Here is one of my favorite essays for you to read and enjoy. I hope you like it. If you do, you’ll find it and its many siblings in the three volumes of the Saving Our Lives books. I may switch it out or just add another one to the party from time to time, so be sure to check back. Note the list of writing prompts that follows the essay. This kind of list appears after every essay in each of the books so that readers can think more deeply about how each essay applies to them and writers can jump in and start composing essays of their own. Something for everyone!!
Scooter and Tigger are Friends
by D. Margaret Hoffman
Scooter had been raped.
At least that was our assumption. She had been in fights before, had come home, nursed her wounds, maybe even welcomed a trip to the vet—and then got better. She shook it off and got back out there. But this time was different. She came home, scratched and frazzled. Then she disappeared.
We lived in a small house, but Scooter was a small cat and she knew where to go when she didn’t want to be found. Cats practice not being seen. They experiment when times are good so they don’t have to take chances when it counts. All those days when we were at work and she was stuck inside alone, she cased the joint, finding all the good hiding spots. Her work paid off. It took us two days to find her.
Ironically, it was her own fastidiousness that gave her away. The puddle and pile of droppings on the basement floor in front of the washing machine were clues to her hideout. I looked down at the mess. Then I looked up to see the black tip of her tail flick and pull out of sight. The beam she had been sitting on for the past two days was wide enough to accommodate her excrement, but she preferred to keep her digs clean. She maintained her feline fussiness even as she was losing her mind.
Finding Scooter, as it turned out, was only half the battle. She was not coming down without a fight. She bit and scratched when we climbed a chair and reached for her. She wasn’t interested in the food that we put on the washing machine. When we donned gardening gloves and pulled her down, she hissed and yowled and writhed free and jumped right back up on the beam. She looked down at us and on us.
Then she peed on the floor.
We decided to try the path of least resistance. We put food and water bowls on the beam and spread newspaper on the floor. We guessed at a good place to put a litter pan, moving it to where the evidence seemed to be landing, but she always aimed elsewhere. Always. She nibbled at the food, but after not having eaten for two days, she ate distressingly little. We called the vet.
We spent the next week delivering food to the beam, adjusting the litter pan (to no avail) and wrassling kitty tranquilizers down the throat of a demon cat who hated us.
Then, one day, she came down.
She had taken pretty good care of herself. Her scratches seemed to be healing. Her fur was clean and the tufts torn out from the fight were already starting to grow back. She came close enough for us to look, but she wouldn’t let us touch. Physically, she was doing all right. Emotionally, she was a mess. We let her have the run of the house in an attempt to resume some semblance of normalcy. But even as she wandered and sniffed, she remained aloof, guarded, vigilant. We were not out of the woods yet.
We thought it would be best to keep her in. But once she had chosen to end her self-imposed exile on the beam, she wanted not just out of the basement, but out of the house. After a day of cautiously reacquainting herself with her indoor world, she sat herself by the back door and yowled. It was that piercing, cat-under-the-window-in-the-middle-of-a-summer-night kind of yowl. The kind that wakes you up out of a dead sleep in a sweat. The kind that once it starts, you want nothing more than for it to stop. When the yowling wasn’t getting the desired result, she added scratching and jumping to her repertoire until it became unbearable. I opened the door and let her out.
It had been nearly two weeks since the attack. During that time, our neighbors, The Wilsons, had taken in a stray. He was a yellow tabby they named Tigger. He showed up one day and just didn’t leave. We had been so involved with our own troubles that we hadn’t noticed him wandering the neighborhood.
Our yard shared a border with the Wilsons, somewhere between our driveway and their house. We figured that the property line was wherever Mr. Wilson stopped mowing. Except in the dead of winter, Mr. Wilson, long-retired, was always outside. Scooter often visited him and he welcomed her with kind words and pats on the head. He had grandchildren and a pool. Now, by default, he also had a cat. We never saw Mrs. Wilson, but occasionally we heard her through the window, calling her husband in for dinner.
On the day of her return to society, Scooter shot out the back door like a kid on the last day of school. She bolted into the back yard, hardly knowing where to go first. Up a tree? Under the shed? Out into the neighborhood? I turned away for a moment and when I turned back she was gone. I worried that I’d never see her again.
When she came home, she scratched on the door and there with her was Tigger. He followed her in and sampled the seafood supper in her dish. Then he sat politely by the back door until I let him out.
