Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ralph Rides Again.

Ralph.  The missing member of my family.  He's been gone from us since November and oh, I miss him.  We moved a few months before Bar was born and he never really settled in to the new place.  There were too many other cats around, including the white one that had come to live with us; Ralph never did play well with others.  He stuck it out for a spell after the baby was born though his mood and demeanor became increasingly un-Ralphlike.  I would sometimes bump into him on walks through the neighborhood and he'd warmly greet me, running up to rub my legs and accepting a squeeze.  We would stroll the streets and chat idly - that cat was a talker - about the days events, about which local restaurants had been feeding him and which houses on the block had the best scraps.  But, as soon as we would come close to the property line, he'd dissolve into a snarling hell beast and scamper away, returning only in the quiet of the night through the cat door and right up onto my bed for a snuggle.  I loved those peaceful moments with my face buried in his fur breathing in sweet smell, always of pine and sunshine, especially as contact with him became more and more infrequent and often strained.
Ralph left in stages, I realize now.  He'd go missing for a few days and I'd end up having to spring him from the various cat pokeys about town, Animal Control, a local vets office, neighbors he had convinced that he was starving to death.  I would walk about with signs and people would stop me on the street to tell me that they saw him daily at their home or office.  It turns out that Ralph had several pretty regular haunts.  The folks at the deli at end of the street used to give him ham.  He used to sit in the bodega across the parking lot and wait for people to buy him cat food, which I learned later from the owners happened several times a day.  They had never sold so much cat food.  And one afternoon, as I was outside walking with Ralph, a family - mom, dad, two kids, and a dog - on a walk of their own approached.  I nodded as they passed by.  Imagine my surprise when the whole bunch of them largely ignored me and, instead, shouted out choruses of, "Hi Ralph.  Hey Ralph.  See ya Ralph."  He trotted off for a pet from them.  More friends for Ralph.
And then, one day, he was gone.  I can't say which day because I did not know it was going to be the last day.  The folks at Animal Control came to know me by the sound of my voice.  Local business owners gave me sad looks as they asked if I'd found him yet.  Mostly I had given up hope after nearly two months.  And then, I had a voice mail on my phone one January night from my father-in-law.  He had spotted Ralph!  Where?  Crossing the street in front of our old house, some 10 miles away.  A flurry of phone calls to former neighbors followed, but nobody had seen him.  For a time, I was certain I'd find him and drove down our old street daily.  More time passes and no Ralph and he slips back into memory.  I still placed the occasional call to Animal Control, but didn't really expect there to be any result.
So I almost fell out of my chair when three mornings ago I got a call from our former neighbor. 
"Hi," I say, "What's up?" 
"Ralph is here."  
"What? Where? When?"
"Ralph is here.  Sitting on my fence, right now."
"Oh.  Oh.  OH!  Um, how does he look?"
I had no idea what to say.  Or, for that matter, what to do.  I agonized.  I cried.  I miss him.  I wanted to race out there and scoop him up and bring him home.  Only, Ralph has made it abundantly clear where he wants to be, risking life and limb to cross miles of road and train tracks and hostile territory to get back to his home.  What right do I have to go catnap him?  I thought about going out for closure, to pet him one last time and sniff his head.  But how would that go?  Would we sit on the stone bridge over the creek and look for fish as we used to do?  Would he even let me pet him?  And could I really get into my car and drive away leaving him there in the woods alone.  I think I could not.  It would hurt too much.  My last memory of Ralph here with me was a lingering morning in bed when he slept tangled up with me, head on my pillow.  It was a good, if unexpected, goodbye; tender, sweet, and full of the love and trust that filled our six years together.
And so, it is enough to know that he is healthy and well, that his coat is shiny and he is not too lean.  I expect that he has found a family out there who has taken him in and I fantasize I might meet them one day and say, "This is Ralph.  He likes sunshine.  And vanilla ice cream if he gets to lick it off your spoon.  Please love him so much.  He is a good cat."
To Ralph, if you ever pass this way again, the cat flap will always be open here.  Until then - Ride on, Ralph.

No comments:

Post a Comment