Another lifetime ago my husband Chuck and I had cats. We also had Schnauzers most of that time, but this a cat story.
Our cats, Charlie and Murphy, were litter mates I had adopted back in 1988, when I had moved into my own apartment in Torrance, CA. They were indoor cats, and continued to be so over the next few years; but over time they started gravitating outdoors. Anyone who knows cats is fully aware that once they get a taste of the outdoors, it’s very hard to keep them in. Once we moved to San Diego, the time they spent outdoors outweighed their indoor time.
Living on a busy street and not far from a canyon with wildlife — including coyotes — we simply threw caution to the wind, hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. The fact that both cats possessed bad bathroom habits (anyone who claims that cats are clean animals, have them come talk to me) only furthered our stance on allowing them outdoors.
Charlie was a mostly orange tabby cat whose whiskers reminded me of those cartoon cats like Sylvester (Warner Bros. cat who terrorized Tweety Bird) or Mr. Jinks (Hanna-Barbera cat who spent every episode trying to outsmart “meeces” Pixie and Dixie).
Charlie’s brother Murphy was a little more non-descript; not so much a tabby, but mostly tan and white, with markings like a cow.
Back when we had cats, and I wore pumps. Murphy, sleeping in
Chuck’s briefcase on the left, Charlie on the right.
One afternoon, a couple years after moving to San Diego, there was a knock at the door, and it was a solemn-looking young woman asking if we owned a gold tabby. When I said yes (orange, gold, however Charlie could be described), she told me that one had been hit by a car and was lying dead in the road about a block from our home.
“Oh, God, Chuck,” I said to my husband, a cold chill starting to course through my body, “we need to find out if it’s Charlie.”
“Kelly, I can’t,” Chuck backed away, his face ashen, eyes wide with apprehension.
I looked at him understandingly, took a deep breath, and followed the young woman down the street.
“The car didn’t even stop,” she said over her shoulder as we approached a group of about 5 people. “Someone said you had a gold cat…” her voice trailed.
Fearing the worst, I stepped through the small crowd and glanced toward the roadway to find a light gold tabby lying in the road, a small puddle of blood accumulating around its lifeless body. It wasn’t Charlie.
Relieved, yet still heartbroken at the sight, I coordinated with a couple of the people a plan of action to find out whose cat this was. I quickly ran home to give Chuck the news, then set back out to knock on a few doors to see if anyone might know.
Having no luck, I made my way back toward the scene. Moments later I heard a commotion and looked up to find two 30-something women running toward us from the other end of the block. One was a petite woman with short, cropped blond hair and glasses; the other was a heavier-set brunette. “Oh, no, Kirby!,” the brunette cried out as she reached the cat first. The petite blond stopped about 15 feet away from us and fell to her knees, wailing.
“We had our dog put to sleep today,” the brunette said to our group, a combination of shock and dismay blanketing her face, “and now this. He’s an indoor cat…he got out…”
We, too, were all in a bit of shock, and “I’m so sorry”s were expressed all around; I, not knowing what else to do, turned around and tearfully made my way back to the house. I was too distraught to stick around and perhaps offer an old towel or blanket in which to swaddle Kirby in so his body could be moved. Once I got home I fell apart, telling Chuck what I had witnessed.
I knew Kirby’s owners were a couple, as I had seen them around the neighborhood, and knew where they lived. A few days after the incident I bought a condolence card and a sunflower for the ladies and placed it on their front porch. I gave my address and phone number, but never heard back, which was fine. I had come to understand that lesbians in our neighborhood kept mostly to themselves. I found it a combination of amusing and discouraging that Kirby’s moms had a swing on their front porch — facing inward.
“Maybe it’s so they can watch TV through the window,” Chuck surmised, one time as we drove past.
“Yeah, you would think of that,” I replied, rolling my eyes.
There really is no moral to this story; it was simply a sad experience, one that I actually wrote about at the time, corresponding with an editor from the San Diego Union Tribune on a story she was doing on indoor vs. outdoor cats.
Charlie and Murphy remained in their indoor/outdoor state for the rest of their lives. Murphy, more of a maverick, would stay out for days on end, while Charlie would usually only spend a day-or-so away. Then right when we thought we might never see them again; they would eventually appear at the front or back door, all intact. They always knew where home was.
Murphy and Charlie, looking through the back French doors of our Orange County home.
But there did come that time around 1999 when Murphy (age 11 at the time) never came home; then about a year later, Charlie left for good. We always assumed coyotes may have led to the eventual demise of both our boys, but about two years ago Chuck found a collar of Murphy’s that had been under the house. It appeared that Murphy had gone under the house and gone to sleep and never woke up; that made sense, as his health had been declining rapidly (having gone from a robust fourteen pounds to about nine pounds.
Kirby’s owners didn’t stay in that house for more than another year, and since then, numerous other tenants have come and gone. I was walking by it last week with my dog Griffin, when my neighbor Marilyn walked up with her dog Limpy (she pushes him in a stroller). We commented on how the house could be a cute place with some fixing up. I then told Marilyn (an avid cat lover who owns a few, and feeds the neighborhood ferals) the Kirby story, and as I got toward the end where Kirby’s moms find him — much to my surprise — I started to choke up and weep a little. A very empathetic Marilyn patted my shoulder as I quickly pulled myself together, said goodbye and went on my way.