I sensed it last night. Usually about dinner time both cats start circling the kitchen and yowing. That’s when we give them their canned food treat, and they never let us forget that chow time for us is treat time for them.
But not last night. Neither one brushed up against my ankles as I reheated some sausages on the stove. Even when I opened the can—the sound that makes them jump, the aroma that escapes like a siren—nothing. I spooned the “Cod, Sole & Shrimp Feast” onto their plates and Milo came for his. But not Chloe. Normally Chloe is so assertive she’ll eat hers and chase Milo from his plate, too. But when I offered the food she slinked off. I followed her with the plate, but she simply disappeared up the back stairs.
This morning when I went to make tea at 5:30, Chloe was sitting uncomfortably by the side door. Cat lovers know where their cats spend the night, and I knew she didn’t belong there. She’s always curled up on the goose-down comforter atop the guest room bed. That’s where you’ll find Chloe at 5:30 in the morning.
Not today. I went to pet her and she resisted me like an enemy. I let her go. An hour later as I cleaned out their litter box I saw Chloe lying under a sofa. I went gently to pet her, but she slid further under the sofa, beyond my reach. I got the can of “Cod, Sole & Shrimp Feast”, put it on her plate, lay on my stomach and slid it under the sofa. Chloe slipped out the back, out of the room. I went everywhere, looking for her, calling her name, carrying the pinkish fish in my hand. When that cat is nowhere to be found, she’s almost always in the basement. Down there she has a half-dozen hiding places that Osama bin Laden would envy. I would never find her. I would have to wait until she felt better and came back to the family.
This is the way my cat responds to some illness—whether it is physical, emotional, psychological, or some combination of them all, I don’t know. Chloe isn’t well, and she withdraws. It reminds me of how humans often respond to illness. We’re not well, we’re hurting, and we crawl under the sofa. We can’t sleep; someone finds us at 5:30 in the morning crouched by the door. They ask What’s the matter and we say Nothing, and limp away. Someone offers us some gift, something to eat, and we say No thanks.
It reminds me of when my mother got cancer and all the kids wanted to come home and she thanked us but wanted to be alone. I was sad for her. It wasn’t her fault.
It often happens that I hear someone is sick or something has gone awfully wrong in a family, and when I call they say How did you find out? And, Don’t tell anyone. It’s natural to withdraw and lick our wounds. But it’s not good to be hurting—and alone. Some people may not have anyone to reach out and offer them care. But most of us do. We just won’t accept it. We hide from it.
Don’t be my sick Chloe. If you’re not feeling so hot today and someone offers you some version of “Cod, Sole & Shrimp Feast”, take it.