“will he make it home?”

will he make it home

dispatch from 02139 (in which the furriest member of our traveling troupe seems to be fading before our eyes, and we all wonder — silently — if we can please, please get him home to the garden he believes is his own personal stalking ground…)

from the start, there was one condition to the then-fifth-grader’s willingness to up and plant himself anew in the cobbled city by the river charles: “i’m not going without turkey baby. either turkey baby comes or i don’t. period, the end,” the adamant one declared.

and so it was.

(turkey baby, for the uninitiated, is our long-beloved cat; TB, short for the breathlessly hyphenated moniker: turkey-baby-meow-meow-choo-choo-hi-cat-bye-cat-space-ship-baseball-hockey cat, a name acquired by an imaginative young lad’s stringing together of his serial obsessions. that lad, now a college kid, long ago — when he was four and the cat was but six weeks — carried home the mewing ball of black-and-gray striped fur in the cardboard hollows of an otherwise vacated six-pack of icehouse beer. so begin legends, right?)

back to cat tale:

yes, on that pre-cambridgian day when cat allegiance was proclaimed and etched in promise, so ended any scattered thoughts of whom we might appoint custodian of cat whilst we ditched east to 02139. no foster dwellings for Le Fat Cat.

he was stickin’ with his People.

alas, unbeknownst to the four-pawed fellow, he was — for 11 months — leaving behind his leafy life along lake michigan, trading it for what would amount to third-floor incarceration, with nary a skittering critter to pounce, and no patch of grass in which to writhe ecstatic.

wasting little time, we began to explore the myriad modes of transport. or rather, I — being the sole coordinator of these nitty grits of daily life — began exploring how to shlep fat cat 1,000 miles from where he’d   long and blissfully roamed.

transport, mind you, is a daunting thing for a cat who’d not do well with sitting tight (say, confined to the airline regulation 18-by-11-inch satchel), a cat who had not spent a single day of his existence bound beneath a roof.

our fat ol’ cat, you see, was the original ramblin’ man. from farm fields he did come, and unto farm fields he would forever roam (admittedly, our cat has vivid imagination and must have imagined hydrangea bush to be his rows of corn, prickly rambling rose to be his blackberry brambles, etcetera, etcetera…i wonder if he imagined me his scarecrow?).

didn’t take more than a minute to rule out packing ol’ TB in the back of the little black sedan for two days, interrupted — somewhere deep in pennsylvania — for one mere night’s respite, with unbound motel acreage.

so it fell to me, thank you, to swoop him through o’hare international airport, no longer the world’s busiest, perhaps, but busy enough for me, honestly, when weaving through its landscape with my not-so-cheery cat. (remind me to retell some day how he nearly leapt from my arms in Terminal 1 when the nice TSA fellow musta figured it’d be funny to have me unzip the unsuspecting traveler’s little travel bag and mr. cat clambered, trembling, into the crook of my arm before spying — and nearly ejecting onto — his escape route.)

stuffed under the airplane seat in front of me, in a jazzy little black zipper bag profoundly doused in oil of lavender (prescribed for calming powers — for me? for him? what really does it matter?), there he mewed, until the mews turned into MEOOOOOWs that, if not for the deafening decibels of airbus turbines, might have prompted the vast population of flight 1477 to turn and clobber me for disturbing their celestial peace. (and never mind the eyerolls from the chick two seats away on the aisle, the chick with low-rider jeans that rode so low my once-innocent fifth-grader quickly grasped all there is to know about the rise and fall of the female derriere.)

suffice it to say, as i’ve said here before, that the short flight from chicago to boston was a messy one, one that i sported billboard-like across my chest as i de-boarded said plane. and let me add that it’ll be a cold day in hades before i ever again skitter onto a plane with scaredy cat in tow (snazzy black cat sack or not).

for all the troubles getting here, though, there’ve been umpteen-million times when that ol’ cat did just what the doctor ordered: in his own furry way, he made the young boy feel like his whole world had not turned tipsy topsy.

that fine old cat curls on the boy’s bottom bunk by the hour. snuggles beside the kid as they both soak up the $159-a-month cable-sports package. rubs his little head against our shins when it’s vittles time again, and always seems to thank us when we oblige.

but, slowly, and incessantly, signs of trouble cropped up here and there. most often in the deep dark of night, with a howl to wake the block. i’ve come to know the guttural bellow as the uh-oh-move-now-or-else-you’ll-spend-the-wee-hours-scrubbing-the-landlord’s-rug meow.

i’ll spare you details other than to mention that, these days, we could probably count the poor guy’s ribs, and any minute now we’re heading to a vet on the far side of the city, just to figure out what lurks within.

the other night, stroking not-so-fat cat’s stripes, the boy who loves his cat, the boy who’s known the cat — called him “my little brother” — his entire living breathing days (the cat’s been around going on 16 years, the sixth grader, a mere 11), looked up and put words to what i’d been wondering of late:

“will he make it home?” he wanted to know.

and so do i.

the sadness of that question hung in the air, unanswered but a minute before i bumbled into some half-wit band-aid of, “oh, i think so….”

i sure hope so.

i can’t quite figure out how we’d do it any other way. i could not leave that cat, not in any form, here where we won’t be for too much longer. i can only imagine him forever residing in our garden. even if that means, yes, a few feet down.

why, back home, we’ve a whole cemetery for the critters we have known and loved, if only for a few days or even a few hours, in the case of one rather mangled baby bunny we tried to rescue. (p.s. to wordsmiths, i know that’s redundant but i am making the point that the wee bunny was maybe three inches long, new of fur, and new to the world at the moment when we found him, panting, breathing, barely holding on to life. but we nursed him still on that tried-and-true formula of pipettes of carnation condensed milk from the little red-and-white can that all but promises curative powers.)

i’m sure most minds wouldn’t leap to the task of trying to figure out such things, but i’ve been strapped with the sort of brain that never sits still in the moment, and always leaps round the bend and four mountain climbs ahead. and so i think too many things, untangle knots before they’re noosed.

we’ll see what light the vet can shed. and believe me, it’s a might load of worry that gets me to dial up a slew of strangers, searching for a D.V.M. with appointment slot and inclination to take on a sad new case. for the first time since that messy flight back in august, i will stuff mr. TB cat back into snazzy bag, head out into the howling winds (for spring has temporarily ditched these parts and we’re back to winter once again), and await the diagnosis.

could just be old age, in which case i’ll hedge my bets and wager that i’ll get the old cat back to the haunting ground he knows and surely searches for in his purr-stoked dreams.

or else it’ll be something more nettlesome, and hard to cure.

these are the sad truths of making room in your traveling troupe for furry, purring heartmates. we would not leave home without our trusty cat, and by hook or by crook, we’ll not go back without him.

there is only one true answer to my sweet boy’s question: you betcha, he’ll make it home.

has there been a long loved furry (or hard-shelled) friend you count among your dearest inner circle? has he or she or it (for hermaphrodite worms might be your choice in pet) stuck with you for the long haul, and could you imagine your days without the fine one’s ways?