My daughter’s head was swiveling. I wanted to keep walking. I didn’t want to get involved. These situations are never what they seem.
“There! In that tree!” She pointed to a thick branch about thirty feet overhead in a fir tree. A cat, grayer than the bark it rubbed itself against, stared down at us with giant eyes. “OoooRaaah!”
“We have to save it!”
Why? Why do humans feel an obligation to save everything we see in trouble? Maybe trouble is a learning experience that the thing in trouble needs to figure out.
“Let’s let the cat figure out for itself how to get down,” I said. “Let’s just wait and see.”
My daughter kicked at the dirt as we walked home.
At eight-thirty, it had grown dark, and I was ready to sink into eight hours of unconscious escape. See, I’ve been doing lots of rescuing lately. And it hasn’t turned out well. I’m starting to think, Who am I? Isn’t it arrogant to believe I have the god-like power to save someone?
I’m not even a nice person: I kicked my rooster in the head the other day so hard he ran around in circles for five minutes.
Because he pissed me off, and I didn’t want him in the first place, and I was feeling angry at the world. So I kicked him. Now he may have brain damage. I’m the wrong person for the savior role. I’m not even that compassionate.
But look, I do believe in responsibility and generosity, and yes, even compassion. I’m as human as anyone. When my daughter wanted to check on the cat at eight-thirty, I grabbed the flashlight, and we made our way through the dark.
“Waah! OooRaaaah!” The cat’s eyes were even more luminous, more desperate, in the spot of our flashlight. It sidled to the edge of the branch and reached out toward us with its paws, as if it wanted to jump. But it was too afraid.
Watching another creature in terror isn’t easy. I guess it shouldn’t be. I wanted to do something.
“We have to help it, Mom.”
“It’ll come down.” I didn’t know what to do. “Let’s just wait and see.”
More dirt-kicking as we walked back home. I did call the fire department, though–just to see.
“Rescuing cats isn’t really what we do,” said the woman who answered. “What if someone was having a heart attack while we were rescuing a cat?” The thought had occurred to me before I called. I felt stupid. “They come down eventually,” she said. “Just wait and see.”
The next morning the cat was still in the tree. “OoooRaaah!” The tree was beginning to reek of cat piss, and I was starting to hear the cat crying in my sleep.
The third day the cat barely made a sound. It was weak, dehydrated, probably in shock or something. “Mom, please. Do something.”
Do what? Why had this cat become my responsibility?
That morning we missed the bus. On the drive to school, there was talk on the radio about military action against Syria. “Please,” said the man speaking from Syria, “Do something.”
“I say,” said the other man. “We should just wait and see.”
That stupid cat was still in the tree when I turned back onto our road. I assessed the two ladders we owned, but both were too short. And anyway, what if I died rescuing? Who would take care of my daughter?
I called the fire department. Again. “It’s been three days,” I said. “The cat’s not coming down. I don’t want my daughter coming home to a dead cat. Is there anything you can do?” I sounded as desperate as the cat.
“We can send someone out to evaluate,” the man said. “If–and I mean if–we can extricate the animal, who will take responsibility?”
I sighed. “Me.”
A lone fireman came out in his administrative vehicle. He looked at the branch. And the cat, who made a few half-hearted OooRaahs.
“The branch is secure,” he finally said into his phone. “Bring out the engine and your gear.”
I didn’t want the cat, but I took her home and fed her. My daughter was thrilled. We’ve been calling her Betty.
Betty Bumbles, actually.
Apparently, I have nothing better to do with my life than try to save stuff.
I posted the rescue on Facebook as a way to thank the firemen. I felt obliged for what they did.
And now, unless we can find her real owner, I’m responsible for this cat. Until the end of her days.