Ritual Confessions

February 5, 2008

My Macaroon

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 6:57 am

All afternoon as I worked at unpacking boxes and organizing the house, my cat Mac whined beside the back door, begging to go out. I had let him out for a little while over the weekend, wanting to let him acclimate to the new yard. It’s a vast space, a double lot surrounded by a fence. Unfortunately, it flanks a very busy street.

We adopted Mac soon after moving into our last house in Portland. I kept him inside for a few weeks, then spent several more weeks attempting to babysit him when he went outside. I would never under any circumstances de-claw a cat, but he came to us already de-clawed and I feared for his safety in that neighborhood. I created these crazy makeshift enclosures out of mesh that he would circumvent within seconds. I’d tag along wherever he roamed, and when he went somewhere I couldn’t follow, I’d stand there — on the other side of a neighbor’s locked gate, or staring through the slats of a nearby porch — begging him to come back. This was a source of much amusement in our somewhat rough, mostly black neighborhood — this very pregnant white girl haplessly trying to keep tabs on a heedless and free-spirited cat. (In fact, often in the midst of such an attempt, I’d think of a line that my friend Junot Diaz wrote in his most recent book:  “That’s white people for you. They lose a cat and it’s an all-points bulletin, but we Dominicans, we lose a daughter and we might not even cancel our appointment at the salon.”) I once spent nearly an hour peering through the boards in a stranger’s locked shed (Mac had squeezed in through a hole near the ground). I wandered shamelessly into others’ backyards, clawed my way through hedges, scrambled over woodpiles, nearly prostrated my pregnant self to scan the ground beneath mobile homes. That’s white people for you.

There were two dogs I worried about in that neighborhood: one down the alley from our house, the other across the street. I approached each owner in turn and asked, “If my cat ever got inside your yard, would your dog kill him?” And each of them looked at me a little regretfully, not at all unkindly, and without a trace of malice or machismo gave me the answer of yes.

But then incredibly, within a few weeks, the first owner moved to Florida and the other — a man who buys and flips houses for a living — transferred his dog to one of his other properties. I began letting Mac out unattended and eventually came to trust that he would return home. I knew there was still an element of risk whenever he went out, but as he so clearly pined for the outdoors, I felt his quality of life would have suffered mightily were he confined to the house at all times.

Our new property has a much vaster, grassier yard, both in front and in back of the house. But the traffic on the adjacent road is also more frightening. This fact was driven home to me on the afternoon of our house’s inspection. Nick and I were on the premises (while a team of specialists were failing to identify sources of imminent leaks and heating issues) when a tearful woman appeared on the doorstep, wanting to know if the household had a cat; she had just hit one with her car.

“Oh no,” I said, stricken at this news. Then, inanely: “Is it okay?”

“I don’t think so,” the woman said.

“Where is it?”

“It’s still under my car.”

We followed her across the street, where we could see the form of an animal between her rear wheels. I was afraid to look at it.

“Nick, will you tell me how it is?”

My husband crouched beside the car. “I think it’s dead, honey.”

I approached then and knelt to look at it. It was a beautiful dark gray cat. At a glance, I could see that it probably didn’t belong to anyone. It was collarless and its coat was matted and coarse. Its eyes were open in a steady and sightless gaze. On the asphalt near its mouth was a pool of blood: a single spot of unnaturally bright color against the gray of everything else. It was unmistakably dead.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered to the cat. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

Slowly, then, I stood and told my husband, “I want to bury it.”

“What? Come on. Bury it where?”

I didn’t know. Certainly our current yard was not an ideal place, as it was mostly covered in flagstone and brick. I just knew I couldn’t bear to leave it — to be scraped off the street by garbage men, or left to rot in the road.

“Forget about it,” Nick repeated. “Don’t be crazy.”

One of the inspectors came across the street to retrieve something from his truck and I asked him if he had a box for the cat. He rummaged around and produced a cardboard carton, as well as a pair of gloves which he used to transfer the body. I took off my sweater and asked him to wrap it around the cat. He looked up at me as if certain he was hearing wrong.

I clarified: “I’m sacrificing the sweater.”

He asked, “Do you want me to see if there’s anything in the truck to wrap it in? We probably have some sheets of plastic.”

“No,” I said. “I want it to have my sweater.”

This had been a split-second impulse, but once I’d said it, I felt it was the right thing. It was as close as I could come to wrapping it in a little bit of myself, in my warmth and my scent, and I wanted that for the cat if its spirit had any way to perceive its own final arrangements.

Here, somehow, Nick abruptly reversed himself and said, “All right, we’ll bury it. We’ll go bury it in the forest.”

And I felt the rush of falling in love with him all over again.

We ended up burying it that evening in my friend Josie’s backyard, wrapped in my sweater, along her wooden fence where sunflowers grow. But its death has haunted me every day since. I’m even more afraid for Mac, here and now, than I was in Portland.

Mac is my dream cat. I am besotted with him beyond reason or description. I would be devastated if anything were to happen to him. And yet I don’t have the heart to keep him inside permanently when that arrangement is so clearly against his nature.



  1. And that, my dear, is true love … to allow the beloved to be himself, even when it scares you. No wonder you have such a wonderful marriage.

    Comment by davidrochester — February 6, 2008 @ 3:28 am

  2. It breaks my heart when they die unloved too. Let’s hope your property can keep your little man occupied.

    Comment by Shawn W — February 6, 2008 @ 5:11 am

  3. David, bless your heart. What a lovely thing to say.

    Shawn, thanks for understanding and for wishing Mac well.

    Comment by elissakaren — February 6, 2008 @ 5:22 am

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