The nights have been bitterly cold here since last Saturday, the day our cat Zachary disappeared. He has long, silky, gray hair, and he’s smart enough to find someplace cozy, but still, he’s gone and we grieve.
Especially since his disappearance stemmed from someone else’s carelessness. We’ve been remodeling the house for far too long – first the bathrooms, then the kitchen. It’s been noisy and scary, especially for a cat that was born feral and fears people to begin with. Zachary, like most ferals, seemed to prefer the outside and loved it when he could roam the neighborhood during the spring and fall. When we were at a holiday party last week, the tile layer left the front door open (ignoring the big sign taped to it reading “PLEASE KEEP THIS DOOR CLOSED”), apparently while he cleaned some buckets, and Zachary saw his chance. He was gone when we got home.
They say that people who care for ferals are masochists, because they love and are unloved in return. Zachary is one of a litter of three that we adopted three years ago as kittens. We thought we could socialize them as we had with other ferals we’d fostered and adopted in the past, without success.
I thought things were changing, though. When the summer withered, I trapped the three ferals back in the house. This involved looping a rope around the sliding glass door to the family room, running it along the length of the outside of the house, and then back in the living room window. I left food bowls in the foyer. After dark, the cats would come in to feed, far enough from the family room that I could, while sitting quietly in the living room, yank the rope and close the door.
Max, who’d always dart from us when he saw us outside, became re-accustomed to being inside almost immediately, so much so that he began sleeping with us and actually begging for petting. We still can’t hold him, but we’ll settle for him sleeping between us. Zachary actually let him pet us a grand total of twice, as he was awaiting breakfast, but that was all. Rosie continue to be shy, although – now that Zack’s gone – she will plaintively mew at us, as if expecting us to magically produce him. I wish I could.
After I posted on Facebook that this was “curdling into the worst Christmas ever,” I received lots of encouraging stories about cats that returned home days, weeks, and even months after disappearing. One of our other ferals, Bandit, was trapped by a nasty neighbor and held at the local animal shelter for five days before I found him. He was 24 hours away from being euthanized. After he was “paroled,” he was a lot friendlier, and eventually became more affectionate than we had the right to expect a feral to be.
I hope Zachary comes back, like Bandit did. I would be happier if I could just catch sight of him somewhere, so I know he’s okay.
In grieving Zachary, I wonder what he was in search of. I imagine him standing in the doorway, surveying the wonder beckoning to him. The cold was less of a deterrent than the promise of freedom. But freedom from what? A warm house, food morning and evening, his siblings. Who would turn their back on that? And why hasn’t he realized the error of his decision and come back home?
I keep remembering a line from an old movie named A Touch of Class. In it, George Segal is having an affair with Glenda Jackson, and Segal’s friend Paul Sorvino tells him about the time he spent $18,000 in psychiatrist fees to figure out how to end his own extramarital affair. When Segal finally realizes that he has to break it off with Jackson, he tells her that it didn’t cost him $18,000: “It cost a lot more.”
I don’t know whether Zachary will ever come back, or if he will ever let us cuddle him in our arms like Bandit did. All I know is that whatever we spent to remodel the kitchen, it cost a lot more.