At 9:30 last Saturday evening, I shut off the television and turned off lights before heading upstairs to bed. My husband Gary was already asleep. I heard a yowling outside that sounded familiar. It started at the sidewalk, gained momentum up the walkway, and came to a fevered pitch on the front porch. I looked out the door’s window and was convinced the nachos I’d eaten for dinner had been laced with peyote. Our cat Little Mister stood poised like a bullet ready for the door to open.
I yelled at Gary. “Little Mister’s home!”
“What?” he said in drowsy confusion.
Little Mister had been gone 41 days. I thought he was gone forever. Yet there he was howling at the door. I opened it and he ran halfway up the stairs before stopping. I stood, frozen, transported to an alternate universe where I was staring into the eyes of a pet that I’d given up for dead.
I ran to the kitchen, poured water into a bowl and raced upstairs. I lightly petted him as he took a few sips.
Store! Go to the store!
I wrestled a jacket over my pajamas. Wait! Marcia has a cat and it’ll take less time to get to her than to the store. I prayed she was still awake. She was, and met me outside her house with a sandwich bag full of cat food. I sped back home, filled a bowl with food and ran upstairs.
I sat with Little Mister and petted him while he munched on the kibble. He looked at me and meowed. It was pathetic and weak. I picked him up and felt the literal interpretation of the phrase “bag of bones.” His eyes were bright, but his coat was disheveled and dull.
For weeks after he disappeared, I expected to hear his meow when I passed by the front door, to find him in the middle of my bed when I went upstairs. I missed him most at night, cuddling at my side.
I didn’t miss his 3:00am—every 3:00am—insistence upon being let outside. And I especially didn’t miss having to keep him and our dog Lucy separated because he hated her puppy energy.
I got into bed, tried to relax and pretend everything was normal. Little Mister, as is his custom, sat on my chest, wedging himself between me and my book. For the first time in 41 days, I cried. “You poor, poor thing, I can’t imagine where you were and how you suffered. I’m so grateful you’re back.”
Weeks earlier, in the midst of the Christmas holidays, I’d resigned myself to his disappearance by thinking he’d been ill and wandered off to die. My tears were a mixture of compassion for his plight and guilt over having so easily dismissed him.
His return was a cosmic slap in the face, making me realize his is a life that matters. I took responsibility for nurturing that life when he came into our home eleven and a half years ago.
The next morning, I got up at six and Little Mister wanted to go outside. We had no litter box and I took this as a sign that he was well enough to return to his familiar routines. (I now realize that I was still in the throes of suspended reality.)
A few hours later, I called him, but he didn’t show up. I walked to the sidewalk and heard a faint meow coming from next door. I found him crouched behind a bush in the neighbor’s yard. It broke my heart to see him looking so helpless, unable to traverse the short distance home.
I picked him up and scolded myself for having let him outside. His ordeal had drained much of the life out of him. His eyes, bright at his return the night before, were dull. He ate a bit of food and I settled him on the bed.
Gary and I speculate what might have happened. On that rainy night of December 20, Little Mister must have sought shelter, perhaps in someone’s rarely used garage or shed, and got locked in. He must have had access to water and maybe some critters. His frantic yowls upon his return convinced me that after 41 days he’d gotten his first chance to escape.
I’ve set up a litter box and will keep him inside. He’s been to the vet who discovered that he has the “reddest throat and biggest tonsils I’ve ever seen on a cat.” She gave him a little IV hydration boost, some antibiotics, and a shot of what she called “cat morphine” to ease the pain in his throat. “Cats tend to like opiates,” she said. Little Mister agrees.
I’m happy that Little Mister is back. I promise to do everything in my power to return him to his normal fatty, demanding, Lucy-hating self.