It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was a week of strategy, it was a week of speculation…it was a fresh start, it was a final chapter…it was a time of excitement, it was a time of anxiety…it was a period of imagining a golden future and praying furtively against catastrophes that were equally probable. In short, the events of Moving Week felt so much like news headlines that they must be compared – for better or worse – in superlatives.
There was a kitten with a patched eye and a calico cat with a frightened face in an apartment on Charlotte Drive. There was a black cat with a blank face in a condominium on Black Onyx Court. The feline monarchs of both residences were absolutely certain that things in general were settled forever.
As much as Ivan and I tried to anticipate every possible moving variable, our two cats remained wild cards. We knew they would accompany us to my parents’ condo, but we knew very little beyond that. You see, my parents already have a cat. While the Crosby/Utomo families have integrated two kitties several times (usually we add a kitten to a pre-existing cat), no one has mixed three pre-existing cats. But in spite of this uncharted territory, we could make some predictions based on personality:
- Zelda, our extroverted kitten, would be unphased and probably end up dominating the other two
- Daisy, our emotionally fragile cat, would probably have a psychiatric crisis but eventually adjust to her new environment
- Scheherazade, my parents’ older cat, might be too apathetic to care about the two invaders. [Note: Her name is pronounced “Shuh-HAIR-uh-zahd,” which is a famous piece of classical music with a violin solo. I’ll let you guess who named her…;)]
My parents (and Anna and Robert) agreed these were fairly educated guesses. How hard could integrating three non-aggressive cats be? We concluded our moving day under the golden impression that worst (i.e. my TBI triggers) was behind us.
And then Scheherazade happened.
‘Herazade is a 14 pound, eight-year-old black cat. Daisy weighs ten pounds and Zelda weighs four, so she’s the size of both our cats combined. Her girth discourages physical effort of any kind, so we’ve come to know and love her as a furry mass that sprawls in various sunbeams around the house or lumbers over to her food bowl for a snack. Occasionally she’ll get up and scream to be held.
We’ve integrated enough cats to know better than to turn them loose immediately. After giving Zelda and Daisy a peaceful night in the “Cat Sanctuary” (aka our first-floor bedroom), we thought it was time for Zelda to meet ‘Herazade. Daisy had lodged herself under a corner of our bed and was unlikely to dislodge herself for several days, given her previous psychiatric history.
‘Herazade’s unseemly girth was sprawled in her “Cup” – a sort of UFO-shaped cat bed stationed in the second-floor living/dining area. Mom found the Cup at Costco last year. It was the only bed large enough to accommodate ‘Hereazade’s size, plus it came with a scratching post. Ivan and I had no trouble coaxing Zelda up from the Cat Sanctuary for a visit. Not only is Zelda hyper-intelligent for a 5-month-old kitten (I blame it on her being half Siamese), but she matches her intelligence with an equal – if not greater – dose of obnoxiousness. Most kittens would have approached the unfamiliar giant tentatively, but Zelda marched straight up to her drowsy victim and bopped her across the face.
This did not go well.
‘Herazade – the cat we believed incapable of anything more than an ungainly amble – shot over the edge of her Cup and across the length of the second floor, driving Zelda before her. If her vocalizations had been transliterated into a human movie, the movie would have been rated R. Zelda slid under a china cabinet just in the nick of time. If she’d been a quarter of a second later, we might well have spent the night cleaning up kitten fur. ‘Herazade devoted the next 15 minutes to screaming and trying to jam herself under said cabinet, most likely to exact a blood penalty for invading her territory. Zelda should be grateful there is a marked difference in spaces that are feasible for 4 lb. kittens vs. 14. lb. cats.
As for Zelda the Indomitable – the kitten who’d terrorized Daisy since arriving in our apartment at eight weeks old – this same kitten had become the terrorizee. Neither Mom, Ivan, nor I could do much about ‘Herazade till Dad got home, but after he removed her and restored order we all admitted that our Worst of Times was far from over.
“Well, what should we do next?” Mom was smiling at me over her Five Cheese Rigatoni. She always cooked the Rigatoni on special occasions, and tonight was our official “welcome dinner.” I looked up at her and shrugged.
“Why is it always me?” I’d been having a terrible week with my TBI symptoms, and as much as I’d have loved to add “Cat Heroine” to my resume, I wasn’t feeling particularly heroic.
“You always know what to do with the other cats. Besides – you got Daisy to get along with Zelda.” I resented the fact that she was right.
“Well, I can’t deal with this right now. Ivan – you’re going to have to take this one for me.” Poor Ivan never had any cats growing up. He didn’t even want to get a cat after we got married. He definitely didn’t deserve being saddled with a cat integration right after our move. But when is TBI ever convenient? Something had to give.
“Umm…okay.” He might have skipped a beat, or his mouth might have been full of rigatoni. I tried not to guess. “Maybe we could try a cage integration…didn’t you say something about that, Grace?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, sure. That way I guess we could keep Zelda in our bedroom all day and then take her up for a visit while ‘Herazade’s in her cage. At least she wouldn’t die that way.”
