It’s not the first time he’s gone missing. Once or twice in the past he’s been conspicuously absent at the door come morning.
I worried those times, like I did this week, but he always came back relatively quickly, before I had time to even start thinking about making ‘Missing’ flyers. This time the morning passed and the evening and still no little black face gazed up at me hopefully through the glass of the door.
So I made posters. I called vets to see if a hurt stray had been brought in. I dragged the girls to the humane society to see what cats might be waiting to be picked up.
Nothing. No sign of our little cat. My heart lay heavy in my chest as we went about the already challenging first week of school.
Our little happenstance cat. The one we didn’t really want who wormed his way into all of our hearts. The one who sneaks into the kids’ room at night to snuggle down with his friends. The one who keeps me company as I work during the day in my office and at night on the couch.
His absence was almost tangible during those two days until he suddenly showed up at the door shortly after bedtime, having been gone almost 48 hours.
He walked in, meowed quietly, bowed to the girls, meandered to his food bowl, took a halfhearted lick at his food, and sat down. It took me all of a second to see that he wasn’t acting like himself. It took me just a moment longer to notice that he didn’t look quite right either.
“Go get the cat carrier.” I said to M. “His belly is hanging all wrong.”
Physically he looked intact. No cuts or scratches. But his stomach looked funny. Off. Like it was hanging too far forward, too low, and all on one side.
I followed him when he headed off to the playroom. I sat near him on the floor. He sat there, partially hidden by a chair, slightly dazed. Then he tried to lick himself. He stopped, puzzled look on his face, and looked at me. I crooned to him and he came to me. Painfully he climbed onto my lap and tried to make himself comfortable. I felt, more than saw, some of the tension leave his body. Softly his purr started up.
15 minutes later the vet took one look at the oddness of his belly and whisked him off to x-ray. She called me back to the inner sanctum of the office to show me the large tear in Axl’s abdominal wall. A huge hernia, intestines spilling out, resting against the skin.
Massive internal injuries, and yet he sat on my lap and purred.
Two days later the vets were still playing the “What happened to Axl?” game. Did he fall into a deep hole and strain himself hauling himself out? Did he fall out of a tree, off a roof, off a fence? Was he kicked? The only thing they can tell for sure is that he wasn’t hit by a car; the tell-tale signs of that kind of trauma were missing.
All we know is that they found severe internal bruising, the hernia seen on the x-ray was bigger than they ever expected – the rip extended from his diaphragm to his ribs, and his jaw was broken.
All we know is that in a complete state of shock and in considerable pain, the little cat that we took in almost two years ago ‘temporarily to see if it would work out,’ found his way home despite crippling injuries, because he just wanted to be with the people he loved.
I can’t imagine the pain he must have been in. I can’t believe that he cuddled with me, let me carry him in to say goodnight to the girls, let me stuff him into his carrier, and all without doing more than just purring.
The vet thinks the shock kept him from feeling the pain. She may be right. I hope she is. I also think that the desire and need to just be home turned out to be stronger than the desire to just give up and die.
We’ll never know what really happened. It’s ok. I’m just grateful that he didn’t in fact die at the bottom of a hole. I’m just grateful he’s now resting comfortably, lovingly tucked under a fleece blanket and that last night he spent the whole night curled up at the end of Little L’s bed, right where he was supposed to be.