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The Cat’s Meow

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Turning 40, I think, is an experience only appreciated by those who do it. Those younger than 40 do not realize that “you look great for your age” is not really a compliment and those older than 40 do not realize that “wait until you reach my age” is not at all reassuring. It seems to be a time filled with contradictions; you are old to your children but young to your parents, your body is sagging but your spirit is swinging and in no way is your life exactly what you expected it to be.
Turning 40 was but one of the reasons I decided to leave New York City and move to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The three jobs I needed to work after my divorce exhausted me, my lovely but lonely home had become a prison with it’s centralized alarm and drawn blinds and my friends had moved away to raise their young children outside of the city. It was time for Plan B.

It took 5 hours and some odd minutes to load my 265 boxes and assorted pieces of mismatched furniture onto the gigantic, yellow mountain that was the Mayflower moving truck. The two men, sweating despite the cool temperature, refused my repeated offers of a cold drink. With a mixture of sadness and anticipation, I watched them worked diligently hauling my belongings down the narrow, steep stairs of the walk-up attic, then down the slippery, polished stairs leading from the second floor to the first and then finally down the 30 cracked cement steps leading from my house on the hill. I watched them as they placed the pieces on the sidewalk, ran up the ramp leading into the truck and analyzed the space left, making those small but crucial decisions that would insure my 265 boxes and assorted pieces of mismatched furniture would arrive at their destination efficiently packed and unbroken.

In preparation for the drive, I had asked the vet about giving the cats tranquilizers. She said, “Sure they work but they also cause seizures and in some cases, death.” I decided against the tranquilizers. I don’t know who I was fooling anyway. I have never been able to give a cat any kind of medicine. Food is about all they will take without a fight.

Knowing it was silly but doing it nevertheless, I tried toprepare my cats for the long drive and the adjustment to country life. “You guys are going to be so happy down in Virginia.” I told them. “You’ll actually be able to leave the house. There will be birds, mice and bugs you can play with until they were dead. A big yard, bigger than you’ve ever known is waiting for you with lots of green grass you can eat and then throw up on and” I continued with enthusiasm “ there will be tall trees to climb and get stuck in. But it will be a long drive and you’ll just have to be patient” I warned them. They nodded their heads and purred. Wouldn’t you take that as a sign of understanding and acceptance?

I had 5 cats; Jack and Jewel were 5 year old siblings, both fat and lazy, Fred and Ginger were 3 year old siblings, both slim and paranoid and then there was my wild cat Scout, age unknown. Scout was a stray I rescued from the streets, along with her two young kittens and she thanked me by giving birth to four more kittens in my guest room closet. Scout had never been touched by human hands and had no desire to do so now. It took two grown men and a heavy blanket to get her into the carrier. I fretted and worried as I watched the wild cat shake with fear and then did not have the heart to tell the two very brave men (or the cat) that they put her in the wrong carrier. My hopes for a stress-free trip started to fade.

With no way to change that now, I pushed the rest of the cats into carriers, having to cram Fred and Ginger together into one carrier, starting a hissing fight. With the car fully loaded, my personal valuables and last-minute necessities stowed away, I was carrying the last cat carrier to the car when Ginger used her scared, adrenaline- filled muscles to bust out of the carrier and run under the house. I managed to grab Fred as he leaped out but Ginger was gone. I called to her, cried, and fretted some more but to no avail. She was not willing to cooperate. I finally crawled under the house and pulled her out while she held on my arm with her claws.

I got in the car and started to drive. The wild cat was silent. The other cats started to cry immediately. The concentration I needed to navigate the speeding traffic on the way to the New Jersey Turnpike allowed me to muffle the sounds of their distress. I drove up the entrance ramp to the turnpike with relief, thinking the cats would calm down after a while and go to sleep lulled by the steady motion of the car. Instead, I listened to their mournful cries for half an hour, then an hour, then for two hours. Jack and Jewel had the deep, drawn out cry of a wounded animal. Ginger’s cries were high-pitched and pitiful. Fred’s cries reminded me of whale song, normally enjoyable while watching a National Geographic special, now only torture to my ears. After two hours, they were no longer crying, I was. Their cries turned to howls, echoing from the depths of their little furry souls.

I had to stop the car in Delaware to get gas. The attendant came over to the car and asked how he could help me. “Do you have any tranquilizers?” I asked with a perfectly straight face. It was a 7 hour trip. Sadly, he replied he didn’t have any tranquilizers but he did fill up my tank. I pulled the car to the side of the station and petted them all through their carriers, except for the wild cat that would have bitten my hand off. We all should have taken tranquilizers.

Back on the road, the howling continued through the rest of Delaware and Maryland. When I reached the Virginia border, I stopped at a convenience store to get a drink, my nerves as tense as violin strings, thinking I would pet the cats again after I had a small mental health break from their nonstop wailing. When I did this, I saw that their gums were bleeding from trying to bite their way out of the carriers so I let them out. Not my best idea in hindsight. My fattest cat Jewel somehow managed to squeeze under the passenger seat where I listened for her squeal of death every time I hit a bump. Jack insisted on sitting on my lap, forcing me to put my hands up high on the steering wheel so I wouldn’t hit him in the head with my elbows. Fred continued to cry while crawling between my foot and the gas petal. When I finally lost my patience and yelled at him, he jumped over to the passenger seat and peed on it. Ginger, the most paranoid cat of all, was just a frenzied blur of fur, never staying in one place for more than a moment. The wild one slept the whole trip. Go figure.

The yellow mountain that was the Mayflower moving truck was already there when I arrived and the items of my old life were carefully and efficiently unloaded into my new life. The next day, as the cats and I started to settle in I met my new neighbor. Dressed in knit pants and a sweatshirt, hair graying and smiling warmly I was sure we would become great friends. That was until she said with obvious pride, “Let me show you my collection of special birdfeeders. They attract many rare and beautiful birds.”

I had just let the cats out.

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