Mentioning the third cat lodged under our bed was out of the question.
Like all our previous cat plans, “Cage Integration” was not as simple as it sounded. There was ‘Herezade’s profanity, to begin with. Obscenities emanated from the depths of her cat carrier, sounds which sent Zelda scrambling the first few times we introduced her to her caged attacker. As for Zelda, it took her three visits to edge close enough to peek inside. Apparently near-death experiences scar even the most intrepid kittens.
And then there were the stakeouts. Not only had we underestimated ‘Herezade’s speed and verbal ability, but we’d also underestimated her intelligence. She identified both the Cat Sanctuary and our cats’ essential items – food bowls and litter box – then waited for hours outside the Sanctuary door until one of them responded to Nature’s call. If we accidentally left the door cracked, she’d unleash a war cry and charge in using her head like a battering ram. Daisy nearly eliminated litter box trips. I wondered if all were lost.
Never discount the power of a man with his cat.
With only three days until Ivan resumed work at VCS, and under intensifying reminders that Mom and I would not referee a feline civil war, the men reengineered “Cage Integration.” Ivan is the only one who can soothe me during my worst TBI episodes, and Dad posseses a bizarre telepathic bond with ‘Herazade (formed while Mom lived with us in Riverside after the accident). If anyone possessed the emotional intelligence to de-escalate the feline feud, it was probably the men.
I confess that I was too stressed to observe “Men and Cats” Day One, but was encouraged to learn that ‘Herazade only let out a single shriek and Zelda held her ground instead of shooting off to the Sanctuary. I heartened myself to witness “Men and Cats” Day Two, but opted out of active participation lest I reverse the previous day’s good fortune. I also ignored the fact that my default “flight” and “avoidance” responses were starting to resemble the cats’. Poor ‘Herazade demonstrated an admirable amount of tact on Day Two and restricted herself to a couple of low rumbles. Zelda rewarded this restraint by waltzing around the living area, stuffing her face in ‘Herazade’s food bowl, and trying to punch her caged opponent through the carrier bars. Clearly her fear of death had worn off. Ivan finally grabbed her and shuttled her back down to the Cat Sanctuary, but one thing was very clear. It was time to go Cage Free.
“Men and Cats: Cage Free” was to be a study in stealth and surprise. Dad would soothe ‘Herazade into her carrier and Ivan would let Zelda bounce around the living area like the day before, keeping her away from the cage until we were sure her opponent wasn’t going to throw a fit. After Dad unlatched the carrier door? Mom was optimistic about Cage Free’s results, Dad and Ivan were pleasantly neutral, and I was…anxious.
Mom seemed correct about “Men and Cats: Cage Free.” ‘Herazade self-caged, for starters. Fifteen minutes hunting under sofas and chairs revealed she was already installed in the plastic cage that was integral to our 4 pm “Men and Cats” ritual. Five days of foreign feline invasion and four days of coercion had transformed ‘Herazade into a self-caging kitty. Her pre-emptive gesture might have been more tragic if it had been less practical, but at the time we just clicked her door shut and summoned her arch-nemesis. Zelda was more than willing to repeat her antics from the day before, complete with shloshing ‘Herazade’s water all over the floor and trying to see how much big-cat food she could fit in her kitten mouth.
I looked over at Ivan and Dad. “Do you guys think this is it?”
“I don’t know – you tell me.” Dad was sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the cage. “Do you think you can take it? We can wait until you leave if you want….That’s okay, girl!” It suddenly struck me as comical that he was torn between a brain-injured daughter and a traumatized cat.
“What do you think?” I looked at Ivan. He still had to deal with my brain-injured self, but at least his kitten wasn’t traumatized.
“I say we go for it. I mean, we know Zelda’s fast enough to get away. And ‘Herazade hasn’t resorted to profanity yet. But do you need to leave, Grace?”
I shook my head. “I think I’m going to stick this one out. It’s turned into some sort of bad soap opera with this whole self-caging thing.”
“Okay, then.” Dad collected himself from the tile floor. “Here goes.”
Even Mom gasped as the door swung open – thus commencing one of the more notable anticlimaxes in recent memory. ‘Herazade sat blankly in her carrier as Zelda trounced all over her beloved living room. The condo at Black Onyx Court had effectually been ceded to a five-month-old kitten – apparently out of emotional exhaustion. Zelda’s ego ballooned to about three times its usual size after her cage-free victory, which has blessed no one but herself.
The feline monarchs of two residences, having been reduced to the single monarch and two vassals of one residence, are no longer certain that things can be settled forever.
The kitten with the patched eye rules two cats, two floors, two food bowls, and one litter box, and is mounting an attack on the elusive third floor (complete with a third food bowl and second litter box). The calico with a frightened face maintains the same fealty to her patch-faced sovereign that she originally swore in the apartment on Charlotte Drive, and still depends on said sovereign’s protection to venture past the Cat Sanctuary. The black cat with a blank face self-cages regularly and appears to have relinquished all hope of reclaiming the condominium on Black Onyx Court. The sovereign with the patched eye is enjoying the Best of Times.