I knew this would happen.
When Steely Dan was a tiny kitten who should’ve still been with his mother, he wobbled up to two college boys who could not leave a tiny kitten on a sidewalk in the rain. So they brought him home, marveled at how brave and playful he was, and realized that with school and job–and I’m going to go out on a limb and say beer–they really didn’t have time or funds to give to a kitten.
So they gave him to me. They gave me his a-boy-bought-this blue bowl and too-big litter box and yellow polka-dot scratching pad that he actually used constantly.
As soon as I held him, I said, “Oh, this is a good one.”
For I don’t know if you know this about me, but I have cats. I’ve always had cats. I know from cats. And I could tell, in my bones, that he was my type.
I like a no-nonsense cat, I guess to offset my own nonsense. I like a solid, stoic, unflappable, brave cat. I guess to offset my flappyness.
Mr. Horkheimer was that way, and so was Winston. So was Roger. Solid cats.
I believe in letting cats out, a thing that would have caused nary a raised eyebrow in, say, 1975, and that now causes people to gasp in horror. Since 9/11, we’ve become an incredibly overprotective society, if you ask me. Kids don’t play. They get shuttled to school in cars rather than walking. And animals are put in sweaters and kept indoors. Everything we love has become a dollhouse creature that we keep shuttered away for safety.
My way of thinking doesn’t jibe with this. Nevertheless, my goal was to leave SD in till he was year old, till he knew where he lived and so on. After that, I wanted him to feel the grass under his paws, to lift his head and sniff at birds, and to get his fur warm in the sun.
Oh, how I didn’t know him yet. Because within months, that cat started escaping the house. I’d look outside and there he’d be. And then I’d look again and he’d be IN the house.
Were there two gray cattens in the neighborhood? Was I seeing things? Was I finally just hallucinating cats?
Turns out, he can not only open doors, that cat found an open something-or-other in the roof that led to the attic, then (I saw him do this. Stood in the hall horrified) he’d …bounce on the closed attic steps till they gave way enough that he could squeeze out of the ceiling and leap into my hallway. Boom. Home.
He figured this all out when he was maybe five months old.
And right then I knew: Steely Dan was no ordinary cat.
He didn’t feel the grass under his paws; he soared above it. He didn’t lift his nose to the birds; he joined them.
Steely Dan was the kind of cat who rarely came home. When it’s warm, some mornings he’ll stare at me through the back window, come in and gobble breakfast, then jump through the hole in the screen and go back out all day.
He’s like kids back in the ’70s. He was free.
I’ve had this cat for two years, and since then he’s gotten famous in the neighborhood. He’s very friendly, and sometimes tries to come right in. On NextDoor, there were at first a lot of hysterical, WHO IS THIS HOMELESS (MUSCLED, SHINY) KITTY? notices, but people started saying, “Oh, that’s just Steely Dan.”
But I knew that with this spirit of adventure, there might be trouble.
I knew that with a cat who lived hard, there could come a morning I’d look for his face at the back window, and if it wasn’t there, expect him to leap from the roof once I opened the door, and he wouldn’t be up there.
Friday was that day.
After my harrowing travel experience Thursday, I came home and opened the back door to let all the cats out. Lily and Iris are content with my yard. They just want to cross their paws in the shade somewhere, maybe murder a bee or something.
Not Steely Dan. And while I had been gone Wednesday and Thursday, Ned had come over to feed the cats, and said he literally caught Steely Dan in midair as he tried to leap out the door. To say SD was nonplussed about being indoors in an understatement.
So I knew when I got home Thursday afternoon that he’d be champing at the bit to leave.
Because I know letting him roam is dangerous, usually when he leaves, I say something to him. I tell him what a magnificent kitty he is, or that I can’t wait till he comes back. Just something so that if he didn’t return, I wouldn’t feel as bad.
On Thursday, I said nothing. I don’t even really remember letting him out. I was so tired, and angry about my missing luggage, which is still not here, by the way. But if I have a choice between my favorite clothes and my $150 Retin-A that’s in that bag, and seeing my cat again, my Retin-A can suck it.
And yes, I’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do when your cat is missing. I notified NextDoor, I’ve driven to the shelter (where I saw two of my orange fosters languishing there, a thing that haunts me), I’ve called the emergency vet, and I’ve gone to ask my neighbors if I can call into their sheds and crawl spaces. “Oh, that cat? I see that cat all the time,” they all tell me. “Walked right into my house once.”
I know there’s a chance he’ll still come back, just like my wayward bag. I know someone will leave an asshole comment about this, too. Something smug and shrill and probably containing the term “furbabies.”
But what I mostly know is I adore that cat. And I wanted him to have a happy life, even if it wasn’t the safest, most coddled life.
So if I never get a chance to tell him, I’ll tell you. Steely Dan is a magnificent cat, and I can’t wait to see him again. I’ll keep his polka-dot scratching pad waiting, just in case.