August 31, 2005

My mother's hurting, and the emptiness is awful.

The CallerID information on my cell phone guaranteed I wasn't going to enjoy the interaction.

I received a call today from my mother. Now, normally, I enjoy talking to her. However, she's been having a bit of a tough time recently for a number of reasons. To cap it off, a couple of weeks ago, her favorite cat vanished. This is something that all owners of 'outside cats' dread. I had told her numerous times that this was a possibility - not to prepo an 'I told you so' but because I knew it was something she wasn't really prepared for, despite her nightly almost-panicked session of calling for the cats to come in the house.

My parents live in a rural area, next to the main two-lane highway through the region (and only main road). There are hunters in season, there are tractors on fields around the house, and there are occasionally just mean-spirited jerks with .22s or shotguns and not much to do. There are predators of all kinds. There are all manner of poisonous things a cat might eat - or that its prey might eat.

In short, it's not that the cat did anything stupid (for a cat) or even made a mistake. The odds are stacked against them, up there.

However, this cat had made it a couple of years, after her predecessor had been hit by a car almost immediately after being adopted as a kitten. She was a proud (and fierce) hunter, bringing field mice, shrews and birds into the house to play with until they stopped moving - and then, always, she ate what she caught. We'd started treating Mom's predictable nightly cat-calls with amusement and (I am guilty to realize) some derision - on the premise that 'if you're going to have an outside cat in the boonies, deal.' My mother is a crazy cat lady; when did that happen?

A couple of weeks ago, the cat didn't come home.

My family searched everywhere they could, and found no sign. There were several cats missing from the village they live in, and they had seen a fox in their front yard a couple of times. Normally, foxes would avoid cats (and vice versa) since they're both after roughly the same prey - but the Fish & Wildlife department explained to Mom that in the midsummer, foxes are teaching their kits to hunt. Thus, August is the only month of the year, typically, where 'domestic animals' might suffer their privations.

Not good.

Mom tearfully told me that a couple of times, she'd heard faint meowing when in the front yard. She'd searched every time, and found no sign of Sweetie (yes, the cat is named Sweetie; I was scandalized by this until I met her, because...well...that was her name). I attempted to comfort my mother a few days ago, because she was suffering tremendous guilt that the night Sweetie had gone, the other cat had been anxious in the kitchen - usually a sign of trouble - and Mom hadn't gone into the yard to check in the middle of the night when she was getting a glass of water. Had she done so, she was sure, she would have been able to save the cat.

Now, my mother is, in fact, 'loading' an enormous amount of her current problems onto this straightforward real-world one. She's ascribing guilt to herself enormously and has her emotions bound up in her cats - too much, perhaps - because she's under stress, is working hard, and for any number of other reasons I don't know or understand right now.

I explained that if a fox had taken Sweetie, there's no doubt she (or he) could have killed the cat - but that there was very little likelihood that s/he could have done so silently. Sweetie was a night hunter - and while a fox could certainly kill her in a straight fight, there's no way I can conceive of that she could have been surprised. The noise would have been awful, and there would have been no doubt what was going on. I've been in the yard when Sweetie's brother tried to sneak up on her, leading to a catfight - and a couple of times, it's escalated to a racket that no-one would be able to sleep through a mere fifteen feet away with open windows.

But today she called me.

She was crying again, and she told me that she'd heard the meows (she realizes) near one area of the house every time - near where there is a fairly large porch, walled off from the foundation. Today, there's a 'smell' near there.

When trying to comfort her over the past two or three weeks, I didn't dwell on the tendency of cats to come home and hide when injured. I've seen other relatives' cats do that when hit by a car, for example.

I just spoke to my father. They pulled the siding off the porch area, and there's a stench. They're very, very sure the cat is in there.

I don't know what to say. If my mother wasn't hearing things, then the cat was alive under the porch and unable to come out for at least a week and a half after she went missing. She would have died literally underneath her family's feet.

I know, intellectually, that it's not our fault. I know that this is the kind of thing that happens. I know that this cat, adopted from a barn, had two and half (three?) years of perhaps the happiest life I've seen a cat live.

None of that is going to make a difference when I think of her under the porch, dying.

I'm worried about my Mom. I love her, and I know this is hurting her terribly.

Posted by jbz at August 31, 2005 9:02 PM | TrackBack

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