Love Is Blind

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Overwhelmed with Gratitude

As this picture played in my head, I was shocked to realize how deep-seated my fear was, that Homer's getting lost had always lain in the background of my thoughts, coiled and silent but ready to rear up at a moment's notice.

Homer made it out the front door and was about 6 feet into the hallway before I finally caught up with him. At the far end of the corridor I saw the emergency exit door swing closed. I scooped Homer up in one hand. The staccato pounding of his heart alarmed me, though my own chest felt full of liquid fire. Homer resisted mightily, flailing his front claws at random and catching the skin inside my forearm with his back claws, raising angry red welts. It wasn't until I'd reentered the apartment that he seemed to come back to himself.

"When I say no I mean no!" I screamed. "You're a bad cat, Homer! A bad, bad cat!"

Homer was panting heavily, his rib cage expanding and shrinking in rapid-fire succession. Then he took a deep breath and cocked his head slightly to one side. One of those things about Homer that had always clutched at my heart was the way he seemed truly to be trying to understand me when I talked to him -- like right now, as he tilted his face toward the sound of my voice, struggling to make sense of my yelling. On one hand, every instinct in his body told him he'd just done the right thing: There had been a threat and he had defended his territory and chased off the threat. On the other, here was Mommy, yelling at him as he'd never been yelled at before.

Homer didn't creep toward me apologetically the way he usually did when I was angry. He just sat there on his haunches, his tail curled lightly around his front paws like an ancient Egyptian statue. For some reason it brought to mind a scene from Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. A ragged group of peasants has just done battle with Fascist soldiers in the Spanish Civil War. Among the dead is the loyal horse of an elderly farmer who had joined the fight. Kneeling over the body of the fallen horse, the farmer whispers in his ear, "Eras mucho caballo", which Hemingway translates as "Thou wert plenty of horse." The line had always stuck with me, a single sentence that contained multitudes.

My tiny cat looked even smaller than usual, his head still bent to one side as his fur receded quietly back to its normal dimensions. I knelt down and rubbed him behind the ears. He purred softly in response. "I'm sorry I yelled at you, Homer," I said. "I'm so sorry, little guy."

There was a sharp rap at the door, followed by an extremely welcome shout of "Police!"

"I'm okay!" I called, picking Homer up again and walking toward the door. Ordinarily he didn't like to be held, but now he rested quietly in my arms.

I buried my face in his neck, suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that he'd saved me from who knows what dire fate. Homer was clearly capable of behavior -- courageous, extraordinary, heroic behavior -- that I never would have predicted three years ago, when I adopted him, or even three days ago. I'd always insisted that Homer was as "normal" as any other cat.

But now he was something else altogether. "Eres mucho gato, Homer," I whispered into his ear. Thou art plenty of cat.

 

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, September 2009.

 

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