For going on two and a half years now, I've been feeding a cat that isn't really ours. One, that means the people in this house before us couldn't find their cat the day they moved to Florida. Two, that means the cat came back the very next day. And three, that means I buy a big bag of cat food at Aldi, store it in the homeschool room closet, pour some of it into a medium canister with a snap lid, and scoop out a portion each night for the cat's bowl outside our back door.
We rarely see the cat, which we named Johnny, during the day, but each evening when it gets dark, Johnny sits on the rug outside our back door, looking in and waiting to be fed. It has become my routine to see Johnny and to feed Johnny and even, sometimes, to pet Johnny. On Halloween, I think Johnny was bewitched because that afternoon in bright daylight, he kept hanging around my chair where I was reading outside, and even laid down on the grass beside me.
But for the most part, Johnny is our little nighttime visitor, like a ghost almost, or maybe like the wallpaper on my phone's homescreen. It's there, and you always see it, but you notice it most the day it changes.
The day MaryMa died was the day Johnny didn't show up. And for ten days, it was almost unsettling to look out the back door at night and not see the cat, and not have to feed the cat, and not know what had happened to the cat. We eventually became so convinced that Johnny had gone to cat heaven that on Monday night, I threw away his bowl and loaded the latest unopened bag of cat food into my van to return to Aldi.
But on Tuesday morning, TJ got up at 3:30 a.m. to go on a trip for work, and he texted me a few hours later while I was making breakfast to say he had seen Johnny in the dark, lying on the ground by our fire pit and making a strange cat noise. My first thought was that the cat's reappearance was directly related to the fact that I threw away his food bowl the night before, but my corresponding action was to lug the bag of cat food back in the house and put it back in the closet.
Johnny has been back a couple times since Tuesday, at odd times, and never to sit on the rug in his usual spot by the back door. Once we saw him lying on the grass down by the boathouse. Another time, he was resting in a folding chair that's near our back door. And last night, we saw him move ever so slowly from the chair to lie down in the mulch. It's hard to tell what's happened to him, but he is clearly not the Johnny we've known.
He ate some food I put in a paper bowl by the back door, and I saw him hobble off, like an arthritic cat, or one who may have been hurt in a fight, or partly run over by a car, or maybe even a cat with cancer. There's no knowing what happened, only that he may or may not recover, and we may or may not find him dead in our yard. The kids have begged for us to bury him, which I volunteered TJ to do if this is Johnny's ninth life.
No matter how you look at it, I am intrigued about the cause of Johnny's diminished status, concerned about his potential suffering, and sad about the possibility that he might soon be lost to us forever.
Maybe Johnny was MaryMa's spirit animal because she loved cats so much.
Or maybe Johnny was here to remind me to care about what comes into view, in the same way that Anne Lamott says, We can be big in prayer, and trust that God won't mind if we pray about the cat...Is God going to say, "Sorry, we don't have enough for the cat?" I don't think so.
Or maybe the real significance about Johnny's passing in and out of our lives is that I get another lesson (of which there can never be too many) about valuing each day I have with those I love because, like E.B. White, "I feel sadness at All Last Things."