I sit in a chair in the cubby-hole of an apartment in Asheville, NC that I recently moved to with my forever best friend. It is early on Thanksgiving morning—the sun hasn’t yet appeared—and my feline muse Sally lies quietly on the top of the recliner behind my head, satisfied to be wherever Jan and I are.
Sally is the living caricature of a “fraidy cat.” Move too quickly and you’ll see a blur heading for the farthest, darkest corner she can find. Make an unexpected sound and a similar retreat occurs. She went missing in our empty apartment the night after the movers came to take our household furnishings to storage. Having looked in every closet and behind every door—none of her usual hiding places were available as there were no beds or chairs left to look under—I had almost convinced myself that she had disappeared down the dryer vent shaft, newly exposed by the absence of the clothes dryer we’d donated to a local homeless shelter.
I’m not sure why I looked again in the kitchen cabinet. I had opened the door and glanced in on my trip through the rooms in search of her, but I hadn’t bothered to kneel and inspect the recessed shelf where we’d kept the skillets. But this time I did, and there, looking back at me with pupils the size of quarters, lay Sally. I had to admit she was one resourceful kitty—she’d managed to open the door with her paw—but I groaned at the prospect of the four-hour drive with her in the car that awaited me the next day.
Visits to the vet had never been pleasant and except for those, she hadn’t been outside in the open air since we’d adopted her seven years before. Though she’d been nicknamed “Squeaky” by her foster mom, that little halting meow of hers could be grating on the nerves when used nonstop to protest my unwillingness to feed her in the middle of the night or register her complaints regarding a closed door between us. She’d learned that from her older brother Harry, whom we’d had to euthanize after discovering he had cancer two months before.
I decided to have her ride in the contraption I’d devised to carry him back and forth to the vet after his surgery. Harry’s 20-lb self wouldn’t fit comfortably in a standard carrier, so we’d tied two laundry baskets together—one upside down on top of the other. The clinic staff thought us brilliant, or so they said. A friend called it our “red-neck” cat transporter, but it worked.
Sally had adored Harry, and though he would scarce have admitted it, he adored her too. While he was alive, their everyday pastimes included snuggling five-hour naps, so I thought any lingering smell from him might be of some comfort to her. And then, after lining the bottom of the carrier with a holey sleep-shirt of mine—as an afterthought, I grabbed a couple of towels from a box in the back. When I’d seat-belted her in, I covered the carrier with the towels, leaving only a small aperture through which she would be able to see me.
The old “birdcage” trick worked—with only a few brief exceptions, Sally didn’t make a single sound from the time we cleared the Mall of Georgia exit until we rolled off I-240 onto Merrimon Avenue four hours later.
I’ve been here now for 22 days, and I realized this morning, as I watched the emerging sunlight wax and wane through the transom window, that I know just how Sally feels. Sometimes, holing up in a warm, dark spot is exactly what one’s spirit needs to successfully negotiate the unexpected stuff of life. Her four-hour ride translates to one that has lasted several years for me, a downward slide through buffeting from the winds of a perfect storm. But, unlike many this Thanksgiving, I have a cubby-hole in which to hide—a cubby-hole known to those still prominent in my life—those who know me best, those who have always been there when I needed them, those for whom I hope I’ve been a lifeline in darkness too, a constant for them as I am for Sally.
I have much to be grateful for. And if you are reading this, no matter how things may seem or how you’re feeling today, so do you. All you have to do is open your eyes and look around.
From my cubby-hole to yours…