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Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Eyes Of A Stranger

If you are a new visitor welcome to Home Fires, please see part one The Stranger, below.

My cell phone in one pocket, a knife in the other and adrenaline flowing through my veins, my feet hit the ground with the force of an elephant. My mind tried to calm me. I tried telling myself going to jail would not be beneficial to my kids. I decided the knife wouldn't leave my pocket. If I saw them, I wouldn't approach, I'd just keep an eye on them while calling Mr. Lane and his posse. Seemed safer, more reasonable anyhow.

I got to the shitty part of town where the "blue and white jersey guy" was last seen. The weather was beautiful and everyone and their brother was out. Looking a little suspicious, I thought, I can blend. Obviously looking for something, and trying to be a little inconspicuous, I started asking random people who made eye contact with me if they had seen a cat. I said mine ran off a year ago tomorrow and I check all the neighborhoods when I have time.

I wasn't lying entirely. I did have a cat that ran away on the Fourth of July last year and I still did call out to every black cat I saw, hoping it was mine.

Little kids approached me, a stranger in their neighborhood. Some of them rambling on and on, a few in Spanish, some in English. I thought, "Don't these kids know not to approach strangers?" A couple of the kids were little enough to be in diapers, some of them were barefoot, of the few adults I saw, none seemed to be parents of the many kids approaching me. I stuck with the lost cat story as I walked block by block. Mr. Lane called my cell phone. He was getting worried. I told him to go ahead and call the police. I let him know I had calmed down, had yet to see the strangers and that I was perfectly safe.

News of the stranger lady looking for a black cat spread quickly through the neighborhood. More kids approached asking for a description of the cat. I must have looked like the Pied Piper with all of those little rugrats following me down the street. I described my long lost pet to them.

One of the kids, an older boy, who really should know better than to be talking to a stranger, asked, "Lady, how come you're looking all this time later?"

Trying not to get caught lying by an 11-year-old Colombo, I told him about Chip, my cat.

Chip was the best cat ever. When his stray cat mom came to me she brought me six babies. I don't know where she gave birth but she decided my house was a good place to live. It was 4 a.m. on a Saturday during harvest (Mr. Lane was farming then, and we had to be up that early). She came to my patio door with something in her mouth. I walked over to the door and saw the something was a kitten, day old maybe. I opened the door, reached down, and she dropped the baby in my hand and took off.

I thought, "What the hell do I do now?" She stayed gone for an hour and a half and came back with another. It took her four days to bring all six to me. She came in to feed the ones in my house and then scratched at my door to get out to feed the others. I tried following her to help transport them, but the bitch ditched me under some shrubs every time.

Chip was the last one she brought. He was the runt and looked like he was starving. I later found homes for her and all of her babies, except Chip. He was sick, scrawny and needed to be handfed every two hours. Who wants a sick baby? So my kids and I became kind of attached since we were "mothering" him.

One day Chip became extremely lethargic. I planned to get meds from the vet after I dropped my kids off at school. I didn't drive in the direction of the vet, instead, I went home and in a hurry. I kind of just felt worried about him. I got home and he wasn't breathing and had no heartbeat. I CPRed him (SHUT UP!) I'm talking mouth to cat mouth, "puff, puff, puff - breathe damn it!" And two finger chest compressions "pump, pump - beat damn it!" The whole nine. Husband over my shoulder saying, "Give it up Lois, the damn thing's dead." I wanted to kill him. Refrained, but I shot a look to him, the if looks could kill look, and the damn kitten started breathing.

I got about eight breaths per minute from him. So in a very mature loving fashion, I said to my husband, "Haha fuckhead!" And off Chip and I went to the vet, him in my lap 95 miles per hour, er, I mean, slightly over the posted speed limit I drove him to the vet.

Asshole doctor wasn't any better than my old man. He said, "It'll be dead in an hour."


Then he said something about me leaving the kitten with him and he would just send me a bill.

"A bill for a dead kitten?!" So after I "what the fuck"ed him, I told him which meds I wanted him to have and made him put him on an IV and oxygen. Thank God for the animal medical training I had years before as a volunteer at a shelter in California. Funny, but the vet only charged me for the meds. Prick! Anyhow he made it.

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Chip went everywhere with me. He slept in a basket on my desk in the newsroom and rode in my over-sized pocket in my shirt to visit my folks. He was constantly held.

Even after telling the 11-year-old Colombo, the long story of how I became so attached to Chip, that I would still look for him a year later, he wanted to know more. All of the kids stood there in the street listening like it was story time in da hood.

Colombo said, "I can see why you're still lookin' for it. So how'd he get away?"

It was the Fourth of July and I was having a barbeque. Chip was skittish around strangers and big groups of people, so he mostly stayed hidden under one of the beds. The fireworks had him pretty freaked out too. Our neighbor Jim (the guy with the blue pickup truck mentioned in the first part of this story) went outside and left the door open. He even saw Chip run out. He didn't think much of it until later when I asked if anyone had seen him.

Jim has been on my shit list ever since. We scoured the neighborhood for days and days. I put ads in the newspapers describing everything from his long sleek black coat, to the little hook at the end of his tail. It's hard to describe an all-black cat so I even included some of his weird mannerisms and tricks I'd taught him, like jumping up and turning off light switches, carrying items in his mouth like a dog, playing fetch, you name it.

The kids and I made fliers with his picture and posted them all over town.

Soon after he ran off, I got the call about my dad. Cancer. Stage 4. I packed our bags and the kids and I went to stay with my folks an hour and a half away. We asked neighbors to keep their eye out for him but we had to go and didn't know when we would be back. There was no time to change our ads in the newspaper, offering my parents number or anything else.

Knocking on Heaven's door, dad turned to his faith more than ever. I drove him to church every single morning, where he prayed for everything and everyone, even Chip. Especially Chip. I don't think anyone, besides me, not even my kids were as upset about Chip as my dad.

Little Colombo really wanted to find my cat and said he was going to go talk to everyone in his neighborhood for me. He asked me to write down my phone number so he could call if he found him.

Although he stood talking and listening to a stranger for a really long time, I could tell he was a good kid. I scribbled my number down, said goodbye and went back to look for the bad guys.

I felt much calmer. Silently talking to my dad in my head as I walked through the rest of that neighborhood. I looked between houses, in yards, hoping to find at least one of the bad guys. My cell phone rang. It was Mr. Lane again. He said he could see the police coming and said I should head back home.

Don't get mad, part three is coming Friday morning. It may seem like I am dragging this out but to really grasp all that went on here this past weekend, I have to tell you the whole story. Lane 2 isn't scared anymore and is doing great, which I'll get back to tomorrow. I promise. Thanks for hanging in there with me!