Cardioinhibitory is a term listed in the medical dictionary, which is defined as "to restrain or inhibit the heart movement." I suffered greatly from this--standing in the back yard, tears rolling down my face, shinning a flashlight into the pitch darkness, hoping for two tiny spheres of reflective glow shinning back at me. You see, I fell in love for the first time with a cat. Now I am not saying that this is the first time I ever fell in love. Love has been very good to me and that is what got me into this whole problem.
We moved from a suburban neighborhood where all the homes were so close together that when your neighbor had a barbecue you could open your window and eat meat right off their pit. We opted for open spaces and have a little land of our own. We moved into our new home in the spring and at the next Christmas we had my entire family over for an old fashion holiday at our new house. That first afternoon together we loaded the kids up and drove to a Christmas Tree farm about twenty miles away. My mother was with us so that meant we all had to sing Christmas Carols as we rode in the back of a trailer filled with hay. As the cold wind butted across my nose I thought of how corny this was. Although I could appreciate the corniness, that scene would linger in my mind for many years after the holiday and kids are gone. This was the last day for the tree farm to be open this season and the pickings were spare. The kids helped cut the tree and we headed back to pay.
Under a small three-sided building with a fire inside was a cage that bore a sign that read "Free Kitten Neutered." I went over, not because of my love for kittens, but just for my love for a baby anything (except a snake). There was a larger-than-a-kitten black cat curled in the corner of the cage. I turned to one of the people wandering around in the area and said, "Where is the kitten?" I was informed that the kitten was right there. He was already a preadolescent cat. I petted him through the wire. My husband, Tommy asked me if I wanted it and I said no. Now it is at this point when our communication became somewhat impaired. I really did mean I did not want the cat. I never had a cat and considered myself ‘not-a-cat person’. Our family loaded the tree and left in the several vehicles that it had required to haul us all to the Christmas Tree Farm.
Everyone went to our home except for Tommy who drove our car to pick up my grandmother. She lived about thirty minutes away and could only sustain a partial day with us. She was scheduled to join in the festivities after we got the tree and before the cookie baking started.
I became worried after Tommy hadn’t returned for a couple of hours. When he finally arrived, I opened the door to find him holding the pre pubescent cat in his arms. He and my Grandmother had stopped at the discount store and purchased a litter box, cat food and a pink plastic mouse filled with catnip. I was surprised, but not shocked. This was a typical move for the love of my life. A very loving, thoughtful man with a huge heart made of gold.
Well, Tad changed our lives. At first he hid under our bed for a few days. We would get a good glimpse of him as he ran to the kitchen to grab a bite to eat and then to the litter box. After a few days he was hanging out with us. He sat on the end table next to me while I read or worked on some sewing. He was small enough to sit among the cluttered necessities of the table nestled against my cozy chair. That is how he fit into our lives. He lay there with his long black hair shinning with the little white spot right on his chin and all four of his paws dipped in white. Tad was handsome and very kissable. I could not walk by him without steeling a kiss on his nose. Tommy would watch this activity in fascination. He seemed proud of the Christmas gift chosen so well. I loved Tad.
Tad and I spend every day together. When my twelve-year-old son went back to school after the Christmas break Tad and I got to know each other even better. I talked a lot to him and he to me. He was very verbal or as ‘a non-cat person’ would say, vocal. He was a strictly inside cat per Tommy's request. This was an attempt to thwart fleas. Tad and I watched the wild life through the windows. I kept a side window open for him all the time. Every Morning he would come sit on my pillow and purr to wake me up for breakfast. We started off feeding him regular dry cat food. There is an entire isle at the local grocery store devoted to cat food, supplies, and cat toys. It wasn’t long before I felt Tad needed a little special dinner treat now and then.
As many cat owners know, you can not do this. And so there we were living with a cat that would only eat the small gourmet cans of cat food. At six each morning we had a little breakfast together and then I would go out and feed the birds and squirrels some seed and nuts. I would laugh at Tad as he watched out the window. He would salivate and chomp his little white chin up and down as if he was chewing on the tail of a red bird. His excitement peaked with the sight of a large black crow that dined at our feeder every afternoon.
Tad slept in a round bed made of fake lambs wool. He curled around in it and was just adorable, Tommy and I would stand over him with pride as if he was one of our babies sleeping so sweet and innocent in his crib. We loved Tad.
