Some of my favorite life lessons came from a cat named Moomin. When I first took her in, she was a tiny, frail Siamese kitten with a respiratory virus that left her with a wheeze you could hear a mile away. There were other cats on the premises, but she was instantly drawn to the only other Siamese. Jarvis was handsome but reserved—to the point of snobbishness.
I doubt Moomin realized that she, too, was Siamese. No doubt she was drawn to Jarvis because he looked just like Mom and Dad. This lonely little kitten pursued him relentlessly. But every time she pulled her tiny wheezing body up to his, he swatted her across the face, spat, and headed for higher ground. Yet no matter how often he moved, no sooner had he settled down again than along came Moomin, squashing herself right up against him, certain that, at any moment, Jarvis would recognize her as “family.”
After about a week, Jarvis gave up. He began to let Moomin sit beside him while still ignoring her. After a few weeks, I caught him grooming her. From then on, they did everything together: ate, slept, and once, in a fabulous feat of coordination, simultaneously threw up on my shoe.
After Jarvis died 14 years later, Moomin spent weeks roaming the house at night, crying for her lost love. Their relationship taught me something quite obvious: Togetherness is a wonderful treasure—for cats as much as for humans. . . .
I lost Moomin … when she was in her middle years. It happened because of my carelessness.
It was summer, peak theft season. I had a reception to attend, my air conditioning was broken, and it was hot. I left my bedroom window open just a few inches, trying to capture the breeze and push some of that muggy Washington air out the same way it had come in.
When I got back to the house that night, Moomin was nowhere to be found. I called and called and walked the yard with a flashlight. Nothing.
The next morning, my panic rising, I combed the bushes, searched neighbors’ yards, and talked to the mail carrier but had no luck. By nightfall, I was beside myself with worry.
I did everything you will find listed in this chapter [Chapter 10, titled “Help! My Cat Has Disappeared”], and I did it all twice. By the 10th day, I felt as if my heart had been crushed by a steamroller. Where was she? Was she alive or dead? How could I have allowed something to happen to such a vulnerable little cat?
After nine days of frantic searching, a friend suggested I call a psychic. I thought the idea was absurd, but at that point, I would have tied oranges to my ears if someone had suggested it might bring Moomin home.
I reached the psychic by phone all the way across the country. She told me not to recount any circumstances surrounding the disappearance, but to express my feelings and to describe my beloved cat. That was tough. Tears streamed down my cheeks and my voice broke up as I traced Moomin’s face in my mind and said how much I loved her.
At some point, the psychic said, “Let me tell you what happened.” I set aside every thread of skepticism to listen.
Moomin, she said, had “left through a window when it was dark, walked down a few steps, and crossed a very big road directly outside your house. It was very quiet and she felt adventurous, so she started to explore in a field on the other side of the road.
“When it started to rain, she hid under some bushes. Later, the rain stopped. She returned to the road, but by this time, it was light and everything had changed. The road was full of cars. Moomin was too frightened to cross back. She heard you calling, but she couldn’t come to you.”
I was stunned. Moomin had left by the window. There is a small set of steps near it. Outside my house there was a six-lane highway—a commuter route that was quiet at night but chock-full of traffic by morning. It had rained in the early hours of that morning 10 days earlier.
The psychic was in California. I was calling from Maryland. I had no idea what to make of this, but I kept quiet and listened to what she had to say.
“Moomin is tired and scared,” she continued, “but she’s still alive.”
The psychic believed my little cat was across the road, living under a house, eating out of bowls of food left for other cats. She wished me luck and refused payment.
I was out of the house and across the road in a flash, walking among the houses, calling and calling until dark. Again, nothing. It had all been rubbish. Moomin was nowhere to be found. What more could I do? I was desolate.
The next day, the phone rang. The caller had seen one of my big plyboard signs at a nearby intersection.
“I’ve been trying to decide whether to call or not,” she said. “I think your cat is living under my porch, eating out of my cat’s dish. I’ve been thinking of keeping her.”
The caller lived almost a mile away, straight through the field on the other side of my street.
Moomin lay on my bed that night while I sat watching her, feeling as happy as can be. She was very thin, very dirty, extremely hungry, and totally exhausted. She had gulped the food I gave her, then, most uncharacteristically, fallen asleep without cleaning herself. For the first time in her life, her ears twitched at every sound and she woke many times until I assured her that her return was not merely a dream.
I imagined how frightened she must have been, seeking refuge under that house every night, living on scraps. She would have been startled by raccoons and opossums and wouldn’t have known which humans were friend, which ones foe. How she must have longed for her home and hoped for those she loved to come and rescue her.
I knew how lucky we both had been. How close I had come to losing her forever, psychic or no psychic. I knew I would never be so foolish as to let Moomin or any other cat out of my sight again.
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