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My wife was doubled over, laughing hysterically at me. And I wasn’t the least bit amused.
A recent storm had unhinged the door to the crawl space beneath our house. For a few days, our two Schnauzers, Max and Baylor, had been nervously smelling the floor vents. I finally put my ear to one of them and heard it: A faint but unmistakable meow.
A cat was under our house.
My apologies to cat lovers: I am not one of you. Cats and I have an understanding: I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me.
It’s not that I’m actually scared of cats; they just make me nervous. And the closer I get to one, the more uneasy I become. My natural defenses kick in.
If your friendly cat jumps in my lap, I will smile and say, “Nice kitty,” but I will be suppressing a flinch. Your lovable pet will put me on edge.
So, OK, maybe I am a borderline feline phobiac.
I can trace my cat aversion to my childhood friend’s cat. Rex Martin’s cat joined us as we were playing under a cardboard table with a sheet over it, pretending it was a secret hide-a-way. All was well until something made his cat want out. I was in the way. Rex was laughing uncontrollably at the specter of his cat wrapped up with me in that sheet, the cat clawing and scratching, me crying and screaming.
The cat eventually did find its way out, but when it was over, a permanent marker had written the words in my memory with large letters: BEWARE OF CATS.
In fact, it took a birthday party with cake and ice cream to coax me back over to Rex’s house. Even then, I stood on the doorstep and required the promise of cat security before I would enter.
So, the other night, when I realized a cat was underneath our house, I first tried leaving the crawl space door open, hoping the cat would find its way cat out.
Finally, that fateful night, Lori leaned over the vent in our kitchen. “I hear it too,” she whispered. “Poor kitty, probably starving.”
Then she did the unthinkable. Pulling the grate off the vent she called, “Here kitty.” I stepped back, shaking my head, “no,” but before I could warn her not to do that again, she did it, “Here kitty, up here kitty.”
Then it happened.
Maybe it was Lori’s sweet voice or perhaps it was the smell of dog food to a hungry cat, but it happened.
Suddenly that cat crawled up the vent and into our house. Lori ran to open the door, but the Schnauzers intercepted the cat, chasing the feline fugitive around, under and over the kitchen table.
Where was I? I don’t know how I got there, but I was standing on our couch, horrified, palms of my hands on the side of my head screaming, “There’s a cat in our house!”
The cat circled around the couch where I was standing, Max and Baylor in hot pursuit. Lori took one look at this bewildering scene, and like Rex Martin of years ago, howled with laughter.
I was pointing to the grate, thinking one of us should put it back over the vent, forcing the cat out the door. I froze. Lori kept laughing.
And then, as quickly as that cat had emerged from the underworld of my house, it found its way back down, a cat’s paw in front of the Schnauzers who screeched to a halt, yapping and peering down the vent at the disappearance of the cat’s tail.
Lori was trying to gain her composure. The Schnauzers ran to me, stopped in front of the couch and looked up as if to say, “That was so much fun, can we do it again?”
And there I was: Standing alone on the crouch, feeling like Quasimodo before the crowd, crowned the king of fools.
Some stories have profound moral implications; others are simple reminders that most of us suppress secret, seemingly silly fears deep within our psyche. And sometimes it helps to know that about ourselves. And even admit it. It might make us more understanding of others’ anxieties.
In case you’re wondering, I, yes even I, finally got the cat out alive from beneath the house and in doing so, somewhat redeemed myself.
But that’s another story.
David B. Whitlock, Ph.D., can be reached at email@example.com.