I had all those wonderful feelings that true pet owners have. Coming home to find your four-legged friend waiting patiently for your arrival. Having him snuggle up next to you in a chair hoping you wouldn’t have to leave again. All the laughter. The uniqueness that made his life different from all other black and white cats in the world. Tad thought ice came from under the refrigerator when someone opened the top freezer door and rattled the ice. He would come sliding on the kitchen floor with his face positioned low and close to the bottom of the refrigerator waiting for the ice to come flying out. I never could get a glass of ice without dropping at least one piece on the floor. He loved to paw swipe that ice around until it disappeared. He was somewhat curious about the smell of toothpaste and would wake from a dead sleep if he heard the bathroom faucet come on.
My favorite characteristic of his was the way he anticipated the opening of a plastic cola bottle. He would jump to the table and wait patiently until the cap was set beside the bottle and then he would paw swipe it to the floor. He carried it in his mouth over to the hard floor where he could paw it around and make noise. Later when we moved some furniture for spring-cleaning we found about fifty caps. I even found Tad up one night trying to get the cap off an unopened two-liter bottle of cola stored on the bottom shelf in the food pantry. He brought us laughter in places I never expected to find.
He was a well-behaved cat. He never tried to eat out of our plates. One day while I was out he did eat half a bag of barbecue pork skins. They didn’t sit well on his stomach and he ruined a kitchen mat. He did chew up a pair of Tommy’s work boot shoestrings, twice. That was all the real mischief he got into.
As spring approached the flowers came peaking up through the once cold ground. With the dirt on my hands and the sun on my bare feet in the new green grass I could see Tad sitting at the sliding glass door watching me He appeared content. It was I who wanted him to experience the feeling of the grass on his paws and the warm breeze rustling his hair with his little nose stuck in the air sniffing the springtime.
I regret this move greatly for it caused great pain in my heart and soul. It made me realize how delicate God’s creatures are and how we are here on earth for a journey of unknowable length. I picked up my baby, who was still not full size and about seven months old. He was now big enough to knock everything off the table beside the chair. He had grown and didn’t realize how big he was. I placed him on the ground outside for the first time. He immediately nudged a cricket in the wet new grass. As he pawed and played Tommy and I sat in lofty amazement as we enjoyed Tad exploring the outside world around him. Abruptly, as if startled, Tad ran into the wooded area next to our property. We both ran after him, which made him run farther into the woods. We decided to stop chasing him, thinking that if we just let him calm down he would come out on his own. We waited on the porch for hours into the dark. Tad never returned.
Wetness soaked my face as I stood with that flashlight looking for my newest life companion. I worried about all those things that could happen to a naive kitten at night in the anarchy of the woods. The sleep that did come that night was next to the open siding glass door. Morning came early with no sign of Tad. I had to work a twelve-hour shift that day. I couldn’t keep focused on my work I just wanted to get home and look for Tad. When I did arrive home it was dark. I took the flashlight out onto the front porch. As I stood on the edge of the porch waiting for those reflective eyes while calling loudly for "Kitty Kitty!" I heard a soft meow. As I turned around there was Tad sitting on the other end of the porch! Afraid I would scare him away I walked slowly to the front door opened it and ran inside and opened the back door. I crawled out on my hands and knees to the side of the house where he now sat. I moved in slowly as Tommy was retrieving Tad’s food dish and favorite small can of gourmet food. Tad walked around us but would not approach. It appeared that in the setting of the outdoor darkness he could not recognize us. He jutted back into the wooded area. Both Tommy and I, braving snakes and whatever else lurks in the woods, ran blindly after him. We looked for hours. Tad made no noise at all and did not return home.
I was physically ill. Affected with a weight as heavy as an anchor on my soul, I told almost everyone I came in contact with how my cat had disappeared. I heard every explanation of cat behavior my friends and acquaintances could offer to help ease the pain. I called home several times a day during the next two days while working my twelve-hour shifts. The report was always the same, no Tad. When I got home each night we drove the car around the neighborhood, shinning the flashlight, looking for the glowing eyes, calling his name. We had lost all embarrassment. We were just two people yelling for "Tad" or "Kitty Kitty" at eleven at night.
