My friend Will smiled and I tried my best at consoling her. “This is what we told you about. All our stuff is being packed up for our move. All your stuff will be with you in Montana.”
She ran around the empty room exploring every empty corner, as if somehow she might discover some small reminder that this used to be her room. “All gone!”
I felt bad for Celia. I knew it would be a difficult move for her, and I expected her to have some transition stress both leaving and arriving. But from the very beginning, something told me I needed to be most concerned about the cat.
On Saturday two dozen of our closest friends showed up and began moving furniture and boxes out to the U-Haul truck. It was a sweaty day, and the two dozen beers I’d bought disappeared by lunch time.
Amidst all the chaos, our poor little cat Felix was desperately looking for somewhere to be secure, and ran right into the street as a bicyclist was speeding past.
Felix darted away and the guy turned his bicycle around. “I just ran over your cat!”
We all stopped what we were doing and went looking for Felix. The scared black cat was hiding in the back yard, and I picked her up gingerly. She seemed shaken, probably bruised, but no broken bones as far as I could tell. Her collar and tag were missing, but I wasn’t worried because I’d bought a harness and leash for her to wear for the road trip.
“She’s okay!” I called to all my friends, and they went back to work.
That night we all slept awkwardly. The house was completely empty except for our beds and a few leftover remnants from our late-night packing. I woke up at 4:15am with Felix pacing on my chest. I knew that if we were really going to be on the road by 7:00am, I’d have to get up, start cleaning the house and packing the rest of our stuff. My friends Bob and Will would be arriving shortly after 6:00am, and the landlord around 6:45am to do the last inspection so I could get back my deposit.
I had a lot to do, so I got busy. The first thing I did was let the cat outside so it didn’t get cooped up. The cleaning took me much longer than I’d expected, and so did the packing. Thankfully, my good buddy Siamak showed up before 7 to help load the final items.
We hustled back and forth, cleaning and packing the final dredges of four years living in that home. The landlord stood by watching us for the last hour, but we finally finished by 8:00am. He perused the place, wrote me a check for the deposit, and we were ready to leave.
But where was Felix?
We all started calling, “Felix! Felix! Here kitty, kitty!”
Suddenly, Bob came running out. “I’ve got the cat!”
We all turned in excitement. Sure enough, Bob had found the cat trying to sneak up the back stairs. But then, I watched in horror as Felix struggled, scratched, Bob lost his grip, and instantly Felix was gone. Bob had scratches in fifteen different places, and the spooked cat tore off down the neighbors’ path.
“Felix! Come here!” I called nicely.
The cat paused and looked up at me, then turned back to the bushes and disappeared. There’s no use in chasing a cat. If they’re going to be picked up in the open air, it will have to be on their terms. I took a deep breath and we all began the refrain once again, “Here kitty, kitty!”
After half an hour, I said, “Michelle, you guys should go. I’ll wait here for Felix to show up.” The plan was for Michelle and the kids to ride with Will, and Bob would ride with me and the cat in the 26-foot truck to keep me company.
Michelle reluctantly agreed to leave. We said a quick prayer, and they all piled into their seats. She rolled down the window as they were pulling away and called out to me, “Don’t you dare leave without that kitty!”
“Okay,” I replied.
By 9:00am, with no sign of the cat being anywhere near the house, I said to Bob, “My wife knows me all too well. I’m seriously ready to leave that cat behind.”
Four of us were searching far and wide for that cat, to no avail. Finally, I said, “Okay, I’m giving it a 9:30 deadline. If the cat doesn’t show by then, we’re leaving it. We’ll have to figure out someone to take care of her.”
I shook my head and grimaced. The cat had no collar or tag letting anyone know who she was. If we left it behind, I’m sure that would be a miserable turn of events. We all said another prayer, and kept looking.
I called Michelle and let her know our deadline.
“You can’t leave without her!” she exclaimed.
“Listen, I’m not leaving here at eleven o’clock! We’ve got to set a deadline on this. We need to be able to drive all the way down today.”
Michelle quieted. Then she said, “Please, God. Give our kitty a calm heart.”
At 9:29 I decided to go to the backyard and stand there for the last minute. And who should show up but little scared Felix! She walked right up to me, I picked her up and brought her straight into the truck. I snapped on her new harness and leash, popped her into a little carrier, and away we went on the road trip!
By the time we arrived at the border there was a two-hour line-up.
“There’s no way I’m waiting through this,” I said to Bob. “I’m buying some scotch.”
Bob was confused, so I explained to him that if you buy something at the Duty Free store, you jump the line-up completely and they pop you out with ten minutes to go. “Plus,” I went on with a grin, “You get great scotch at about half the price!”
It’s a good thing we did that, because in the end we had to wait at the border an extra forty-five minutes to deal with extra paperwork, bringing my wine collection into the U.S. and the questions about who Bob was. The first guy we talked to said, “How do we know it’s not half of his stuff in that truck, and he’s sneaking into the U.S.!” That was a good question, I thought. How on earth would they know?
Amazingly, while we were in the line-up inside, Bob saw one of his co-workers in front of us. After the family introductions, they caught up a bit and Bob told him he was going to be back at work on Wednesday. I just know the border guards were listening, because Bob had no further questions asked of him.
To make matters easy for me, the border guard said, “You came down a couple of days ago.”
“Yes…?” I replied.
“I remember you.”
I looked at him more closely. This was the guard I’d talked to when I came down to pick up the truck! Suddenly, both of our stories had confirmation, and I just had to pay eight dollars of duty on the wine and let the guard look at our stuff in the truck.
While we were inside waiting for him, I wondered how long he’d take. He came back with wide eyes. “You didn’t tell me you had a cat!” he exclaimed with a grin. “I opened up the bag and she totally startled me.”
I smiled. The cat was starting to become a real focal point of the trip. And I had to admit to Bob, the timing of when we arrived at the border was perfect – both Bob and I had serendipitous connections that made the explanation of our story simple. All thanks to the cat delaying us.
But it wasn’t long before we started to worry about the cat again. It was ridiculously hot, and the truck had no working A/C, so we had the windows down and got raspy throats shouting to each other. The cat wouldn’t drink any water, and was starting to pass out.
After five hours we stopped for gas and some ice to refresh our coolers and make our drinks colder. The cat was passed out, and Bob desperately fed it some ice chips by practically forcing them down the cat’s throat. Finally, we had success. The cat started to lick up the ice, and began to have a little life in her.
Driving in a big old truck was much slower than I’d imagined, and it was pitch dark by the time we made it to Idaho. After the first mountain pass, I smelled something rancid.
“Bob, did you fart, or was it the cat?”
“It wasn’t me,” Bob said.
As if on cue, the cat popped her head out of the carrier, and I was most certain that she had to relieve herself. But how?
Bob and I discussed possible ways to help the cat poop, and in the end we decided to keep her on the leash, attached to the cat carrier, and let her roam around outside where it felt a bit natural. But when Felix stepped outside, she was instantly freaked. You could see her little brain trying to decipher where the heck she was. Here’s a cat who’s never stepped foot outside of the city, and we expected her to be able to handle the great outdoors? After ten minutes, I knew it was a lost cause and packed her into the carrier, and into the truck again.
Bob and I sat in the truck discussing what we’d do, when the cat suddenly darted out Bob’s door, snapped the end of the leash attached to the carrier, and escaped into the Idaho wilderness at midnight.
In all honesty, I wasn’t overly worried. It wasn’t because I’d thought to write our phone number on a piece of masking tape on the harness either. I figured, she’s a city cat. She won’t want to run far. Just give her a minute, and maybe she’ll even do her duty before coming back.
Still, it was an odd feeling, wandering around in the middle of nowhere in Idaho at midnight looking for our frightened, little black cat. I am now convinced that it’s absolutely ridiculous to think you can find a black cat in the pitch dark in the wilderness. Even with a full moon, that cat was invisible.
As expected, the cat did show up, and we did finally pull into my parents’ house at 2am, after a 22-hour day, sweaty, and utterly exhausted. I snuck the cat inside the bedroom so the dogs wouldn’t smell it, and planned on taking it to its final home in the morning.
Michelle’s trip had been long as well. The kids did okay, all things considered, but they had spent an hour waiting at the border, just to get through (no Duty Free scotch), and then the kids had had to be registered, which took another hour.
We collapsed into bed and hoped we’d get some rest soon. It had been a seriously long and tiring month, and somehow I’d hoped for a feeling of “We Made It!” but the list of things to take care of weighed heavy on my mind. No breaks yet. We still had to unload everything, sort through the possessions, figure out how to make Celia comfortable, and try to get some sleep. No rest yet. But at least we were all in one piece.