This is what happened next…

Our first kitten, Baxter, was stolen by our upstairs neighbor in a fit of pique, after we turned our duplex into a single-family. We shrugged it off. Their young daughter adored Baxter and we figured he was better off with the little girl.

Two years after taking an old indoor/outdoor cat named Gibson off a friend’s hand, he did not come back indoors one day. We were sad but not surprised. Gibson was old. He had either carried himself away to die or been carried away by something else.

So we got another cat, named Cornelious, and made him a purely indoor cat. But Cornelious seemed to hate us, so we went to the shelter to get one more cat to keep him company (and hopefully help with his socialization skills) and somehow came back with two. One was overweight, obnoxious, friendly and blond, so we named him Brian after our much loved obnoxious, friendly and blond friend, Brian V. The other was shy and sad, so we named him Steve, after our very gregarious friend Steve C, in the hopes that he would stop being scared and shy.

Nothing changed and only Brian liked us, which was fine until while selling our house, the buyer accidentally let out Brian while showing her contractor around. We looked all over the neighborhood for him. No luck. He had disappeared.

So that left us with Cornelious and Steve, who had now banded together in their dislike of us. They never let us pet them, only played with each other, hissed and scratched whenever we came near them, pooped outside their litterbox whenever we had too many visitors. I won’t call them feral, but I will say that they forced us to learn how to love pets that quite obviously did not love us back.

We missed Gibson. We missed Brian. We moved to a new house with Steve and Cornelious. And we rescued  a kid-loving pit-mix named Tulip.

The day that we brought Betty home from the hospital, Steve and Cornelious sprayed our bed in protest. They hadn’t been happy with the addition of Tulip, and the baby was just too much. We decided to revert back to our original stance and make them indoor/outdoor cats. Just see how it goes…

Cornelious and Steve immediately ran away and never returned, as if they were American soldiers trapped in a German prisoner of war camp and had been planning this all along.

Then Tulip died, under really harsh circumstances.

And that was it. I declared a moratorium on all pets. “I think we have to face the fact that we’re cursed when it comes to pets,” I said to my husband.

“We’re not cursed,” he said.

“How are we not cursed?” I asked. And he never came up with a satisfactory rebuttal.

So it was decided. I felt very, very angry. And sad. And angry. I switched between crying and wanting to rail against the universe for what it had done to Tulip. I listened to WHO FEARS DEATH by Nnendi Okorafor and wondered if the world wasn’t just a cruel place, a horrible place. I could feel myself growing mean. I could feel my usual good cheer growing strained. What does well-meaning mean anyway? I kept asking myself.

Later I would describe it to a friend “not exactly a crisis of faith, not exactly an existential crisis. More like a crisis of optimism.” Tulip’s death threw me in ways unforeseen. It was both a last straw and a sudden stab to the heart.

“I can’t ever see myself loving another animal like that again. It’s just too hard,” I said to the friends and family members who gently suggested getting another pet in the future, when the time is right.

Week Three since Tulip died. We were now on our short fall vacation to Solvang, but I could not shake this vague cloud that was building up in my soul. It made it hard to write, and this one chapter, which should have taken me one day to rewrite, ended up taking me three. I finally finished it on Wednesday with the labored typing of someone who is writing more out of discipline than love. And also, I had two more full rewrites to go before this next book is fully done-done anyhow, so …

I picked up my phone, and saw that there was a voice mail from a 213 number that I didn’t recognize or have in my contacts. I listened to the voicemail, and a North Central Animal Shelter employee informed me that they had a cat named Brian there, who had been handed to them over the counter and which upon looking him up on the Kitty LoJack system, they could see belonged to us.

I called them back, “Are you sure?” I asked. I told them what had happened with the buyer, how she had let him out. “That was over a year and a half ago.”

They couldn’t tell us anything about where he had been, just that someone had found him and brought him in. We drove back to town and my husband went to pick him up after we put Betty down for her nap. We agreed that if Brian had gone feral that we shouldn’t bring him home for our toddler’s sake. But he text messaged me less than an hour after leaving, “He looks great!”

And indeed, I was surprised to see that other than some lingering street dirt, Brian was still overweight, still friendly, still obnoxious, still Brian. Betty loved him at first sight and he let her pet him, leaning his head into her clumsy pawings.

And no, he’s not Tulip, but even the shelter employees were stunned when they heard that Brian had been missing for over 18 months. Even they agreed that this story was extraordinary.

So something in me lifted. Finally. My heart looked up to the sky, and my sense of humor returned suddenly and without ceremony, shaking a finger at the Most High, and saying, “Yoooouuu…”

And this is what happened next…