38: Escorting a Cat

38: Escorting a Cat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Cat's Life

Escorting a Cat

After a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value.

~George Macauley Trevelyan

I looked down at her and she looked up at me. The year before my wife and I had picked her out from the animal shelter. “Do you want to go for a walk?” I asked.

“Meow!”

It was a cute, furry face — black, white and yellow — and her tail was wagging.

“Just don’t run away, okay?” I said.

“Meow!”

I opened the front door and she slid out, brushing against my leg. I set the timer on my wristwatch and I followed her. I was hoping for a pleasant thirty-minute walk. She stepped off the porch, hopped down the rock ledge, trotted along the side of our house and ran across the backyard. Then she ran up the hill toward the cypress bush and crept inside. She sat on a soft bed of leaves and calmly peeked out through the branches into the nearby woods. As a younger man, I would never have had the patience to walk a cat, or wait for it to emerge from under a bush. But now I enjoy the solitude it brings. I enjoy being alone with my cat.

My wife wants to keep our cat safe inside the house, with soft pillows and plush carpeting. But I think that’s cruel. I say, a cat should be a cat. A cat should sniff, explore and experience the world. My wife insists I walk our cat on a leash. But me walking a cat on a leash is not going to happen. Our compromise is that I escort the cat. Wherever the cat goes, I go. So, essentially, the cat walks me. I’ve been escorting Kiwi each day after work and, recently, have realized that I am bonding more with my cat than with my wife. I am learning so much about this beautiful little creature. She loves climbing high into trees, eating insects, and sniffing deer poop in the grass. This summer she was stung on her pink nose by an angry yellow jacket while sniffing a poisonous mushroom. If my wife knew any of this, she would have a coronary.

I enjoy getting out of the house to walk the cat. I enjoy watching Kiwi crouch down and wiggle her little butt before she attacks a tree. I enjoy watching her tentatively paw green grass, spiders and soft moss. I laugh at her wide-eyed, befuddled expression when she contemplates the acrobatic squirrels jumping from tree to tree, or the birds pirouetting in the blue sky. Someone once said, “A dog is prose; a cat is poetry.” I agree. Our cat is a poem with fur.

It’s peaceful walking my cat. A cat does not argue with me or yell. It simply goes about its own business. I merely follow. There is no friction or difference of opinion with my cat. Sometimes I step out of myself and watch myself watching Kiwi. My neighbors must think me eccentric — an odd middle-aged man, always alone, wearing a red hat, smiling at something in a bush or a tree. Watching my cat, I’ve discovered that she is a graceful and agile hunter who thinks falling leaves are animals. She enjoys rubbing against thorny pricker bushes. I’ve also noticed she’s becoming more confident and, with a rolling gait, is venturing deeper into the woods behind our home.

As a younger man, I didn’t observe things much, or appreciate simple pleasures, like walking a cat. But I do now. Consequently, I’m happier. I’m content being alone with my thoughts and my funny pet. Sometimes I take along the word jumble from the local newspaper, or an unread section from the Sunday news. Periodically, I look up, not wanting to miss anything special, like Kiwi pawing at a worm or chasing a chipmunk.

Our young daughter adores our cat, too. Since she is our only child, my wife and I figured a cat could be an excellent companion — like the little sister she never had. After school, our daughter enjoys putting Kiwi in grocery bags, playing fetch with her, or dressing her up in dainty outfits. A cat isn’t a sister, but it’s better than nothing.

“Zoe,” I sometimes ask, “do you want to come with me to walk Kiwi?”

“No, Dad,” she usually says. Zoe has just turned thirteen and prefers the computer, texting, or going to the mall with friends. I guess a teenager needs to be a teenager, just like a cat needs to be a cat. But a father needs to be a father, so I end up walking her little sister alone. The other day I was looking down at the word jumble, trying to unscramble the letters — hitbr. When I looked up, Kiwi was gone.

“Kiwi?” I called.

I looked everywhere, but her camouflaged fur blended well into nature. I couldn’t find her anywhere. She had vanished. I searched around our home a third time. “Why weren’t you more careful?” cried my wife in my mind. I searched for Kiwi in all of her favorite spots, under the porch, under our car, behind flowerpots, and up the hill under the arborvitae bush. But the only thing I saw was my wife’s imaginary worried face. I began to think about “Lost Cat” posters stapled onto telephone poles. I thought of Zoe, and “Lost Child” photos on milk cartons. I kept searching.

“Kiwi?” I called out. Where was she? It was getting dark.

“A cat has to be a cat,” I practiced saying, which I would soon have to repeat to my wife.

“We lost her!” she would sob. I zipped up my jacket and kept searching, but my heart was beginning to sink.

“Kiwi!” I tried again. It was getting darker and colder. I thought about the dogs in the area. I thought about the stray cats in the neighborhood. Strays are filthy. Would Kiwi, our little poem with fur, become pals with them? Would she pick up bad habits, and go wild? Would Zoe’s little sister prefer independence and freedom instead of our soft pillows and plush carpeting? Kiwi was an important part of our family. Did she know we loved her? Did she love us?

“Kiwi?” I called again. I looked at my watch. Our quick thirty-minute walk was turning into a horrible nightmare. I walked up the hill to the cypress bush and peered into the woods. “Kiwi?”

I stepped into the woods. Dead brown leaves crunched under foot. “We lost her!” my wife’s voice repeated in my head. As I walked deeper into the woods, I remembered an event eleven years earlier. My wife was sitting in a white hospital room and a kind doctor was sitting beside her. He told us that the child growing within her wasn’t viable. I looked up into the trees blowing in the cold night breeze and I began to understand her better.

I continued to search the woods and suddenly felt a sob coming on. It came out long and hard, but it was dark and I was alone, so it was okay. All I could see was my wife’s sad face as the doctor consoled her. Her sadness was rubbing off on me because, I realized, her sadness was my sadness.

Then I thought of Zoe, our other piece of poetry. Earlier this morning she was arguing with her mother about going to the mall with her friends. Each day, Zoe is growing more independent and confident. A teenager has to be a teenager.

That’s when I heard something rustle in the leaves, and I felt something rub against my ankle. I looked down and staring up at me were green eyes glowing in the dark. It was Kiwi. I bent down, picked her up, and cradled her in my arms. I held her against my leather jacket and kissed the back of her head. Then we started walking home. A cat has to be a cat, I guess. But sometimes it’s a baby.

~Peter Wood

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