Not so long ago, my house contained two cats: Sir Winston Purrchill and Benito Meowssolini. I don’t know if it was nature, nurture, or the way my roommate and I named them after warring leaders, but they couldn’t have been more different.
Winston, who is shy and sort of weird about keeping things clean, spends most of his time hiding under large pieces of furniture, trying to eat people’s hair, and unraveling toilet paper rolls because he thinks it’s funny. If I had my way, that’s what I’d spend my days doing, too.
Benito, on the other hand, loved meeting new people, chatting up a storm, and was not at all concerned about the amount of time he spent rolling in dirt and drooling on himself. We took him in after I’d watched him prowl our alley for a year, but once he was inside, all he wanted was to be outside again. He’d sit in the window for hours, throwing his entire body into the glass if a bird, human or fellow cat happened to come by.
Benito was cute, but he had some behavioral issues. It was hard for me to love him, but I’d made a commitment to take care of him and dammit, I was going to do it.
And then one fateful night, Benito disappeared. For weeks, I searched crawl spaces inside and alleys outside, wracked with guilt and anxiety.
The Five Stages of Missing Benito
1. Denial. He wasn’t gone! He was hiding inside the house. Or he’d hopped into some kind of alternate dimension known only to cats. He’d be back any moment.
2. Bargaining. I left treats out. I said really nice things about Benito at the top of my lungs. I made promises to let him drool on me more. He could drool in my mouth if that’s what it took to get him back.
3. Depression. I worried he was dying of starvation or cold and I started beating myself up about it. It was all my fault. Life in a one-cat world felt meaningless. I didn’t want to go on.
4. Intense Fear. This was a weird stage where I convinced myself that someone was living in my attic, stealing food and my pets. It was a bad time.
5. Acceptance. Slowly, I began to find meaning again. Benito was gone, but life would go on. In fact, it was better. Benito wasn’t a good cat — something I could see very clearly now that no one was surreptitiously peeing in my laundry basket or scaling my living room curtains at night.
Winston adjusted to Life After Benito much more quickly.
Winston’s Two Stages of Grief
1. Suspicious Behavior. During this stage, I was positive that he’d murdered Benny, forgetting that cats are naturally shady characters.
2. Elation. Now that no one was eating all of his food or pile-driving him out of sheer boredom, he was thrilled. If he could have coordinated all four paws well enough to skip everywhere, I think he would have.
Things still bothered me, of course. One night I told my roommate, Adrienne, that I would all be alright if only I knew that Benito was alive or dead. Then I could stop obsessing.
The very next day she opened the door and there he was. Benito Meowssolini — missing, presumed dead — was rolling on the ground, chirping at us like he hadn’t disappeared two months earlier. As soon as the door was open, he ran inside.
A few weeks before, this would have filled me with joy. Now Winston and I had the same horrified expression on our faces. He took cover. I said a quiet goodbye to full nights of sleep and a slobber-free lifestyle and mentally prepared myself to take Benito back.
Then Adrienne and I noticed something. Benito was wearing a collar.
Which is to say, I think we accidentally stole someone’s cat.
Someone out there lost their outdoor cat and then he reappeared months later, fatter and missing a couple body parts.
It was a lot to process. Then I realized that every theft of another person’s beloved pet has a silver lining. The way I saw it, I didn’t want Benito and somebody else did. So I picked him up, set him outside and went back to my one-cat lifestyle.
I tried to, anyway. I’d thought about what I wanted and what the other owner wanted. I’d forgotten to take into account what Benito wanted. And now the cat who had so desperately wanted to be outside my house wanted nothing more than to be inside my house.
He sat there, scratching the door and meowing for 20 minutes. He was back the next day, and the next, and he’s still at it. But it doesn’t feel nice, like he missed us. It feels malicious.
Places Benito Has Appeared
1. In the living room window multiple times a day, taunting Winston and rubbing cat boogers all over the clean pane.
2. On my stoop, where he waits for me to get home almost every day so he can run inside, eat Winston’s food and smack him on the head, bite me and then hide under my bed.
3. Beside the garden shed, where he spent several days furiously digging something up. I can only assume it was a weapon.
4. Out of thin air one night, as I came home at an atypical time from an atypical direction in someone else’s car.
5. On the hood of my car, milliseconds after I turned off the ignition.
There are muddy scratches beneath every window in the house and on both doors. If we make any noises, turn on the lights, or open the curtains, he knows we’re home. We hear him meowing outside long into the night, waiting for us to open the door and let him in. We can’t get away. We can’t get away.
Oh god. There he is.