Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cats and Houseguests—Open Doors

“I need to do laundry,” said my cousin’s 23 year-old kid and our current houseguest.
“You can use our washer and dryer,” I said pouring dry kibble into the cat’s food bowl.
“I need the… stuff,” Matt said with a yawn.
“Detergent?  You can use ours.”
“And the white… things.”
“Bounce sheets?  You can use ours.”
“And the…”
“What else?”
“Can you just… wash it for me?”

I loved having guests visit because they brought a “thank you” bottle of wine, interesting travel stories and an offer to clean up the dishes after I cooked them a homemade dinner.  Or they used to bring these things.  Now they brought dirty laundry.

My cousin’s kid was staying with us while he looked for an apartment in Los Angeles. Before owning a home Mr. Wonderful and I had rented an apartment in L.A.  When we’d first moved to America’s second largest city, the rental unit market was as tight as my belt after the ice cream diet I tried for one month.  But still we’d found an apartment in just two days.  Now with the downturn in the economy, there were so many available rentals that landlords were selling them at lemonade stand prices.  “Two Bedroom, 2 Bath palatial apartment with pool for just 25 cents”.  So I thought: no problem, Matt will find an apartment fast.  A week, at the most.  

Silly me.

As the days blended into weeks Matt stayed in the spare bedroom where his dirty laundry pile grew to something that even he couldn’t ignore.  His choices were: go buy 150 more pairs of underwear at Target.  Or do laundry.  It took him another week to decide on the latter, which is when he asked me to do his laundry.  But I didn’t want to give this young man a fish, I wanted to teach him how to fish.  Or at least show him the difference between a colored load and whites. So I marched him out to the laundry room—located in our adjacent guesthouse—and taught him how to operate the machines.  Then Mr. wonderful and I left for work.

When I got home that night I noticed several things: Matt was wearing clean clothes, he had more black concert t-shirts than a Rolling Stone groupie, he was still camped out on the sofa, he was still surfing the internet and the backdoor was wide open.  What I didn’t notice was our cat.

“Where’s Jackson?” I said pulling vegetables out of the refrigerator.
“I don’t know,” Matt shrugged.  “Hey, what’re you making for dinner?”  I stopped while reaching for the carrots. 
“What matters is: where’s our cat?”
“Haven’t seen him since...  Hey, when did I move in here?”

I choked on my tongue.  Is that what he thinks?  He’s moved in with us?  I didn’t sign up for a third roommate.  And if that’s the case he should be paying room and board.  This new information was so shocking, so disturbing, so wrong but I couldn’t allot one single brain cell to consider it.  No, I needed all ten of my brain cells to find my cat.

I darted from room to room.  I looked under the sofas, under the beds, under the floorboards.  No Jackson.  I called his name.  I rushed outside.  I checked the pool for a drowned feline.  All I found in the pool was a beach ball Matt must have used hours earlier.

I sprinted to the guesthouse and noticed its doors were wide open.  Inside the laundry room door was wide open as were the doors to the washer and dryer.  Everything was o-p-e-n and e-m-p-t-y.  Jackson was nowhere to be found.

“Matt, Jackson must have gotten out because you didn’t close any of the doors when you finished with the laundry.”
“You didn’t tell me to close doors.”
What?!  It took all the power of my few brain cells not to yell: “It’s common sense to leave things how you found them!  Just close the doors!” 

Instead I shut my mouth and searched the front yard.  I met Mr. Wonderful in the driveway and together we looked under cars, up trees and asked with the neighbors.  No one had seen him.  Now in the pitch dark night, we wouldn’t be able to see him even if we tripped over him.  

Inside I made a vegetable stir fry but couldn’t eat it.  I felt too sick to my stomach.  Matt felt bad, too, but he still ate.

Oh, Jackson, our shy kitty cat had left us.  But why?  Why did he run away?  Didn’t he like living with us?  I felt like I’d let Jackson down by leaving the doors open and encouraging him to run away.  But on second thought maybe Jackson didn’t want to be with us and when he saw the open house doors he bolted because he wanted his freedom more than he wanted to be with us in our home.  Which made me feel even worse.  Not even a six year-old adopted cat wanted my love.

I crawled into bed sad and exhausted. 

The next day I threw myself into work.  I even logged overtime to occupy my brain with something besides not being wanted by a cat.  After 12 hours I plodded to my car and arrived home late.  Looking out into the backyard I saw Mr. Wonderful walking from the dark guesthouse toward the light of our living room.  In his arms I saw a black and white fur ball.  A very scared fur ball.

“Jackson!"  I shrieked frightening him even more.  “Where did you find him?”
“In the guesthouse’s bathtub.”  Mr. Wonderful said putting Jackson on the floor.  Jackson rubbed up against Mr. Wonderful’s leg then against mine.  He weaved himself in between the two of us, back and forth, forth and back.  Deep in his throat he even purred.  Wherever he’d gone, he didn’t like it.  He’d tried living on his own for 24 hours and he found that life was better with us; with people who loved him. 

Which is how it must have been for Matt, too.  He’d graduated from his Midwest college, left his parents, traveled cross country and before he finally moved on to live all on his own in the big city of Hollywood he wanted to linger a little longer with people who cared about him. 

That night I hugged Jackson, I hugged Mr. Wonderful and I even hugged Matt.  Then with everyone in our house who should have been there that night, we ate dinner.  Together.  And it was good.