With the grieving sadness and need to physically do something to find and bring our Tad back home, Tommy was the first to break. Since he was a police officer and a tough kind of guy he would never let his real attachment to a fury friend be known. Having such a big heart this would not remain a secret for a long time. He purchased a harm-proof trap. His plan was to place this trap in the wooded area where Tad was last seen and to place Tad’s favorite food, whitefish and salmon gourmet, in the back of the trap. Tad should have been hungry and unable to pass it up. This is what we did. The first night Tommy checked the trap around one in the morning. In the trap sat a reluctant-to-leave opossum. Still no Tad.
The next night he set the trap again, closer to the house, in hopes that we would not catch another wild animal. The next morning I was sickened as I peered out the window and saw a dead raccoon lying on his back with all four feet stuck straight up. I woke Tommy to report the horrible news that we had been involved in the demise of a wild animal. Mumbling words of regret Tommy dressed chaotically and ran to the garage to find a tool to make extricating the stiffened body of this raccoon easier. I watched from the window. As he hesitantly opened the door he must have been anticipating just what happened. The raccoon looked around and ran in one direction as Tommy ran in the other. The trap got stored in the garage that day for good.
Now it was on to the next plan. It was me who literally constructed this plan. I drew a cartoon version of Tad and all the pertinent information along with the fact that there was a monetary reward for his return. I strategically placed the signs at all exits of the neighborhood so everyone coming or leaving the subdivision would have to read them. At least I felt I was doing all I could to find him. My son and I even took a tour of the county animal shelter in hopes that some kind person had found him and turned him in. As we peered with hopeful eyes into cage after cage lining the walls of the animal shelter we yearned to see that little black face with the milk white chin looking back at us. He was not there.
Day nine and still no sign of Tad. Tommy arrived home from work. I met him in the driveway. He asked me to jump in the patrol car and drive around the block with him. He shined the bright spotlight that was attached to the side of the car as I assisted in looking for Tad’s eyes. As we approached a house on the corner I saw Tad lounging in the front yard on the roots of a huge tree. I grabbed the flashlight as Tommy stopped the car. I approached him very cautiously keeping the light on him at all times. My heart was full with joy, my soul was full of fear that he would run. There was also a motherly anger around my mental edges. I vaguely remember Tommy standing in full uniform at the edge of the neighbors but yet stranger’s driveway saying something about he didn’t think the cat was Tad. I was not going to let him get away this time. As the cat started to run toward the rear of the house I leaped out and caught him. He struggled for freedom as I scolded him for being gone so long and making us worry. I headed for the car with determination, in a tornado of emotions when suddenly I realized, as the cat scratched my chin, that the owner of the home had come outside to see a woman and a police officer stealing his cat.
After two weeks I picked up all his toys, food bowl and placed them in his bed and put them away in the garage. It was at this time that the finality and grieving had just begun. He was not coming back. All the well meant rose colored things people had said to help ease the pain had not come true. He was not out sowing his wild oats, living off the land, just being a cat for a while. We were all very sad. I had dreams of him getting run over by a car. Dreams of finding him on the porch. Tommy was too upset to even talk about him. He felt that someway we had let Tad down, that we should have protected him more. He was just an adolescent kitten. I carried the some guilt, but tried to smooth it over with words of Tads determination to be an outside cat, his love for the wild.
We never really stopped looking for him. I took the signs down at the ends of the street after a month. As I prayed that if he couldn’t be with us please let some little girl find him and be pushing him around in a baby carriage and making him drink milk from a doll bottle. That she would pick him up and kiss him on the nose the way I used to do. That when her mother got ice from the freezer for lemonade that Tad would be there waiting for the ice to fly out from beneath the refrigerator.
The long months of summer had begun. I spent the early afternoon lounging in the back yard with a cool drink and a good book for company. My skin soaking in the hot rays. My mind entranced in the plot of the crime novel. I felt a light feathery brush against my leg. Thinking it was the wind I continued to read. I felt it again and looked down to see a healthy, well-fed Tad pawing at my cola bottle cap. Bombarded with the emotions of this miracle I escorted Tad into the house for some salmon and whitefish gourmet.
He never told me where he had been and I never asked. I was just glad he came back home.
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Another story by Sarah: A Loaf Of Laughter