9 Lives: That Time my Cat Came Back from the Dead

27 Oct


Our pets are becoming renowned for cheating death.

This is to say nothing of our beta fish, that actually sleeps, floating belly up, but shakes himself awake as soon as you go to flush him. Or of one of our turtles, who appeared still and pale after her tank light blew while we were on vacation, but turned out to be in some kind of enchanted hibernation and revived as soon as we went to fish her out.

Around this time last year, our beagle Ruby June was about a goner.


Something in her back had been bothering her for weeks; she’d yelp whenever she jumped up or someone touched her there. We gave her muscle relaxers but it only got worse. Soon she couldn’t manage stairs, she couldn’t reach her head down to her food bowl, and eventually she could do nothing but lie in her crate whimpering and yelping in pain. She was only five years old so surgery was an option, but it cost thousands of dollars. So we prepared ourselves for the difficult decision to put her out of her misery. The dreadful date was set. We prepared T to say goodbye to his best friend. We bought Ruby a huge box of chicken nuggets for her last meal. Some of you may even have seen the farewell Facebook post I dedicated to her.

But just as I was getting ready to leave for The Appointment, P called me at work. Because she is young and otherwise very healthy, a munificent benefactor had offered to foot the bill for Ruby’s surgery at the veterinary school at UGA. She was rushed there that day. The operation went smooth as silk. She came home shaved with huge freakish staples in her back, looking like some kind of cross between Sally the Ragdoll and Frankenweenie.

It was even weirder IRL, trust.

It was even weirder IRL, trust.

She bounced back unbelievably quickly–within weeks she was running, jumping, and playing with T fine as you please, with no evidence of her ordeal unless you feel the odd dip in her back where two disks are missing.


And enduring the usual torture.

So the year passes and here we are again. Our cat Buster, a recent convert to the indoor/outdoor lifestyle, hasn’t been seen since Saturday night and here it is Monday afternoon. He’s been gone for a day or so before, but the weather had gone from mild and clear to rainy and cold, and since he’s kind of a snob about that sort of clime (not to mention always hungry), I thought I’d post a casual notice on our neighborhood page to discover his whereabouts. I suspected he was two-timing us with another family in the area–it’s been known to happen.

Not ten minutes after I post his picture, someone responds that she saw a cat matching that description dead on the side of the road, hit by a car. Someone else responded they’d seen that cat too. I felt a stone drop in my stomach. After ascertaining the location of the cat, and a fretful afternoon of clock-watching until the end of the work day, I went searching. Out in the pouring rain, I found him by the bank teller drive-through, on the main road close to our house. I realized I must have driven past him several times. I couldn’t recognize his distinctive Hitler-ish mustache because of the damage to his face, but the fur length and pattern made me sure it was him.

Buster isn’t the best pet by any means. A grumpy, prissy old bachelor, he’s temperamental, doesn’t really like to be held, gets under your feet and then hisses when you step on him, drops his long fur everywhere, has stabbed me in both the ear and eye, and he stinks.

And we had legit fears he might smother the baby.

And judging from our practice doll, we had legit fears he might smother the baby.

But he’s my cat. I had him before I even met P, he was my first adult responsibility. And God help me, I loved that mean, snooty kitty. I was heartbroken.

I called P who left work early to collect him for internment. That had to be a terrible job–despite being technically my cat, Buster liked P best. His was the only lap Buster deemed worthy of snuggling up to. I hated that P had to see him like I’d found him, especially when he has to deal with that kind of thing at work all too often.

But I had my own trying task–breaking the news to T. I don’t believe in lying to children about these kind of things, no matter how young. I was rather shocked at how well he took it, although perhaps I shouldn’t have been (those two interacted rarely and when they did, the encounters tended to be, shall we say…fraught). He was so unperturbed I wondered distantly, between fresh bouts of tears, whether he didn’t really understand or I was raising a sociopath.

Rehearsal was a merciful distraction from these thoughts. I put all my concentration into dancing and it felt good. Anything not to think about the lonely little box I would see sitting in our carport when I pulled into the driveway, the dish full of food he would never eat going stale in the kitchen.

Over the sadness was a layer of guilt. I was the one who pushed for him go from an indoor-only to an outdoor cat. I thought he would be happier, but I was also tired of chasing him down every time he got out. And I was tired of him clawing up the furniture and carpets. I knew there was always a chance something like this could happen, but since he rarely even left our yard I wasn’t too concerned. But I should have known 10 years was too old to learn street smarts. Now it was my fault he was gone.

Lying in bed that night unable to sleep, I composed his requiem in my head. I wished bad things on the driver who’d smashed him and left him wet and dirty on the side of the road. That was unfair of course–he wasn’t wearing his collar so what could they do?–but I couldn’t help it. He would have hated having his beautiful coat so muddy and matted.  I drifted into a fitful sleep vainly trying to comfort myself with the thoughts of how he surely must not have suffered. And how much cleaner the house would smell without a litter box.

Around 3 or 4 in the morning, T cried out for us. He said he heard the crackling sound of the Rattly Old Skeleton outside his window. P got up to soothe him and did indeed hear a strange sound coming from our front stoop.

He opened the door…

And there was Buster.

Wet, pissy, and hungry AF–but very much alive and unharmed.

Lived another to do cat things like this...

Lived another day to do cat things like this…

...and this...

…and this…

...and of course, this.

…and of course, this.

Cats. I’m telling you.

Earlier that night, I couldn’t erase the image of the last time I’d seen him alive. He’d slipped out as we were coming in from a play and hesitated a moment on the doorstep, looking back at me. Even as I shut the door on him, I briefly wondered if it was the last time I’d see him. Maybe it’s only in the clarity of hindsight I had thought, but his posture and look seemed full of portent. He seemed to be saying, should I really go out into the night all alone?

I guess what he was really saying was, Trick or Treat.




3 Responses to “9 Lives: That Time my Cat Came Back from the Dead”

  1. Anna Gay October 28, 2015 at 10:45 am #


    I’m confused!?

    Was it really Buster on the side of the road, or some random cat?


    • janielyoung October 29, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

      The kitty on the road wasn’t Buster! But I swear it was his doppelganger, neither Patrick nor I doubted it was him. We never did look in the box again after Buster came home…maybe it was empty. DUN DUN DUUUUUN.


  1. The Rattly Old Skeleton | Cushion Cut - October 29, 2015

    […] the last post about my very own Schrödinger’s cat experience, I referenced a story called “The Rattly Old Skeleton,” which I’d told T a few […]

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