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January 20, 2005

Bad November, Part 3: Resolution

By now, it was Friday afternoon, some 2-1/2 days since we'd last seen Zap, our oldest cat. After making up the "Lost Cat" posters, Kathleen and I went out to cruise the neighborhood, putting them up on all of the communal mailboxes in the area.

In our neighborhood, like many places in this area but unlike any areas we'd seen in California, individual houses don't have mailboxes. Instead, for each cul-de-sac or section of street, there's a single, larger mailbox with many smaller, lockable compartments, one per house. Typically, there's one of these communal boxes for every 10-20 houses; this allows the mail delivery person to be more efficient, placing many houses' mail in a single stop.

After all of the boxes in our near neighborhood, we also hit a few that were a bit farther afield than we'd searched so far. As we were putting up one, we ran into our mail woman; after hearing our story, she seemed to have no hesitation in telling us that Zap was "probably coyote chow" by now. Very sensitive, our mail woman.

At another stop, we encountered a fellow raking his lawn. He came over and chatted for a while, telling us about several cats he'd owned over the years, one of whom had once disappeared for four days and then just shown up again, none the worse for wear. It was a hopeful story for us, even though I don't think either of us really believed it might apply to our situation.

After doing all of the reasonably close mailboxes, we headed off for the Humane Society. On the way, we stopped in at the Starbucks in the neighborhood shopping area and asked if we could put up a poster there, too. They were very nice about it, taking a poster and saying they'd put it up after clearing it with the manager. Then they refused to charge us for the coffees we ordered. Very kind, really, even though they never did actually put up the poster.

The Humane Society told us they didn't really take "found" pets, only donations by owners. They sent us on to the King County Animal Control shelter, a pretty dismal place. They have loose-leaf binders full of lost- and found-pet forms, mostly lost, mostly sad, sad reading. The person at the counter was very brusque, letting us know that in no uncertain terms that finding our pet wasn't his job; we could look through the binders, maybe add our own page, and check the cages in the back, but he wasn't getting any more deeply involved. He also made sure we knew that sometimes pets are found deceased, so...

Zap wasn't there, of course, either in the binders or in the back. As always, it was very tough for me to see so many cats and kittens sitting forlornly in little cages, mewing, staring at us with sad and hopeful eyes, knowing that we couldn't help by taking any of them home with us. On this occasion, with the added sadness of our own situation, it was pretty unbearable. We left after just a short while.

And the evening and the morning were the third day. Saturday morning came, still without Zap.

I'm not good at being sad. I'm generally a pretty upbeat person. Missing Zap like this was terrible, and I think I was made even unhappier by the very fact that I couldn't see how I was ever going to stop being sad about it.

Saturday dragged on and on, with just more of the same: searching, calling, sitting. Holding Kathleen while she cried, trying to help without knowing how, trying to hold out hope even though I felt less and less myself. Zap was still young, strong, and fast, I said. He could take care of himself, right? But if he was still alive, why hadn't he come home to us? Surely he wouldn't stay away if he had any choice, so what or who was keeping him from doing so? All of the scenarios other than "coyote chow" felt implausible, and getting moreso.

That night, we had an arrangement with some friends to go together to a special "Microsoft Night at Costco". At the time, it had seemed like it could be interesting, since we're not members. Now, it just seemed like something to do, something to keep our minds diverted a little, at least for a while. They were supposed to come by our place at 7pm to pick us up.

I microwaved myself a couple of frozen burritos for dinner. As I sat down to eat them, Kathleen called me from the den, I think to look at something odd on her computer; I don't really remember. I walked over to the den, passing the front door, and there he was. I honestly thought for a moment that I was dreaming, or confused, or seeing things. It actually took me a moment to put stimuli and reason together and to open to door so that Zap could come in. It took Kathleen even longer to understand what was happening, probably because all I could get to come out of my mouth was, "Oh, my god," over and over again.

Zap came right in and sat down on the entry hall carpet to be petted. After days of being the strong one, of holding Kathleen and keeping it all together, I just completely collapsed. I knelt there on the floor, hunched over Zap, stroking him in disbelief, and bawling in harsh, racking sobs, while Kathleen now held me.

