Nothing on heaven or earth could fully eclipse the bright, beaming joy of having a new baby. But a runaway cat certainly obscures the light a bit.
On Sunday night, our faces ruddy with euphoria over the Saturday arrival of our sweet Violet Skye, we drove to my parents’ house for a celebratory overnighter. After all, showing off a new baby is one of the preeminent secondary delights of having a new baby. My parents had taken care of Greyson from Friday night until Sunday afternoon when we were discharged from the hospital. And they had also taken care of Dominic, the sweet, jet-black, white-dipped, stub-tailed cat that we adopted into our family a year ago. So the least we could do to show our thanks is give the new grandparents some face time with their brand-new, cherubic-faced granddaughter.
Joy was pervasive in their house that night and the next morning. As we took turns holding Violet, blissed out of our minds, I felt — just as I had when Greyson was born — that nothing could possibly derail the freight train of my happiness.
Around midday, I noticed that my dad had, very briefly, left open the door to the garage, and the garage itself. Picturing the worst, as is my neurotic propensity, I set about to find Dominic in the house. I scoured every room twice, including all of Dom’s usual nooks, crannies, and hidey-holes. My brow furrowed. He was nowhere to be found. So I got in the car and scoured the entire neighborhood twice, as my heart sank like a stone with a bowling ball attached.
There is a sizable wooded area behind my parents’ backyard where I could envision Dom escaping into. So I staked out the perimeter of a huge yard on the opposite side of that wooded area, hollering “Dominic!” into the trees. Suddenly I noticed a man walking briskly toward me from a grassy distance. Hoping he wasn’t fiercely territorial (it was his property) and/or packing heat (we live in gun country) and/or strung-out on drugs (always a viable fear during an opioid epidemic), I waved and walked toward him, trying to wordlessly convey the innocuous nature of my trespassing from 100 yards away.
As we converged, the bushy-bearded man calmly asked, “What can I do for ya?” and I explained the nature of my feline search. “Is the cat black and white?” he asked. I said yes. The man replied that earlier in the morning (current time – 1:30) he had seen a black and white cat near Associated Products, a nearby port-a-potty distributor. My mind brightened for a second, then instantly darkened at the implications. Dominic really was outside. And he had been outside for multiple hours.
I gave the man my phone number and drove 100 yards to Associated Products, where I asked several young men about Dominic while they loaded and unloaded port-a-potties from delivery trucks. None of them had seen him, although they said they see lots of cats prowling around their grounds. I left my number with the woman in their front office, who assured me, “We love cats! We’ll take good care of ‘im if we see ‘im.”
After taking a third fruitless loop around my parents’ neighborhood, I headed back to their house to make missing-cat signs. A steady rain had now begun, and I cringed at the thought that our cat was hiding under a shed somewhere, or in some roofed backyard deck, invisible to me as I scoped out the neighborhood. Even worse (much, much worse), I tried not to picture the sleek, black, rain-soaked body of our sweet Dommy laid out across a road somewhere.
You’ll never have less fun doing an arts and crafts project than when you’re making a sign about a lost member of your family. I tried to make the sign as eye-catching as I could, with “MISSING” in bright blue bubble letters followed by a description of Dominic, contact information, and space for two pictures at the bottom. Next I headed to Target to print out the pictures from my phone, and then to the library to make color copies. The rain, which was the residual tail of massive Hurricane Florence, had now grown torrential. Sheets of rain drenched me each time I got out of the car for my next disheartening errand.
While I was at the library copier, the reference librarian spun some wild tale for me about a missing cat of hers that was found days later, 10 miles away from her home, and how amazing the cat was and is and always will be. I don’t remember any more details because my heart felt too crumpled at that moment to ingest someone else’s story, complete with a happy ending. My takeaway from this is: Sometimes when a person is miserable, it’s best to offer a few unadorned words of solidarity and then just leave them alone.
I’m not a person who can envision positive outcomes when negative outcomes seem decidedly more likely. This is despite the fact that I generally think of myself as a Tigger-like optimist, due to being awash with enthusiasm and gratitude for the amazing life I’ve been handed. But adversity tends to reveals my inner Eeyore. With a dark and clouded mind, and under dark and clouded skies, I cringed my way back to my parents’ house. Carefully hiding 14 crisp, blue-lettered signs under my jacket, I ran inside as rain pummeled the world, and perhaps our lost feline son as well.
I spent the evening in a fog. The dreary rain might as well have been falling inside my skull. We stayed at my parents’ house an extra night so that I could hang the signs the next morning, once the hours-long rain finally abated. I tried, but failed, to make my peace with the ominous possibility that Dominic was gone for good. I stumbled to bed at 11:00, emotionally exhausted and dreading the morning ahead. I slept next to Greyson’s toddler bed while Danielle tended to 3-day-old Violet in the adjacent room.
Then it happened. My mom suddenly rushed into the room.
“Jer!” I sat bolt upright.
Pointing down the hallway, she loudly whispered, “He’s here!”
My eyes bugged out in the dark. It couldn’t be. Multiple people had scoured every corner of the house multiple times. Could it be?
As it turns out, our stub-tailed little fellow had discovered a plumbing access point, largely hidden from the eye level of humans, in the back corner of my parents’ bedroom closet. And somewhere in the untrammeled darkness beyond that hole, he spent close to HALF A DAY.
Who knows how deep into the bowels of the house our intrepid explorer our intrepid little fellow ventured? For all we know, Dominic walked through the warm darkness of my parents’ wardrobe and right into bright, snowy Narnia. Maybe he even had an awe-inspiring brush with Aslan himself, the king of cats. Dominic’s whiskered lips are sealed, so we’ll never know.
All I know is that for eleven grinding hours, the crystalline sunshine of joy about our sweet human daughter was deflected and diluted by murky clouds of anxiety about the possible loss of our sweet feline son.
Sometimes life juxtaposes events in baffling ways. And sometimes nothing works out right in the end. But when everything does, and you’re given back the thing you thought for sure you had lost, all you can feel is pure gratitude.
So today I am grateful. Grateful that my family is intact, and grateful that my family is growing. Grateful for Danielle, Greyson, and Violet.
And grateful for Dominic, our much-loved cat. Whose curiosity did not kill him but — I think we can safely assume — only made him stronger.