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Missing

November 25, 2014

Callie-the-cat isn’t coming back.  It’s been two months since she disappeared.  I finally packed up the litter box last weekend and found a home for the enormous cat condo taking up space in our sun room.  IMG_8027

In my journalism class yesterday, we discussed a poignant story about a University of Montana student who vanished in 2013 while on a month-long Colorado River adventure with classmates.  The student’s body was eventually found, offering a grim ending, even if the details of how she came to drown in the river may never be known.

With that story, and others like it, as backdrop to the grand scheme of everything and everyone who can go missing in our lives, I fully understand: She’s (just) a cat.

But the missing cat has catapulted me back into childhood, to an earlier loss, when our pet dog Tippy bolted out our front door and never returned.  I was a small child, but in the blur of memory, I still see Tippy’s black-and-white haunches high-tailing it down our street, running as if her life (or getting away from it) depended upon it.  In contrast, my siblings and I  stood with toes on our property’s edge, as far as we were allowed to go, screaming after the dog: “Come back! Come back!”  At the end of the street, Tippy turned the corner, and that’s the last we ever saw of her.

In my child’s understanding of the world, running away was an act of desperation.  For years after, I wondered what made her take off like that.  Was she that bored?  That miserable?  If we had loved her more, would she have stayed?

As I grew, the disappearance of Tippy became conflated with the disappearance of my birth mother.  For years, I scanned the world for both of them, wondering what had become of the missing dog, and the missing mother.  I knew what Tippy looked like, but my birth mother was a mystery.  In part because I had a twin who looked like me and in part because our younger brother, not adopted, was a dead ringer for our dad, I assumed that our birth mother was an older replica of my sister and me.  So it was a version of myself that I continually sought in faces of strangers, in crowds and on family vacations, in Chicago especially, where we were born.  But our paths never crossed, Tippy never came back, and decades later, when we did meet our birth mother, I realized I would have passed right by her and never known who she was. I also realized that reunions can be non-endings; they aren’t guarantees of details, closures, or peace.

When I was in my twenties, a neighbor confessed to my mom that her husband saw Tippy hit by a car all those years ago.  The dog turned the corner at the end of our street, darted into a busy road, and was killed.  The neighbor said it had been on her mind all those years, how they knew the dog had died but hadn’t said anything.

While I forgave the neighbor’s desire to avoid devastating us with news of our pet’s death, I wondered how she could think that knowing was worse than not.  As somebody who was adopted, I well understood that not knowing is a far greater burden, that not knowing plays games with your mind, that you can’t shake not knowing; it crawls after you, wherever you go, pestering, poking.  There is absolutely no closure to not knowing.  You may learn to live with it.  But it never goes away.

Callie-the-cat’s sister is buried in our side yard.  We have her body, hit by a car, euthanized by the vet.  The kids held a funeral, we put a small stone on her grave.  End of story.

But I’ll never stop looking for Callie.  I know this about myself.  Decades from now, when I am an old woman in this house where I have raised my four children, I will still be searching for that cat.  When I pull into the driveway, I’ll scan the daisy patch where she used to hang out.  When I’m raking leaves from under the raspberry bushes, I’ll pull the rake slowly away, as if she is still hiding there.  I’ll look for her in the kitchen window where she used to try to catch our eye when she tired of the outdoors  and wanted to come in.

We’ll have more pets.  Maybe more cats.  Probably a pup next for the eight-year-old who has been begging for a dog since he was a toddler.

But it’s the cat who went missing who won’t let me finish the story.  For the rest of my life, I will write and re-write her ending, unable to let go the absence of what I will never know.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 25, 2014 7:52 pm

    What a wonderful story, Jenny. I remember looking for a cat who didn’t return also. I love your comparison to your adoption, too. When are you going to write that book?!

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