After that, Scooter and Tigger were friends. I mean real friends. They would meet each other, seemingly at an appointed time, at the place where the two yards joined. If one wasn’t there, the other would wait. Then they would run. They would climb trees. They would dance. We have a picture of them dancing, both on hind legs, facing one another with front paws splayed, one a mirror image of the other. They looked as if at any moment they would hug. And sometimes they would just sit, side by side, looking over their domain that now consisted of both backyards. It was life imitating art—our own real-life, feline version of Lady and the Tramp.
As time passed, Scooter’s emotional wounds healed and her behavior got back to normal. She ate well, used the litter pan and slept on our bed. She and Tigger were a team and we felt comfortable when they were together. It was the same feeling that parents get when they know that their kids have trustworthy friends. And we had such fun watching them, racing each other up and down trees, chasing bugs, sitting and contemplating the nature of the feline universe—and dancing. There was always dancing. I’d never seen anything like it—before or since.
Then, one day, Tigger was gone.
Mr. Wilson came to our house to ask if we had seen him. It was the first time he ever stood on our doorstep. We combed the neighborhood but came up empty. We did not know Mr. Wilson to be an emotional man, but his sadness was evident in the heaviness of his shoulders. Scooter sat at the place where the yards joined and waited.
In New England the summers are short but summer days are long and warm. Kids in our neighborhood were making the most of them and every weekend marked the coming or going of some family or other on their much-anticipated vacations. Cats wandered. Scooter and Tigger often left the yard for hours at a time. But they always came home for dinner. By this time, he could be anywhere—lost, stolen, dead. Or maybe it was just time for him to move on. The happy wanderer. The king of the road. I was selfishly thankful that wherever he was, this time he went alone. Still, he was Scooter’s friend and he helped her heal. She missed him. So did we.
Two more days went by and Mr. Wilson stopped walking the neighborhood. He sat in his backyard lawn chair and he waited. Scooter would not come inside. She sat at the place where the yards joined and she waited. Mr. Wilson could see her from where he sat. Two hearts breaking.
It was Thursday. Tigger hadn’t been home since Saturday morning. We were watchful, but we had pretty much resigned ourselves to the sad truth that we had seen the last of him. Then, as I was stepping out my front door on my way to the car, I saw the closed drapes move in the picture window across the street. It was one of those corner-of-the-eye sightings, the kind that I normally wouldn’t have given a second thought. But this family was away on vacation. I saw them prop open their back door and load suitcase after suitcase into their car. I waved to them as they drove away. The house had been empty since—Saturday. I stopped midstep and I watched those drapes move slightly as if someone inside were walking past them. I was disappointed when they stopped. If they ever actually moved at all. Just my imagination. Silly to get my hopes up.
Then, like the climax of a silent movie, the drapes separated and there he was. He leaped into the frame and stood his full length, hind paws on the windowsill, front paws clawing the glass, mouth open wide in what must have been an ear-splitting yowl—if only anyone could hear it.
It took hours for Mr. Wilson to find a person who knew a person who knew a person who could call a person who had a key to the house. The door no sooner opened than Tigger, as if fired from cannon, flew across the street, devoured the food in the dish on the patio and ran a few celebratory circles around Scooter before chasing her up a tree. We understand that he made quite a mess in the house and Mr. Wilson had some reparations to make. But that would have to wait. There was a reunion going on in his yard and he didn’t want to miss it. The happy cats did not disappoint. They ran. They chased bugs. They climbed trees.
And they danced.
Saving Your Life
- Having animals in our lives can be very satisfying, but taking care of them can sometimes be inconvenient and even stressful. Think of encounters you’ve had with animals that have annoyed, stressed or frightened you. Jot down the details.
- Most domestic animals have life spans that are much shorter than those of humans. Owning animals inevitably means dealing with their deaths. Do you have a story to tell about the death of a pet?
- List every pet you’ve ever had. Next to each name, write down one memory of that pet.
- If you could have any animal in the world as a pet, what would you choose? Name it and imagine how it would occupy the space in which you live.
- Observe the behavior of an animal for as long as you have time. Choose a pet, a bug, a backyard critter, etc. Write down highlights.
- We’ve all secretly wished that we could experience life as an animal. What animal would you be and how would you find your place in the world?
- Did this essay conjure up similar memories for you? Did it jar loose something about your life that you’d like to keep? Grab a pencil and catch the moment. Save it, quick!
Copyright © 2015 by D. Margaret Hoffman