From Out Of Nowhere

Wednesday night we went for a walk, just My Wife and I. My cat, Spongebob Stinkypants, walked a short distance with us. It was pitch black outside. We could only barely see him trotting long the grass somewhat behind us. Eventually he disappeared, in one of the yards close to ours, still very close to home.

We walked for about 2 miles. It wasn't very far. We have both been dealing with a great deal of stress and needed the exercise and chance to get out in the fresh air.

When we came home there was no sign of Stinky. I figured he was off in the trees where he usually is at this time of night. So we thought nothing of it and went inside.

Late that night, when it was time for bed, I turned on the porch light and called him. But he did not come. There was no sign of him. Finally, I gave up and went to bed. I figured he'd be sleeping on the back porch in the morning, like he always does if he doesn't come in.

The next morning I went to let him in. He wasn't there.

That afternoon, when I was sure he'd have come home, he wasn't there. My Wife and I began to worry.

Thursday morning I looked outside, still expecting to see him there, laying on the back porch, perhaps with a mouse. But he wasn't there.

It became a pattern. Each time I walked past the back doors I would look out, expecting to see him there. But he never appeared.

My Wife's levels of stress and worry quickly ramped up. I was surprised at how upset she was. After all, Stinky is mostly my cat and the Little Girl is mostly hers.

But I had noticed that the Little Girl was worrying, too. She had suddenly become afraid to go outside. And she was searching the house over and over again, trying to find Stinky, the cat who pounces her incessantly.

Little Girl began to worry us as much as the missing Stinky did. She wasn't eating. She wasn't using the litterbox. She wouldn't go outside. All she did was sleep. Whenever she got up to get a drink or come sit in a lap, she walked very slowly, as if it pained her to move. And when she lay in a lap, she hugged it tight.

I must confess, I had no idea how much pets can feel until just these past few years, when Booger Bear died and Little Girl was so unhappy. And now, with Stinky missing, and Little Girl again so depressed that she won't eat or drink anything and won't go outside.

On Friday I printed up flyers saying, "Lost Cat - male Maine Coon" and featuring a big photo of Mister Spongebob Stinkypants taken just last week as he walked in the snow. I put them in mailboxes all the way up and down my street.

I went out back, and seeing a neighbor in his yard behind us, I walked across the 2 acres of mushy, muddy, wet land from my back porch to his, so I could speak to him.

"Hi, I'm your neighbor, Steve," I said, introducing myself. He was older and probably retired. He looked at me through his glasses. "I've lost a cat, a gray and white maine coon with a red collar. I was wondering if you might have seen him."

"I see him all the time, him and a black cat," he replied, putting down his garden sprayer and wiping his gloved hands on his pants. "I'd shake your hand, but I've got poison on my gloves here. Anyway, the two of them run along those trees. I wasn't sure if anyone owned them. I see a lot of cats in there all the time."

"The black cat with the red collar is mine, too" I said. "There's another black cat, a tom, I don't know who he belongs to. And an orange Himalayan, a monster of a tom. He's not ours either. But the gray and white, he's mine and he's missing."

"Well, someone may have taken him," he hesitated "but you know, there are a lot of animals around here, owls and coyotes, and they'll kill a cat if they can catch him."

I think my expression gave my thoughts away because he quickly added, "but I haven't seen any owls large enough to take a cat so far this year. They aren't that common, but they do come around. None of these hawks," he said, pointing to the circling flock of enormous birds overhead, "are large enough to take a cat. It's just the owls and the coyotes, mostly.

I thanked him for his time and sloshed home again across the damp yards, not feeling any better at all.

As I walked home again, wondering where Stinky is, I realized that the trees where he and Little Girl like to go run all the way down the length of the street behind us, much further than we can see. And the people living along that street obviously see them running there all the time. I hadn't dropped any flyers in their mailboxes. I only put them in the mailboxes along my own street.

That same night, Friday, I printed up more flyers. Saturday morning I waited for the mailman to come. I wanted to put them in the mailboxes after he had come, but before anyone had a chance to get their mail. It was raining. In fact, it was pouring. The yards and streets were covered in rapid running water like a whitewater river. I didn't care. I want my cat back.

