Walking down the street—a windy night, a blustery night, the last remnant of winter poking into new spring—walking with my family, I ran into my former cat. My wife coaxed him from the brick home five doors down the road, where he has lived for the last three years, or maybe habited is the word, browner, fatter than I remember him when I remember him. He ran up and bit me. I burst into tears.
The time I called my parents, weaving home from the izakaya–It must be daytime, the supper hour, back at home in Florida, yes?—asking after my father, my brother, my grandmother, my childhood dog, how was she, her health, etc.? The lie in my mother’s voice. Stumbling in tears back to my tiny apartment. I missed the train.
(I missed the train on purpose so that I could cry on the long walk home).
On our bed, our old bed, a slimmish bed, tickling my wife, my fingers all over her beautiful young body, her laughter, shrieks, protest, delight. Our cat—our kitten—how he dashed in and bit me all over, viciously, striking like some other animal, like one might imagine a cobra or a weasel would strike. My hand, my arm, my shoulder. That I had a genuine wound there. Blood. My wife calming him, explaining him. Sweethearts.
When my mother brought home the dog, a border collie, a beautiful black and white border collie—no, her name, I can’t share that, I can’t—me, twelve, furious, trembling even, walking into the neighbors’ yard, away, the dog, her, she, the dog in our garage, my younger brother petting her, my father suspicious, but me—Why so angry?
I loved the dog. So much. She was the best.
A few years ago, finding a picture of my dog, a puppy still, wet, in a bathtub of a house I lived in twice, finding the picture in the pages of a book, handing it to my daughter, who asked after the dog, her condition, name, whereabouts, etc., concerned, an edge or shade of protocol in her voice.
That picture now tacked to my daughter’s wall on a corkboard reserved for such tackings.
The cat—how he jumped into my daughter’s crib, curled about her. How it frightened us.
He was never the same after the daughter, or we were never the same, an understatement, an obvious, obvious understatement, of course.
He went to wander a bit, stroll in the world; he failed to return at nights. He took up with an orange tabby, a dusty bland beast my wife dubbed Pearly.
A ridiculous name for a cat.
And then I took to feeding them both. On the porch.
There were other dogs after the dog I loved. A chow, a beagle that couldn’t keep up. What happened to them?
The cat took residency under the house. He refused to move in. He was some kind of scrapper now. We might see him of an evening, curled on the porch, nestled, maybe, with dust-orange Pearly.
But he stopped coming in.
What happened to my dog? The details? I don’t know. This is still a sore spot, but I seem to refuse to ask.
(I suppose I enjoy a sore spot, a wound to worry).
The cat did not like my daughter, I think, and when we had the son, well, I know he didn’t like that. He made it clear. But we subscribe to a fiction wherein the cat loved the children and the children loved the cat.
My daughter has a sweet little framed photo of my cat. He is curled snugly (is there another way for a cat to curl?) in a little wicker basket atop a kitchen cabinet in our old home. My daughter insisted on keeping the photo when I went to throw it away.
Every person, or most persons, that is, most folks—-most folks love their dogs and like their dogs and will say of a dog they like and love: He was a good dog. But my dog! My dog was a very good dog, a smart dog, a dog of impeccable training. My father, returning from years of work overseas to a few months of not working (overseas or otherwise)—my father he trained the beast. It was his project.
(I say, I write, My dog, knowing goddamn well that that dog was my father’s dog).
Returning home from a week in the Smoky Mountains, unable to locate my cat. A miasma about the backporch. Flies, that dead-animal smell that permeates the nostrils, the brain. Finding a raccoon corpse under the house, its body bloated but whole, vile, large and swollen. Discarding it in a series of trash bags.
Its fur was the same color as my cat’s fur.
The strange joy when my cat arrived two days later, his feet trotting down the pavement, sauntering even, arriving on the porch indifferent to my delight but hungry.
That he had taken up first with a possum, and then a raccoon.
The first time I suspected the affair was when I heard the strange crunch of a new jaw crunching on my cat’s own food—a louder, drier crunch. I made myself, hollered, arms above head, chest-thrust, Hey raccoon—off the porch!
But that furred trio just stared at me, knowing I’d go on feeding them as I had been, all Darwinian competition suspended by domestic tendencies, blinking in a series.
And yet and still—my children, via the designs and tendencies of my wife and me—don’t they turn woodland creatures into anthropomorphic totems? Don’t they squeeze stuffed dolls? Draw and mold and paint forest friends? Make stories about such beasts?
I can’t believe for a minute that the dog would’ve taken to such nocturnal company, nor would her sweet heart spurn my babies for night adventures.
But who knows.
My parents now live with an awful yapping terrier dog, his two rows of teeth set above his rotten beard, and above that mutant jaw, his eyes skewed, akimbo, their colors mismatched.
There is a picture of my cat, or the cat that I am calling my cat who is so plainly now his own cat—there is a picture of that cat in the crib with my daughter. In the picture, both cat and daughter face the camera, the crib horizontal to the viewer, its vertical white bars framing the pair. The cat’s head intersects with the daughter’s head, occluding half her face from the viewer’s view.
This picture horrified my daughter.
(And perhaps signaled a sense of self, or, more importantly, or more significantly, or just plain more interestingly, the sense that there was a self that could be occluded, obstructed, obscured, incomplete).
My wife and I, repeatedly testing our daughter’s reaction to the photo, varying times of day, situations, etc., in order to observe her reaction.
(I almost used the verb gauge for observe but oh my that would be so dishonest, yes?).
Anyway, it horrified this little girl, moved her to tears, gasping, this cat’s head blocking half of her head.
With the dog I don’t know what happened, not really: She was old; her hips were bad, we had to put her down. There’s no image there, just the sound of my mother’s voice passing through some 7,000 miles, telling me that she—the dog—was dead. Or not to tell me, but rather to avoid telling me.
But I do know what happened to the cat.
Here’s what happened to the cat: We moved—not far—from a colorful, lively, urban neighborhood, to an old old suburb of that early urban plot. We moved.
And he was an afterthought, the cat—with his roving, his adventures, he was hard to pin down, to catch in a carrier, a box. I’d tried to coax him and trap him and chase him over a few weeks, but in the thin interval between buying the new house and moving into the new house and selling the old house—well I couldn’t get him, grab him, hold him.
Until I finally did. I engineered (the verb here is too kind) a trap of sorts, bating him with the food, constructing a perimeter, waiting. Pearly showed himself (he knew he was not wanted), but my cat was far slippier. But I waited. And I nabbed him: In a carrier purposed for cats and then into a big box and then into the back of my station wagon and then howling for five or six or seven minutes as we traveled, not far, but over a short, old bridge, into our new old neighborhood, his howling yelping shrieking raising my anxiety about the whole thing, his rustling fury palpable in acute waves from the rear of the car, my voice which could not even call him to me under the brightest of conditions in no way alleviating any of this and so yes of course the first thing I did when I got to the new old house was to open the hatchback, open the box, pull out the carrier, and try to grip the cat who yes of course sprang down (like a cat!) onto the unfamiliar concrete drive, hunting perhaps a crawlspace to crawl into, sensing none, none, none what to do what to do?