This Thanksgiving reminded me that the gods have a cruel sense of humour – and when they wield that wicked weapon, they’re often the only ones laughing.
In Message in a Bottle, I bewailed the miserable existence that was my life from late February into September. And in Trump Showed me America’s True Colours, I gave some insight into the hardships I faced as an immigrant in America, which was largely responsible for how very much I hated my life in those months.
But since September, quite a bit has changed, and I find myself happier than I have probably ever been in my entire life. It’s amazing what just a few changes can do to one’s life – or perhaps a few eliminations.
A Better Life
Over the past two months I started a new job, got a promotion, started my own PR firm, got the renovations for my house underway, and had a fabulous trip to South Carolina that I’ll reserve for another post. All in all, things were looking up.
Yet this did nothing to stifle the pain, when I returned from a weekend away to learn that my 7-month-old kitten was missing. It’s now been weeks and she hasn’t turned up. And so, at a time when I should have been celebrating my successes, I was hurting for a sweet little life that had uncrossed paths with my own.
If you’re not an animal lover, then this post might seem ludicrous to you, at best – and that’s fine. For the rest of you, her story begins here.
The Start of a Legacy
In late November 2015, just as the leaves began to turn and the chill of autumn set in, we found a pair of curious eyes peering up at us from the window in the bedroom. At first, we didn’t think much of it. There were a lot of stray cats around the old apartment complex – all feral, not one human-loving bone in their bodies.
But as time went on, we realised this cat was not like the others. She was not only curious, but friendly; and even tried to come in through the open windows a few times.
She wasn’t camera shy either, and would routinely get up close and personal to investigate my lens. Over time, she attracted not just our attention, but the neighbour across the hallway as well. He fed her as he did all the other cats, and took her in when it got too cold in the winter.
When spring rolled around, we saw that the half-grown kitten had finally blossomed into an adult. Unsure of her sex, we called her Ataris, and continued to feed her and let her in on occasion to play. Soon the question of adoption came up, but the vet fees for a checkup on a stray were so high, we reconsidered.
And so we consoled ourselves with the fact that she was well-fed and in good company, and allowed her to continue her outdoor life.
On Her Way
Towards the end of spring, Ataris ended the mystery of her sex. The swelling of her belly soon told us that she was expecting. And on April 24, 2016 she gave birth to two kittens on our neighbour’s front porch.
The neighbour took care of momma cat and the kittens for three months and then started looking for homes. At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted the responsibility of a kitten. Then I crept across the hall one night and asked him to let me see the fur babies he had inside.
When he picked up the grey and pink runt of the litter, I fell in love.
“I’ll keep her for the weekend as a trial run, and then let you know,” I told him, trying not to be hasty.
By the end of the weekend, she moved with me to our new home and set up permanent residence. I named her Smokey.
Leaps and Bounds
She was only a tiny mass of fur when I got her. But with good food and lots of exercise, she soon began to grow at an alarming rate.
A timid and perpetually terrified thing, I groomed her into the curious and mischievous kitten she would become. She thanked me by getting into all sorts of trouble: swinging from the curtains, scrambling up the blinds, and practicing guerrilla warfare on my toes while I slept.
Within a month, she had had her fill of testing me and settled down into an affectionate little lap cat. She was my constant companion: the assisant offering 24/7 support by my desk.
Just about every article I penned for you guys (and for clients) since July 2016, was done with this little fur ball pulling at the cords, head-butting my hands, and swatting at my hair.
At bed time, she curled up on the ottoman, and as the months grew colder she climbed into bed and snuggled up next to me for warmth.
She was more affectionate than any dog or cat I had ever had the pleasure of raising – and that’s saying quite a bit. In my lifetime, at least 10 dogs and 2 cats have joined me on my journey, however brief.
I was honoured. After all, to win the selfless love of a dog is something anyone can do, no matter how terrible of a human being we are. But to win the adoration of a cat? Now that was something!
And then the Gods Laughed
After weeks of working way too hard and playing way too little, I decided to spend the weekend at my bestie’s apartment in the city. At first, I flirted with the idea of bringing Smokey with me, but decided against it.
My friend’s dog was recovering from surgery after a nasty run-in with a metal pipe to the groin. Our pets were great friends, but they played really rough with each other, and that didn’t sound like a good remedy for a dozen stitches in need of healing.
So I left her at home.
Of course, I had a blast that weekend, and as those three days whizzed by all I thought of was going home to find Smokey waiting for me at the door. When I got home, I bolted through the garage door into the main house and ripped the door open.
“Alex, I have no idea where that bloody cat is!” my grandmother piped up from the living room.
I stared confusedly at the empty space at the top of the stairs leading down to my apartment, and then shook doubt from my mind. I had Smokey trained better than most people trained their dogs.
I had taught her to climb up on my lap at a command; to climb onto my chest for her morning rub-down, right after my alarm went off every morning; to watch me eat without interfering, however much the scent of seafood might tempt her.
But most importantly, I had trained her to come when called – and she did 100% of the time, as long as the caller was a member of the household. Everyone else be damned.
Thinking this would be another routine shout into the dark followed by the rustle of bushes and the tinkle of her bell, I didn’t even dress for the 32-degree weather awaiting me.
That routine call turned into me scrambling through bushes in neighbours’ yards, trespassing at 1AM. My Dad climbed into the ditch by the creek behind the house, while my mother searched inside just in case.
Two hours later, they realised I was missing and got the car. They found me halfway to the highway by our neighbourhood, shivering. We checked the neighbouring communities, shouting and calling and searching with flashlights, but there was no sign of grey and pink, and no jingle of bells in the bushes.
Finally, after we had checked every crevice and corner and nook and cranny we could think of, we went home. Confident she would be home by morning, I left her bed, litter box, food, and water outside just in case she returned while I was sleeping.
I then set an alarm for 7AM, so I could get up and open the door to ler her in. But when I woke the following morning, there were no tiny pitters and patters of feet awaiting me outside.
I marked her as lost via her microchip. I posted an ad online, and got started on the flyers. Then it was my turn to climb into the ditch I had been so terrified of, since we moved in the spring.
That was November 13, 2016 – and the kitten who’s never spent a night outside my door is still not home.
The Cruel Twist of Fate
Of course, the cruel irony in all this is that I should be happy. After all I’ve accomplished, I should be on Cloud Nine. But how can I, when the little life I had been in charge of was sucked out of my life without warning?
To say I’m distraught is an understatement. I’ve held up in between handing out and putting up 100+ flyers, wandering around outside at night, and all the supportive messages coming in from family and friends to see if my pesky little puss has been found.
But no such luck.
The old addage that curiosity killed the cat may have proved true this time around, but I hope not. In the meantime, we’ll keep looking, but deep down I know she isn’t coming home.
She was always the runt of the litter – the kitten with outdoor access who still came inside to use her litter box. Instead of catching lizards and birds, my kitten kept a secret stash of acorns under the couch that I didn’t even know existed until she was gone.
The odds of her surviving outside at the dawn of winter is unlikely. Still, I’ve got the word out, knocking at doors and talking to animal shelters. There’s little else I can do but wait.
In my mind’s eye, I like to think of her as the bold huntress she never was, braving the woods and beating the odds; overcoming all obstacles to make her way back to me.
That could all be false hope, but when a life is on the line hope is all you’ve got. What justice could I offer her by giving up?
If by some miracle, the gods have sent my furry feline your way, please note that there is a $100 reward for her return.