Finally the mail came. I grabbed my flyers and jumped into my truck. The street may be directly behind our house, but getting there is a bit of a trek. I drove the several blocks to the other street, noticing the rain letting up mercifully. Then I parked my truck and got out to walk the long street, stuffing flyers in every mailbox. I held them under my coat to keep them from getting soaked. It was a long walk, and it was wet. As I walked I looked around at every house, hoping against hope to see Stinky peering out someone's window or running across their yard. But there was no sign of him.

My shoes were filling with water as I stepped through streams that ran across the road in my path. I realized that we all live on a hill and that the houses behind me are higher than my house, even as my house sits at the top of the hill compared to the other houses on my street. I hadn't noticed this before. All the water flows down and down, into some poor soul's yard down there somewhere below me.

In my last home, that poor soul had turned out to be me, thanks to some relandscaping the wealthy neighbors had all done as they had their inground pools installed. I had even gone to the trouble of finding and purchasing flood insurance at that house, after having done all we could to set up huge drain pipes underneath the yard and yet still seeing deep waters rise dangerously close to the house in heavy rains. I felt relieved to know that this time there would be no rising river or lake against my home in rains such as this. This time my yard would send that water flowing right on past, down the road and away from my house, my empty house, where a cat was supposed to be, but wasn't. Where was my cat?

All day Saturday I sat and waited, looking outside frequently in the hopes that someone had gotten their mail, read my flyer, and realized that they had my cat. All they had to do was open the door and let him go. He'd come straight home, probably with a mouse he picked up along the way. But he never came.

Saturday night My Wife and I sat and talked. She told me for the first time how she had noticed that as we walked away from Stinky, he had stopped and hunched his back up, apparently seeing someone or something in the darkness that we had not noticed. She thought nothing of it at the time. It hadn't struck her as anything ominous until I mentioned the coyotes. Since then she had been wondering and worrying, what if we had stopped and gone back to investigate? What if we had simply taken Stinky back inside the house before going on our walk? Oh, if only.

Sunday came and we went to church. We sat in Sunday school when they asked for prayer requests. Should I even bother mentioning that while some here have a child in the hospital or a mother with cancer, that we are worried about our cat? We looked at each other silently. We had both come to believe that Stinky was almost certainly dead. And so we said nothing.

Sunday was a sunny day and we worked out in the yard just a bit. Little Girl came outside and walked around with us. She actually seemed to enjoy herself a bit. She always enjoys when we come outside with her. But she didn't last long. She didn't have much energy. Before long she was back inside the house again, lying in her bed just like before. I couldn't help looking around during the time we were out, always keeping an eye out, wondering if maybe Stinky might come running from the trees, pouncing across the yard as he always used to do, bounding with the energy of a nearly grown kitten. But of course he didn't.

Sunday night we watched a DVD, "The Bee Movie" by Jerry Seinfeld. It was funny and gave us a much needed relief of laughing. Little Girl slept in My Wife's lap while we watched it. Everything felt normal. Except for Stinky not being there with us. But we were putting it out of our minds. There is so much to worry about without having this, too. And anyway, what can we do? We've just about done all we know to do at this point.

I'll admit, I had prayed several times for Stinky to return. But over the years, as I've lived and learned hard lessons here in Memphis, my faith has faded. I don't know how to explain it exactly. It's not that I don't believe God has the ability to do things. It's just that I don't believe he cares quite so much. I don't mean that I don't believe he cares about people in general. Just about me. Even that isn't really an accurate description of what I've come to feel. I don't really know just how to express it. I just don't pray the way I used to. I pray more like someone trying not to annoy someone. I guess I've come to believe that God doesn't like me and I don't know what to do about it.

5 days have passed and we have given up. Stinky is almost certainly dead. Anyone who might have taken him has seen the flyers. He has been running through the neighborhood for months. Why would someone just now conclude that he's abandoned and take him? And he's fixed. Why would he just suddenly take off, not coming home after 2 major storms, and wander? Fixed male cats don't run like that. Only toms do that.

Monday morning came and I sat at the table eating my breakfast. I didn't even bother to look outside. Little Girl was still in her bed, not stirring to eat or ask to go out. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something moving. I turned and looked.

There was Stinky with no collar on, laying on the back porch, flipping a mouse around in his paws, flicking his tail, looking over at me as if nothing had happened. I had to look twice to be sure it was him.

Spongebob Stinkypants

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