Around this time five years ago my daughter called her daddy from college about the Christmas gift he planned to give me. “Dad, I’m telling you, it’s a bad idea,” she said. “Mom said after Katie died that she doesn’t want another cat.”
“She wants one,” he said. “Trust me. I know her.”
I didn’t want another cat.
Katie the cat had been our baby when Todd and I were newlyweds, and we acted like nutcases in love, throwing her birthday parties and taking her with us on weekend trips from Washington DC to her “grandparents” in North Carolina. During one trip to Fayetteville, she curled up behind Todd’s neck while he was driving and peed down his shirt. Maybe it was payback for the days ahead. She endured life with three rambunctious children, plus a move to France and back. She was a great indoor cat and I loved her, but after eighteen years of scooping the litter box, I was done.
Besides, I thought I had been pretty generous to entertain a cat so long, considering the home I came from. When I once worried to my mom, the most loving woman I know, about the neighbor’s cat who was stuck up a tree in our front yard, Mom said, “Becky, honey, go do your homework. I’ve never seen a cat skeleton up a tree.”
I didn’t need a cat. We already had Tanner the Slobber Dog, who was more than enough animal to handle, snacking on random items like a tin jewelry box or the foot of our antique French buffet. Despite his hours of obedience classes, he was not obedient. Sweet as sugar, but more than enough pet for a family of five.
Even if I wanted a second animal, the timing wasn’t right. That Christmas season was one of the hardest times of my family’s life. One of our children was very, very sick, and we were living day to day. We were exhausted and worried and hanging on by a thread. Our world had tightened into a small little sphere, a bubble of our own enclosing our house, enlarging only for drives back and forth from the doctor’s office.
Meanwhile, Libby, the black cat with a white bikini was holed up in the slammer in Florence, South Carolina, left there by her previous owners for chewing up their electrical cords. Lucky for her she caught the eye of a volunteer at the shelter, my sister -in-law Celeste. Unbeknownst to me, emails started flying. She sent Todd a glamour shot of Libby and then the magic words, quite the hunter. Todd was sold.
Not only would Libby provide a distraction from the worry that had become the air we breathed, Libby could take care of the chipmunk infestation in the foundation of our house. Todd had tried everything- she was his only hope. (Sorry, I’ve got Star Wars on the brain.) Plus, Todd felt sure she and Tanner could be friends. He thought this was a great idea.
Christmas came early, on a Friday afternoon, with Sarah coming home from school and following me around, asking, “Are you sure you’re okay with this?” I was. Libby was cute and it was fun to focus on something besides our own fears. We kept Libby in Sarah’s room over the holidays to make sure Tanner wouldn’t eat her, and then planned to introduce them slowly. Libby let Tanner know who was in charge right away. (See Tanner being Sam to her Ilsa.)
Now we just had to turn Libby into an indoor/outdoor cat. She had work to do with rounding up the chipmunks, and I was determined that the world would be her litter box. But how would this work? Our yard backed up to a very busy road. A cat could become a pancake in a second.
We kept her inside a few weeks, just to make sure she knew this was home, but the time finally came. I tied the end of a ball of yarn to her collar and took her outside. Little by little I let out the yarn, and little by little, she stopped acting like the sky might fall down on her like a big blanket. She would go as far as the fence and then come back. I would watch and talk to her, reeling the yarn in and out.
We kept at it over several days. It felt familiar to me, and then I realized it was because it mirrored just what we were doing with our sick child and with our other kids, really, all their lives. Keeping them in a bubble, then letting them out, little by little, pulling them back sometimes and other times letting the string go really slack. Finally we had to untie the strings and hope for the best. We had to let go, or they couldn’t be what they were meant to be.
So did Libby. She discovered she was meant to kill chipmunks.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but she quickly cleaned out the neighborhood population, sometimes killing three a day. Coming home from work was scary- like walking into a horror movie. After she finally outdid herself, presenting me a chipmunk head right in the center of my pillow, I banned her and Tanner to the sun room whenever I left the house. She didn’t mind. She could lounge around in the sunshine with Tanner to do her bidding.
She lived like this for five good years. Sleeping on our feet. Sitting on my lap as I tried to type. Batting Tanner on the nose just for fun. (I think he even liked it!) Then last week she got sick while Todd was on a business trip. At three in the morning I drove her to the emergency clinic to be put out of her misery. The vet said it was probably an infection in the brain, maybe brought on by her appetite for wild things. But I wouldn’t go back and keep her inside. She lived a great cat life, being fully who she was created to be. Fully. FULLY!
Todd asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year. “What about a puppy? Tanner’s lonely,” he said, flashing his own puppy dog eyes at me.
“Not yet,” I said. “I don’t think I want another dog.”
But you never know around this house. I’ll keep you posted.
Wishing you – and me too- the courage to live FULLY who we’re created to be!