Note: I wrote this just before the flood. We’re no longer walking in our yard at night (or at all, for that matter), nor are we allowing our cat outdoors for now.
“Tashi! TAAA-SHI!” I hear my husband and older son calling for our cat off our back deck as I put our younger son to bed upstairs. Night is falling, and as the hands of darkness creep across the minutes, the anxiety in their voices rises. We don’t leave her outside after dark for fear she’ll become the midnight snack of our local owls, foxes, and coyotes. She’s a fast little thing, but she’s little nonetheless and we don’t trust her to mouths of her predators. Despite her natural nocturnal instinct that causes her to long to explore the shadows, we love her too much to increase the risk of losing her by exposing her to her fellow lovers of moonlight.
But tonight we lost track of time. It’s 8:20 then 8:30 and I can still hear them calling for her. I hear Everest’s voice careening toward panic and my husband soothing him. Our son loves this cat with his entire being, from heart to soul to mind, and he doesn’t know that he would survive her loss.
We brought her home from the shelter eight months ago when we decided that the one thing that might alleviate Everest’s intense fear of loss and death – which began when our cat, Mocha, died three and a half years earlier – would be a kitten. We spent a month visiting the shelter, meeting and playing with cats and kittens until we met the one who stole our hearts. If there ever was love a first sight, this was it. We were smitten with the tiny, gray-and-blacked striped kitten with the leopard spots on her belly. She didn’t scratch or bite. She purred like a lion. She played with fearless abandon. We adopted her on the spot.
“TASHI! TASHI!” I still hear them shouting for her. Where is she? I can feel my own anxiety start to rise. As anxiety is often creativity gone awry, my anxious mind starts to drip-feed terrible images of Tashi mangled by a car, bitten by a snake, or gashed by a dog. Where is she? I send out a silent prayer. Please let Tashi come home.
From the day she came home, a piece of Everest’s anxiety was healed. The instant love he felt for her overpowered his fear and the joy he experienced in her mischievous and playful antics pushed aside his sadness. She slept on his chest at night “holding paws” and chased him around the house during the day. Our hears soared when we listened to him laughing his head off at night as they played together past dark. We started referring to her as “Tashi: Medicine Cat”, for we had prayed for someone or something to help Everest with his fear of loss and that something arrived in a furry, purry package.
By the time I came downstairs, Everest has spiraled into full-blown fear. He alternately sobbed across my lap then stood up to shout, in a voice broken by tears, “Ta-shi!” I asked what he was scared of and he said, “That she’ll be eaten by a coyote.” I tried to reassure him by telling him that coyotes rarely come into our yard, and that I’ve had cats my entire life who have prowled at night and they’ve always been fine. Nothing penetrated. He wanted his cat safely in the house and vowed to stay awake all night until we caught her.
So we went back outside to search. My husband was already out there with a flashlight baseball cap shining his way. I took her food bowl and tapped as I called and called. Finally I heard her gentle “mew”, as if to say, “Here I am! What’s all the fuss?” But as I approached her she ran away again. Barefoot, I followed her down our rocky driveway, ignoring the sharp edges piercing my feet. I followed her to the edge of the road, then looked up to the full moon veiled by clouds and prayed, “Dear Moon, please help her come to me. Dear Goddess in the sky, please help me catch her.” Close, then away, near, then far. A cat who doesn’t want to be caught will not be caught. I prayed again to moon and Goddess, knowing that cats are direct descendents from these wholly feminine forces. I walked slowly so that my body spoke the language of cat.
I sent out one more whisper of prayer. And then she stopped. She pranced over sideways in pure cat style and let me catch her. I grabbed her by the scruff and carried her in, shouting, “I have her!” She ignored the food and ran upstairs to hide under the bed. I ran after her.
I cried when I lay down on the floor to talk to her as she scurried further under the bed. I cried with relief and from the risk we take when we love. I cried from gratitude that my heart is open enough that I can feel such love, such grief, such attachment, such heartache, and such joy. I cried because I don’t always know how to mother: Do I hold the position of strength and hope for Everest or do I share his fear and anxiety? In that moment on the floor I could allow my own pent-up anxiety to flow out of my body, but perhaps it would have been healthy to allow Everest to witness that as well. I cried because… I don’t know, because I’m human and something about the evening opened me to the searing vulnerability of this mysterious human experience.
In my work with clients struggling with relationship anxiety, the core fear underneath the obsessions of intrusive thoughts is most often the fear of loss. We simply don’t know that can love, lose, and love again. We don’t know that grief is the healing salve that allows us to walk through the shattered glass field of heartbreak. Because we shun the tears, we shun the full expression of joy. It’s risky to love; of that there is no doubt. We will all lose love eventually in one way or another. But to refuse the risk is to live a safe life inside the confines of a well-controlled comfort zone. It’s a narrow life, a narrow heart. Not the one I choose to live and not the one I hope to teach my children to embrace.