Memories of the Nervous Cat

by T.W. Badura

Many years ago when I was younger and still living with my parents, there was a new cat in the neighborhood. 

My parents had the largest yard in the neighborhood which certainly attracted lots of animals.  I remember being outside in the back yard when I first spotted this white cat nervously following another cat from the neighborhood through the yard.  I would marvel at how this cat liked to play tag-along with the other cat.  Everywhere the butterscotch colored cat went, the white cat would follow.  When the other cat stopped, the white cat would stop, and when the other cat started up again, so did the white cat.  Sometimes the other cat took the white cat by surprise by running ahead on short notice, leaving the white cat all by himself.  I would chuckle every time I saw this little white cat racing so hard to catch up to the other cat.  He certainly did not like being left alone.  The two cats never stayed in the yard very long as they were always on their way to somewhere else in the neighborhood to explore.

I had moved out of my parents house a few years later, but I was living close enough to visit my parents on weekends.  The white cat still came around, but I noticed the cat would hang around on the far edge of the back yard.  If I tried to go over to him, he would run away.  My mother had an idea to coax the cat to come over by offering the cat some food.  One weekend I came home and the cat was by the house.  My Mom was able to get the cat to come over by feeding him some dry cat food.  The cat would run toward the house from the edge of the yard whenever he heard the sounds of my Mom shaking the dry cat food box.  Eventually the cat started hanging out at my parents’ house more than his own place of residence.  Once I heard a young boy calling for him, but I don’t think the cat was listening.  He was probably hiding in my parents’ backyard somewhere and was in no hurry to go back home.  Sometimes he would wait for a long time at the front or side door of my parents’ house looking for someone to come outside and feed him.

The cat was sensitive.  He would let you pet him, but not for too long.  He would suddenly become defensive, and if you kept petting him, he would bite or scratch you. I’ve been on the receiving end of these attacks as well as other members of my family.  The clue that he was about to strike was when he began to look annoyed and his tail would rapidly swish back and forth.  This cat was also sensitive to a person’s tone of voice.  He didn’t like the stern tone of voice that my father had and would back away from him.  The cat was warmer toward my mother, who spoke in a more sing-song tone of voice that didn’t scare him.  However, I think the cat was the least nervous around me, especially when I had some food for him. Sometimes he would greet me with a quiet sounding meow when I came outside to see him.

I would go for walks sometimes and the cat would follow me.  I wanted to see how far I would go before the cat turned back, so I would walk out of my parents’ yard onto the school grounds nearby.  The cat would follow me as far as the baseball field, but he usually would not go any further.  When I turned around and started walking back towards him, he would race back into the comfort of my parents’ back yard and wait for me to return.  The back yard was his territory, and he would challenge any of the other cats in the neighborhood who entered his territory with a growl or hiss.  If that didn’t work, he would chase the intruder out of the yard.  This cat was more afraid of people than other cats.

Many years passed, and the cat didn’t come around so often.  One reason was because we stopped feeding him.  He stayed closer to his home.  If he did come over for a visit, he didn’t stay very long.  He was getting older and walking slower.  I was also getting older, and developed arthritis in my lower back.  I was asymptomatic for years until one day I helped someone move a metal table/workbench and suffered lower back pain like I’ve never experienced before in my life.

When the pain did not go away after a week or two, I knew I did some serious damage.   I have a job where I must sit in a chair for 8 hours a day, and I was in so much pain from sitting every day.  I would leave work early because I couldn’t last an entire day of sitting.  I eventually went to see an orthopedic doctor, who scheduled X-Rays and an MRI on my back.  The MRI showed two stress fractures in my L5 vertebrae. I was already recovering from a fractured rib and knee tendonitis that happened a few months earlier, but this back injury was the worst of them all because the pain was more severe than anything  I had experienced.

One weekend I retreated to the home of my parents.  I couldn’t cope because the back pain was beginning to overwhelm me. I remember sitting outside in a lawn chair full of despair thinking how this is the lowest point in my life. I felt miserable and sorry for myself because I was worried that I would never recover to the point where I would ever be pain free again.  I just couldn’t accept living with chronic pain for the rest of my life, and the fear, uncertainty and doubt just made me more depressed.

There in the distance I spotted the nervous cat from the lawn chair where I was sitting. He was acting aloof and not paying attention to me, so I called for the cat to come over. He just looked at me and wouldn’t move. I thought to myself: “Doesn’t he recognize me?” The cat was hesitating to come over. I began to worry. All I could think about was how much I wanted this cat to walk across the yard and come over to me.

I kept thinking over and over, “Sidney, please come over. I need you to come to me right now.” I was begging the cat in my thoughts to come to me because I really needed to be comforted by this cat. I didn’t have any food to offer this cat – only love. Then somehow I think that cat sensed something was wrong with me and slowly started walking toward me. Then his pace quickened, and he arrived at my lawn chair with his usual greeting by rubbing against my legs. I started petting him more and more. Then I remember he jumped onto my lap, began purring and let me hold him. That meant a lot to me for that cat to show up at just the right time when I needed him. The cat comforted me and took the focus off my pain and troubles.

Things got better after that. My hope and confidence came back that I will be able to get through this, and I began to focus on recovering from the stress fractures in L5 vertebrae.

The physical therapy sessions prescribed by my orthopedic surgeon reduced the pain in my back, and that lifted my spirits even more. I went from Spondylolisthesis Grade 3 down to a Grade 1 at the end of six weeks of physical therapy.  I still had a way to go; however, I was on the road to recovery, and that gave me the motivation to keep going.  Today, I still have a chronic back condition but it is manageable with the home exercise program that I do to this day.

The nervous cat had not visited much at all since that day, and there have been no sightings of the nervous cat lately.  Sidney is very old now, if he’s still alive.  The last sighting was just over a year ago.  My mother told me she was sitting next to the window reading a book when she saw the cat on the front porch. My Mom just watched the cat from the window as he sat quietly on the front porch hoping for someone to come outside, and then he left.

I will cherish those memories of that nervous little cat with the peculiar personality.  In some ways this cat reminded me of myself.  I remember as a child standing on the edge of my neighbor’s yard when I was too shy and too nervous to go over to my friend’s birthday party.  It took one of the older kids to grab my hand and bring me over.  I may have coaxed the cat over with food, but eventually he came to me on his own when I needed him the most.