forging ahead and getting creative.

The two felines mutually tolerated one another until Mew tried to take the tall chair or go to the food first. Then Grack’s claws would fly and her hiss would sound and the cat food would scatter and my toddler would try to intervene. Defense is truly the first act of war.

The staredown. Bobcat looks on.

Their relationship became punctuated by too many moments with the new cat trying to dominate, and the only adult I hadn’t discussed the matter with raised a hoop today that I reluctantly dragged myself through. She said at the risk of Grack being harmed, the stray cat had to go. I agreed.

I took responsibility for the cat that I had encouraged to stay. That meant tricking it to go into a cat carrier so I could take it to the vet. I buckled the crate into the passenger seat, and away we went to find out if this Queen Bee had a microchip.

Animals and me bring up a lot of mixed emotions. I survived childhood without a dog or kitten by imagining I would find one and rescue it. I haven’t really outgrown that dream. I wanted to cry.

I stabbed mercilessly at the radio presets as we drove through the gorgeously green, sunny countryside. What music fit the mix of emotions I felt? And what would I call them? Disappointment spread on guilt. The reality of irresponsible cat rescue against the backdrop of a beautiful day wasted on more driving.

Back to jumping through the stations. Classical seemed a kind choice for the confused, albeit patient, cat, but it mocked my pain. Angry music seemed an unkind way to send this cat off to her next life. And I had already decided to not be angry at myself. I will address shame attacks in a forthcoming post. It will also bighlight an animal, oddly enough.

105.9 cinches it: Space Oddity by David Bowie. Yes, that’s the one.

I drive on, a cat curled up beside me, a glorious day shining down around me, ground control filtering through the air waves, and I think, “I don’t even know if she’s a she. What if she’s so dominant because she’s a Tom? A Major Tom?”

So I sang to Mew, my David Bowie-esque, gender-undefined cat, “Something’s wrong, can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you hear me, Major Tom?” I glance at this gentle-looking creature sitting in its tin can (I’d used a can of cat food to draw it in).

Mew answers: “Though I’ve past one hundred thousand miles, I’m feeling very still, and I think my spaceship knows which way to go.”

I guess I expected her to fight and protest the caged experience. I wish I could say she trusted me, but she probably just figured laying low saved her energy for whatever lay ahead.

And I wonder aloud if my own brain asks, “Can you hear me?” since I excel at ignoring it at times. Perhaps learning to be still (hang in there, Thomas) will serve both my wandering brain and the next wandering animal I find.

She (or he), it turns out, had no microchip, or perhaps the circuit’s dead, so I began calling, emailing, texting, and Facebooking every humane society, rescue, adoption team, lost and found, and nearby friend I could think of. I asked Google if it was a crime to drop her off at some other locale. It is.

So I brought her back home and choked back tears as I imagined her harming or scaring off the beloved Grack, who just has too much cat in her to have a good fight and then make friends. I guess she knows when she has found a wolf in cat’s clothing.

I figured Mew would hiss and scowl at me when I let her out in the field behind our barn. She treated me the same. I tried shooing her away, but she just made a beeline for the house where she heard children playing and thought she should join in.

This evening the two cats sat each on a hood of a warm engine after our commuting adults came home. I thought I heard one humming the melody line to these fitting words: “For here am I sitting on my tin can, far above the world.”

My cat-hating heart is blue. Is there nothing I can do?

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