Friday, November 24, 2000
Tigger, Home for Thanksgiving
This is the story of the cat who adopted us ten years ago. During an early summer thunderstorm, my husband and I found him bawling in a tree outside our apartment in Chestnut Hill, a scruffy orange-striped kitten more put out than petrified. I was a little surprised when he ventured down the tree at my urging. I say surprised because I claim no rapport with cats; I admire them but, since I am also allergic to them, I have learned that it is better to maintain a respectful distance. So when this fellow crawled down amid the thunder to sit calmly in my arms, I'll admit I felt a little flattered, but I was fully determined to offer him shelter only for the duration of the storm. But as this kitten strode into our apartment, curled up next to our long-suffering mutt Molly, and even allowed her to wash his ears in a motherly fashion, it dawned on me that, like it or not, we had been adopted by a cat.
We named him Tigger. From the beginning, he has been more of a tenant than a pet. For ten years he has asked no more than to sleep in our basement, eat our food, and roam the fields around our house. And for ten years, I have suffered from cat angst, feeling guilty because I rarely played with him or even petted him. He has never curled up in my lap nor purred on my window sill, because whenever I'm near him for more than a few seconds, my eyes and nose begin to flow like Niagara Falls (both the U.S. and Canadian sides). Numerous times I have asked myself what kind of life this is for a cat, and thought he would be happier with a more caring, less allergic landlord.
Tigger, for his part, has always seemed a bit bored with our family. In fact, he has rarely intruded on our lives. I am grateful that he has never deposited little formerly living presents at my back door as tokens of affection. In fact, apart from letting him in and out of the house, we are hardly aware that he's around... except for one occasion, at what turned out to be my first and last attempt at a Victorian garden party. My guests were admiring my gardens that late July afternoon, drinking in Nature as they sipped their lemonade. Without a sound and with a grace that Nureyev would have envied, Tigger leapt out of the thistle, grabbed a finch in mid-flight, and wrestled it to the ground in front of our astonished eyes. Ever since, whenever I hear the line, "nature red in tooth and claw," I've always pictured Tigger and that goldfinch..
I don't mean to portray him as an unlovable cat. He's aloof, but he has his good qualities. He was devoted to our dog Molly, and she to him. In the evenings, if he had not yet come home, I could send Molly out to find him and she'd return, five minutes later, with Tigger walking beside her. When Molly died two years ago, Tigger refused to come in at night. Rather, he sat on her grave, howling in a way I'd never heard an animal cry before. It made me realize that I wasn't the only one grieving for a lost friend.
It has taken me a long time to discover how I really feel about this cat. Three weeks ago, on a warm Tuesday night, Tigger didn't come home. Night after night of calling to no avail convinced us that he wasn't coming homethat he was gone and that we would probably never know where. I was surprised at the sense of loss that I felt; surprised at how many times I looked for him to come loping out of the trees near the house whenever I drove in our driveway. Wasn't this my tenant cat, the one I'd kept at a safe distance? I shouldn't have felt his loss so deeply, yet against all reason, I did.
Then on Saturday night, my husband heard a faint mewing coming from under our porch and was able to coax our exhausted cat out into the open. A quick look at his hind leg made us rush him to the animal hospital, where the doctor shook her head and promised to do all that she could. "I can't figure out how he ever made it home on that leg," she murmured, half to herself. I wondered at that too. What kind of devotion made him drag himself through four days of pain to get back to us? I suppose it's the same type of devotion that keeps me going down to the basement these days, now that he's home recuperating, to apply hot compresses and antibiotics and medication four times a day, while I sneeze loud enough to wake the dead. We have a bond, this cat and I, though it's taken me ten years to admit it. And that is why, this Thanksgiving, I will be counting among my treasures a ragged and scarred cat, whom I've only lately come to love.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito