So our cat is dead.
Probably really, really, very dead at the time of my writing this. I'll have to go back a bit to explain.
May Long Weekend. Around one o'clock in the morning the first thunderstorm of the season hit. And it was a good one.
We slid out of bed and went to the windows to watch it roll in. A classic Manitoba Mega-Storm, coming from three directions at once. Stirring, mountainous thunderclouds. Jagged flashes of lightning just ripping these sharp moments of daylight. And meanwhile, on the ground, all of nature is in panic. Even the forests look like they're trying to uproot themselves and run.
Then it got scary close.
A simultaneous burst of thunder and lightning -BOOM!- and I'm thinking...it hit our property! It probably lit up a tree!
I stuck my head out a window to check.
Crap! Was it was the bat house? Did I just take out my own shed?
I just installed it that day. I had to laugh. What a lightning rod! What was I thinking? But no, another flash and I could see the shed was fine.
Then I thought - was it the pigs? Did it hit the pigs?
Another flash and I could see they were fine too.
Now I'm just being ridiculous. It probably wasn't that close. Besides, if lightning hit a pig I'm pretty sure I'd be smelling that.
So I stopped acting crazy (for the moment), and we stayed up to watch the storm. It was a beautiful thing. And somehow the kids slept through it.
Crawling back into bed, Anna mentioned Figaro was still outside.
“He's probably so scared,” she said.
“If it gets bad he'll just crawl under the truck,” I said, and went back to sleep.
4:45 AM. Figaro's crying outside on the porch.
Well, buddy, if you want to be an outdoor cat you have take the good with the bad.
Here's some back story:
Our cat isn't fixed. We got him from a barn litter down the road. Bo picked him out himself. We'd already lost one cat moving here.
I thought that was going to be rough on the kids. I mean, as a parent what are two traumatic things you present to your children? How about the loss of a pet and moving. We did that back to back. Literally. Thursday: your cat's dead. Friday: this is your new house.
But you know what? Our kids were champs. They spent the day cuddling their old cat and feeding him treats, then we let them say their goodbyes and we took him away to get put down. Sure, some feelings came later, but even that had less an impact than I anticipated. Then the next day we got to our land and the kids took off like they just pole vaulted the Berlin Wall.
No harm done! This parenting thing is a breeze.
Anyway, weeks before this storm Figaro had been impossible.
Whining at four in the morning to be let out. Disappearing for days. Coming back limping and scratched.
Most of the time he healed up fine, but once it was so bad we had to take him to the vet.
We showed up after-hours and the crew there tried to guilt us into paying $865 for an emergency surgery he didn't need. (Cuts and scratches. All good in a couple days with a simple puss-suction and shot of antibiotics. Still, 280 bones).
But he kept going out. He wanted to stake his turf. Or meet some lady-cats. Or fight coyotes. Or whatever it was he was doing. He was relentless, insistent. And really, really annoying at 4 in the morning. So we let him go.
“I think someone around here's got a lot of barn cats,” I said to Anna. “That's what's going on. Figaro's trying to infiltrate a pack and he's getting bounced.”
“So what do we do?”
“It's like an arms race. We've got to get more cats. Our crew's got to be able to take on their crew.”
So the next day we went out and picked up about nine dozen cats.
No, actually we're rational adults so we didn't do that.
But there are a lot of farms with wild cat populations. Ours isn't one of those (yet). So what can you do? We just let him go and hoped that he'd have enough sense to stick close to home.
Anyway, back to the whining on the porch – May Long.
I tried to ignore it, but then there's this other noise.
Crap! He's in a fight with another cat! On our turf!
I leaped out of bed and ran to door. I got there just in time to see both cats rolling away under our vehicles.
I raced back to the bedroom and flicked on the lights. My wife was not impressed.
“What are you doing?” she said.
“Figaro's in a fight!” I shouted. “He's in a fight with that cat he's been scrapping with! And he just got jumped on our porch!”
