If I have a name, I don’t know it. My mistress and master call me something, but I have never bothered to pay attention to exactly what they are saying. Their actions speak better. And to me, the vocalization of any kind is simply one type of action. I don’t distinguish it into finer degrees than that. And please, don’t hold this interview up to me as a counterexample. Voices are not minds.
I am a tabby, black and gray. My face looks airbrushed. The black stripes shade smoothly into dark and then light gray. It gives a soft impression, and makes me look rather kind, I think.
I don’t remember much about my kittenhood. The only thing I recall about my mother is the trauma of being taken from her too early. I suppose I must have been very small when I came here to this house. To be honest I don’t really remember growing up here. It seems to me that things have always been as they are now, which is fine by me. And a credit, I must say, to my mistress and master for providing such a degree of stability.
No one else lives in the house, only my mistress and master. My mistress takes care of me and plays with me. She cleans my litter box and puts out my food. The master is a little colder, but when he is working at his desk and I walk on his keyboard he will take me in his lap and rub underneath my chin. Despite his coolness I like him, because he seems as thoughtful as I am, not as busy as my mistress.
I spend a lot of my time on a cat tower in the corner of the bedroom, looking at my mistress and master sleeping in their large bed. I like to know what is going on. I like to observe. And though I am kept inside I am fascinated with the outdoors. I look out the windows, and the riot of different colors and the ceaseless movement entrance me.
I am an indoor cat – mostly. I say “mostly” to convince myself, or to console myself, because I realize it’s not up to me. My mistress and master keep me indoors. Still, when I see an open door I know it is open and I am hit with an overwhelming urge to go outside. What restrains me is not conscience, and certainly not preference. Only caution restrains me. You might call it fear, and I wouldn’t argue with you.
Today I finally found the temptation overpowering. The patio door out to the deck was slightly open. I found it enough of an invitation to provide entitlement. I was now owed a trip outside. That it was being offered, but at the same time withheld, was unfair. I sat and yowled to my mistress. Perhaps I could catch her at a moment of weakness. She was in the kitchen standing at the counters, first one then the other. Usually that meant she was cooking, but I couldn’t smell any food. She was holding a lot of papers. She then sat at the table next to the patio door.
My meowing was persistent enough to wear down her patience. Maybe because she thought she could keep an eye on me from there, she finally relented. She was both exasperated enough and overconfident enough to open the door and let me outside. She slid the glass door further out of the way, then opened the screen door. She stood there and spoke to me. I did not know what she was saying (as we have already discussed) but when I was sure enough of her attitude I decided to test the waters by venturing gingerly halfway out the door. I put my front paws on the bristly mat just across the threshold and felt the heat of the sun that its fibers had absorbed and stored up throughout the day. I squinted my eyes against the breeze and the unfiltered sunlight. I paused to soak it up. And then I wanted that warmth over the rest of my body, so I stepped further, all the way out the door. And as the tip of my tail finally passed the doorway, my mistress closed the screen door. I looked back at her and she was in the dark. It was as if she had disappeared and been replaced by a dark shadow of herself.
I kept near the door. I expected she was going to sit at the table and remain watchful over me, but soon she had gotten up to do something at the opposite side of the room.
I stretched first, then sat erect and closed my eyes to the breeze and let the sun warm my body from the bottom of my paws up through my legs to the top of my head and the tips of my ears.
I opened my eyes and took in the scene. Movement caught my attention. At first I just watched the swaying of branches in the wind, then I saw a bird swooping down from the air to skim the grass before rising to perch in the middle of a tree. I stared at it for a few minutes and took a step forward. It flew away.
I stepped a few centimeters more out onto the patio and fully into the sun. I folded my front paws underneath my chest, pulled my haunches in and sat. I narrowed my eyes a bit but then opened them and watched in contentment the wonderful world that was always breathing, always in motion.
Until I saw the intruder.
A black and white shape emerged from the neighboring yard’s bushes and slipped through a hole at the corner of the short chain-link fence.
I stood. Two contradictory instincts battled within me. I wanted to move forward to investigate, and I wanted to move back, based on a tinge of caution. Well, call it caution if you want to be charitable. It was fear. But there’s nothing wrong with fear. Fear is natural and useful. I stepped forward to the edge of the patio to accurately identify the threat.
It was a cat, mottled black and white, with a large patch of black over one shoulder, and another over the opposite eye. His black and white pattern made it a little difficult for me to pick out the true edges of his form, but as he moved I got a better sense of it. He was not huge, but by no means delicate of frame or features.He had heavy shoulders. Definitely male.
He slipped through the fence, paused in a half crouch, and stretched forward, scanning the lawn. He must have found nothing dangerous, because he relaxed, unbent his legs to rise to his natural height, and ambled on into the yard.
A breeze picked up, and he was upwind of me. Once I caught his scent I bristled. I crouched my legs and flattened my body against the patio. My hair stood up and I bared my teeth. A low growl started deep in my throat, almost all the way back to my stomach. I kept it low because I didn’t actually want to alert him. I was just prepping myself for a fight. But low as it was, he still heard it. He stopped, and his ears pricked up.
He turned toward me and glided forward cautiously. I think he was just investigating the sound. He moved forward about a third of the distance, then saw me. He paused but then moved forward again deliberately, step by step.
I shifted my vocalizations from a low growl to a loud hiss. I hissed, and hissed again. Still he kept coming on.
He came to just a few centimeters from the short steps up onto the patio, then slowed in anticipation or preparation. He looked at me full in the face. Where his gaze had been investigative, it was now menacing.