Zap had no marks on him, no mud, no wounds, no sign of any trauma at all. He was quite high strung and skittery, but otherwise appeared completely fine. I, on the other hand, was utterly in shock. Our friends arrived some ten minutes later, and I was still incapable of coherent speech, sitting again at the kitchen table, chewing on my burritos without tasting them, still mumbling "Oh, my god" over and over.

I don't think I'd consciously realized it, but I'd more-or-less completely given up hope of ever seeing Zap again; I was already in mourning for him. Him showing up at the door was the closest thing to a miracle an atheist like me could conceive, and I'm just not ready for miracles.

Zap clearly was too freaked out to need anything from us but space, so after I eventually got myself back under control, we decided to go out to Costco with our friends anyway. We decided to go in one car, since Kathleen and I weren't planning to buy anything anyway, just look around. We were pretty impressed with ourselves later, when we managed to fit all three shopping carts full of stuff (the one our friends bought and the two we did), and ourselves, into the car for the ride home. I guess Kathleen and I were feeling just a bit, well, giddy...

January 19, 2005

Bad November, Part 2: Zap

A few days after Enterprise came back, just when we were beginning to settle down again, Zap stayed out all night.

He'd done this before, as I've described, but it was a bit scarier this time, given Enterprise's so recent, longer-than-usual absence. According to established habit, though, Zap appeared at the door the next morning and we breathed easier once again. Clearly, our boys were going through a bit of a "bad" stint. Hopefully, they'd snap out of it again soon. This was getting annoying.

The next Wednesday night, a week after Enterprise's return, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner out with some foodie friends. The restaurant was way up in Woodinville, and we got a somewhat late reservation, so we got home somewhat late, maybe around 11pm or so. Kathleen had managed to get everyone but Zap inside the house before leaving to come North, so we were anxiously hoping to see him waiting for us when we returned.

As you've guessed by now, he wasn't there. He didn't show up before we finally turned out the light to sleep, and he wasn't waiting at the door the next morning. At work, I was constantly distracted from the tasks at hand, wishing my phone would ring, Kathleen calling to let me know he'd finally come home. It didn't ring.

I came home early that night and, with a dread feeling of déjà vu, we again walked all over the neighborhood, peering under every bush, calling again and again. Nothing.

We considered, of course, printing up a new set of "Lost Cat" posters, but rejected the idea. It was ludicrous. We couldn't go around to all of the neighbors again so soon, it would be ridiculous; they'd think we were nuts, crying wolf, or at least pretty incompetent pet owners. With the experience of Enterprise's little jaunt so fresh in our memories, we headed home again to wait and hope for a full repeat of that happy ending.

November had it in for us, though, and wasn't about to let us off so easily. Zap didn't come back before lights-out, and he still wasn't home the next morning, by now some 48 hours since we'd last seen him.

I went out before breakfast and again walked the whole neighborhood, calling and calling, ignoring the stares of the workmen doing landscaping on a nearby house, explaining myself to the nice housecleaner arriving at a neighbor's house, hoping to see any sign of Zap. He was nowhere to be found. One the way back, I was thinking it'd be really great if my cell phone were to ring, with Kathleen telling me Zap had come home in my absence.

And then it did ring!

It was Kathleen, but my flash of cautious optimism was crushed: she was just asking how it was going. Zap wasn't back at all. We were still in pain, and it felt like nothing was going to help.

My team's offices at work were being moved that day, so there wasn't any point in going in. The team was instead doing a big bowling party, but I really didn't feel up for it, so I stayed home. Kathleen and I made several searches, including tramping down into the wild bushes of the green belt below our house, calling, hoping, crying, losing hope, and searching some more.

We talked about how stupid we were, to have continued to let the cats outside after Enterprise's episode. How could we not have seen this coming after Zap then stayed out overnight shortly thereafter? We cried a lot, and just felt miserable most of the rest of the time.

Eventually, we decided it was time to make some posters, regardless of what our neighbors might think of us. It went faster this time. I already had a template ready to go.