a message filled with static

My cats are absolutely fine. In fact, they are currently curled up on either side of me, both leaning on my legs just a little, purring, nodding off, every so often licking my arm. The one cat keep looking up at my laptop screen. Maybe he knows I’m writing about him. The other cat has his head tucked under one paw. I scratch his ears and he stretches out, paws out in space.

Sunday night, I didn’t think the cats were absolutely fine. The last couple of weeks have mostly been really wonderful, with vacation and ocean and beaches and dophins and food and tequila. But I had one terrible moment.

It was late, about 11 PM, and we had just gone through immigration and had our passports stamped, and waited for our luggage, and gone through customs, where we were waived through and no one even looked to see how many bottles of tequila we had actually brought back. And we knew, by then, that our delayed flight and sitting on the runway waiting, waiting had caused us to miss the last flight of the night out of Seattle and we were stuck in Houston until the next morning and we were a little grumpy, but what can you do and it was Mother’s Day so I thought I’d call my mom since it was the first time my cell phone had service in a week.

I couldn’t get a signal and so P. waited inside the airport with our (without question) too many bags while I walked out into the night, looking for reception, weaving around all the other digrunted travelers who were standing around with piles of luggage, clogging the sidewalk. I finally walked to the corner, went around an orange barricade near the street, and that was the best the signal was going to get, even though it faded in and out with silence and static. I could see P. through the glass inside. He waved at me while I talked to my mom.

After the call, I saw that I had voice mail messages, and figured I’d listen to them. Maybe it was real estate agent saying there was an offer on P.’s condo. (There was, but I never got to that message.)

A friend of mine was going to stop in and check on the cats several times while we were gone — refill their food, water, litter, give them a little love. She had a key and done this for me many times before. The first message was from her. From the previous Monday. A full seven days before. She said that her key didn’t work. And she couldn’t get in. And could I call her to figure out what to do.

Complete and utter terror filled my heart.

The signal cut in and out as I listened to the next message from her. I caught that the apartment management wouldn’t let her in. I heard that the locks had been changed. To call her back. Or my cats were going to die. That’s what I heard through the static on the phone.

P. saw me from inside the airport, flailing about, sobbing, sure that I had killed my cats. It was too late to do anything about it now. I ran through the sea of people, tears streaming down my face. I ran inside to P. and collapsed on the ground. He was frantic.

“What is it? What happened?” He sunk down to the floor where I was, grabbed my arms.

“I killed my cats.”

“Tell me what happened.”

I told him. He kept repeating to me in a low voice that my cats were fine, my cats were fine. Cats are resilient. Even if alone for a week, they would be OK. I left food and water for several days. They could drink out of the toilet. They might not be happy, but they would be fine. No, no, no. I killed them. I left them alone to die.

I was absolutely horrified and scared and all I wanted to do was rush home to them and I was stuck halfway across the country with no way to get back and I felt helpless. So helpless.

I realized that I must have made the key my friend had before the complex changed the locks. She had a useless key. And how could I not have remembered. I assumed that’s what was in her final voice mail message. She couldn’t get in because the locks had been changed.

P. called her. I didn’t want to hear the conversation. I just knew she was going to say that she tried and tried, but there was nothing she could do. I finally made myself listen. I heard snippets.

“So, they’re OK? They got more water? Oh OK. Thank you so much. No. I don’t think you can talk to her right now. She’s really freaked out.”

He leaned over to me, put his hand on mine.

“They’re OK. They’re OK.”

I tried to stop hyperventilating. I didn’t quite believe him. I took the phone. She said that she tried everything to get in, called people she thought had keys, considered how she might climb up to my balcony and break a window, almost called her brother with a record to see if he could pick the lock, finally convinced the apartment management that the cats needed some attention.

On Thursday, finally management sent maintenance over to use the master key to open the door. Their key didn’t work for some reason I can only attribute to the chain reaction of things going wrong just because they can. The maintenance guy had to change the lock on the door in order to open it. They still wouldn’t let her in, but the maintenance guy went in and my friend stressed the importance of lots of bowls of water. He probably didn’t change the litter though.

I breathed. I still had to wait through the night and the flight and the waiting for our luggage and the ride on the shuttle van to our car and the drive home before I could see for myself that the cats were OK. We didn’t get back until around noon on Monday and P. really needed to get to work, but he went over to my apartment with me so that I didn’t have to go in alone. We stopped by the apartment office to get the new keys.

The guy in the office looked confused as he handed me the new keys and asked, “why did your locks get changed?”

I looked at him, still worried, thinking about the cats, about how close I finally was to checking on them. I just sighed. “It’s a long story.”

As we got to my door, I saw a note on it. “This is a notice of our intent to enter your apartment for the welfare of your pets.”

And the cats were fine. P. went in first and they came running up, meowing, demanding attention, food, water, and honestly, would fresh litter be too much to ask for?

It was three days before I was ready to listen to my messages again. I just didn’t want to relive that fear, that absolute certainty that I had doomed my cats and that it was far too late and there was nothing I could do. I had forsaken them. This time I heard the entire message.

Apartment management changed to locks to get in. Call her later to find out the details. She convinced them to do it by telling them if they didn’t, my cats were going to die.

An entirely different message than I had heard the first time, but with so many of the same words.

The cats are fine. I want to stay like this, with them both curled up around me, for just a little while longer.

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