I hissed loudly, yowled, and hissed again. I yowled a deep moan, and then a loud yelling meow, and then a scared high pitched mewling. I started backing up. The intruder wasn’t backing down.
He answered with his own hiss. And he kept hissing. He started up the steps, slow but gaining speed like a train that has just started moving. What could stop that momentum, I wondered.
I retreated. I backed up as he came forward, in spite of my desire to hold my ground. I told myself that I was giving myself good striking distance for an attack. He was near the top of the steps.
I felt sure that my mistress was at the door. In my stress my vision was tunneled, so I didn’t see her, but I hoped she was there so she could open an avenue of escape for me. She must have heard this tremendous noise.
The intruder lunged forward and struck out with his front paw. He didn’t have his claws out yet, so it was a punch rather than a scratch.
I retreated again. My ears were back. I’m sure my face wore a look of disbelief and almost panic. I was in the corner of the patio when I heard the hiss of the door sliding in its runners. As soon as I realized it was open I shot through it. I imagine my mistress was startled by the blur streaking past her legs. I took up a position inside and I turned around to look back at the intruder. I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t compromise my space any further. The space outside was bad enough, but after all I didn’t spend so much time there. I hadn’t marked it all over with my scent.
I was so pumped up on adrenaline and focused on the intruder that it took me a moment to realize that my mistress was yelling something at me, or the intruder, or both of us. Her yelling distracted me from my foe for a moment. When I looked back at him he seemed startled. His ears were back. His head was also pulled between his shoulders, making him shrug. He looked like he was thinking, “Who is this bitch and what the fuck is her problem?”
I had taken my position and I had backup. Now I could stand my ground. Our three figures froze there in a tableau as my mistress’s words, whatever they were, rang out over the lawn and into the surrounding trees.
She stepped forward to put one foot out the door and onto the patio. At this movement the intruder fled. He turned and bolted back down the stairs, but not back the way he had come. Instead he circled the patio and went around to go up the side of the house toward the front, exiting the property at the opposite corner from the one he had entered.
My mistress, tracking this movement, strode to the other room to look out the front window. I followed, though I have to confess I didn’t really understand what she was doing. Perhaps another cat would have gone to hide in their mistress’s bedroom, but I was keyed up. I was in fight or flight mode, and flight had already been done. Also, she was my protector and I wanted to stay where I was sure I could put her between me and an attacker. I don’t think of this as using her or as extra cowardice on my part. I mean, I freely admit I am a coward, and demonstrated myself a coward in this instance. But I don’t think I was sacrificing her for me, because I honestly don’t think she was capable of coming to harm from this interloper.
She stood in front of the large window looking out to the street. We were just in time to see the intruder streak from the side of the house through the front yard. The perspective made him seem to slow down, or maybe he actually did slow to cross the street. He continued on through the front yard of the opposite neighbor, crossing it diagonally, and disappeared around the side of their house. Did he go straight into their backyard or did he continue his slanted trajectory and cut into the next yard? Impossible to say. Where did he come from? Would he be back? This also we don’t know.
I spent much of the rest of the day, well, at least most of the afternoon, reflecting on the encounter. I was still on edge. I felt like I had acted on instinct, hell I had acted on instinct, hadn’t I? But did that justify my behavior? Was that other cat really so intimidating? Was it physical? Was it visual – the sight of him? Or was it chemical, pheromonal?
Was I justified?
Perhaps if I turned this event over in my mind enough, if I trained myself internally, so to speak, I could override my instincts next time. That is, if I decided my reactions and my instincts were not satisfactory. Reprehensible, in fact, or regrettable, at least. Not something with which I found myself satisfied.
Should I have stood my ground more? I am forced to conclude yes. Even at the risk of injury, I should have stood my ground a bit more firmly. Well, let me not pussyfoot around the issue. I should have stood my ground, period.
I feel no shame, but I am resolved to do better next time. I don’t want to spend energy beating myself up. There is nothing to feel ashamed about. Many cats would have reacted in the same way. It was a natural reaction. But I do want to do better. I must work on my resolve. I must find a credo, a mantra, to repeat to myself every morning. Something that will steel my nerves and put me in a courageous frame of mind. Something I can call to mind easily and repeat to myself in the next situation in which I am put to the test.
This is my pledge to myself.
The next day, this interviewer again approached our protagonist with some follow up questions: a clarification as to the coloring of the intruder; whether his mistress had spoken to him immediately after the incident or perhaps said anything about it at any time afterwards; and of course whether he had done any more reflection upon lessons learned, or what philosophy he could take or craft from the experience, basically anything more that he had gained upon further reflection. And had he decided upon a specific mantra?
When asked these questions, he looked confused. He professed no knowledge of the incident in question and seemed to have virtually no memory of the day before. He recognized the interviewer, or he seemed to recognize me, and was ready to answer my questions, but that could have been just my reading of a facet of his open-hearted affability. I had asked him if he was ready for more questions, and he had said, “Okay”. That could have been just an acquiescence rather than an acknowledgement, an accommodation rather than a recognition.
In an attempt to refresh his memory, I described the incident as he had related it to me, and I asked what he thought of his actions. His response was, “How would I act in such a case? I certainly don’t know. I don’t know that I believe your description of events, since I can’t recall it and you claim it was yesterday. So I don’t know why I should take lessons from something that may not have happened.” He seemed unperturbed by any implications of cowardice on his part. Unmoved. Again: accommodating, but unrecognizing.