I threw on the first two pieces of clothes I could find then ejected myself from the house. As I flew out the door I thought I heard my wife say,
I saw a long handled shovel leaning against the garage. I grabbed it and jumped into the woods.
The cats were really tearing it up. It wasn't hard to find them but it was impossible to stay close. They were pinballing off tree trunks. How were they even moving that fast? Both of them were on their sides, kicking the crap out of each other. Just this unstoppable blur to chaos and noise, bouncing off trees and throwing up mulch.
Figaro was giving it pretty good to the other cat, but every time the other cat hit Figaro all I could think was, “Vet bill! Vet bill! Vet bill vet bill vet bill!”
That, and, “I have a shovel! I'm going to end this!”
“Anna!” I shouted back at the house, “They're over here!”
Somewhere, way off in the distance I heard my wife say,
“...what are you doing?”
I was tumbling through the woods now, in the rain, desperate to keep up. Wet poison ivy everywhere, but I'm smashing through branches, hopping over junk piles...I'm getting close!
They rolled out onto the pasture path and I stumbled out after them. Shit! They're headed toward the neighbour's section! I'm going to lose them!
A rock pile line separates our land from theirs. For a moment I thought, I'll just hop over it and keep after them...
But then I stopped myself.
Because...you know what? I haven't met these people yet. And this would be a bad introduction - 5:00 am, crashing through their property, wearing a dark hoodie and some random pants, swinging a shovel in the rain and screaming “Figaro Figaro Figaro!”
I could actually get shot doing this.
So I crouched by the rocks and listened, trying to track where the battle was heading.
At this point Anna walked up behind me, sensibly dressed for the weather.
“Hey crazy farmer,” she said, “What do you think you're doing out here?”
“I'm just...” I started to explain, gesturing with the shovel in the direction of cat-fight.
“You're just what?”
“I don't know,” I shrugged. “I guess I go nuts when something wakes me in the middle of the night.”
“I'm probably covered in poison ivy.”
“Yeah you probably are.”
As we walked back toward the house I stabbed the ground with the shovel.
“What are you doing, tough guy? You see a mouse?”
“No, there's a root or something. A rock. I hit it with the lawn tractor today. I thought I'd poke it. See what it was.”
“You're still acting crazy.”
“I'm still acting crazy.”
Back inside I dumped my clothes at the door and took a Dawn shower. (Pro Tip: Dawn dish soap neutralizes poison ivy. Kind of.). Then, smelling like an old lady, I crawled back into bed and tried to justify my actions.
“You just have to let them work it out.” Anna said.
“Oh, and is this how we choose to parent?” I asked her.
“It's our cat,” she told me.
“Well I had to do something,”
“Yeah but, what do you think you were doing out there?” she asked.
“It's called Direct Action,” I taunted. “Feel free to sit on the sidelines with your moral certitude while I'm out there making a difference in the world.”
“Enough...go to bed.”
But by now it was fully daylight and I couldn't sleep. All I could think of was my cat out there, getting his ticket punched.
A year before we moved I read Jonathan Safran Foer's book “Eating Animals”. I liked it, but I can't say I agreed with all of it. (There's a part where he illustrates the species divide by contrasting the global mania for the polar bear cub Knut by highlighting the fact that almost everyone in the crowd is eating a hot dog. Ok...)
Myself, I'm still putting it all together. And I rarely have a tidy argument anyway. I think it's possible to care for animals and eat them. And I don't say that with a shrug. Everyday I get a better sense of what that means. The author of that book can visit a slaughterhouse, but we're keeping pigs. Those are two very different things.
So I kind of spiral off in my head along those lines, thinking about my cat, our lives, wondering how my kids are assimilating all this life and death and change, meanwhile getting just enough non-sleep for it to be annoying when my alarm goes off.
Now I'm beat. It's early. I didn't get any rest. I probably got a good case of poison ivy, and somehow I got talked into working through a long weekend.
But as I start the car and head to the highway, some hero at the oldies station decides to play this song.
And for a second I feel alright. I feel like I'm starting to get it.
That, or maybe I just fucking love Tom Jones.