FOUR DAYS EARLIER – 2:30 PM EST
With the vet finally done and Leo back in his duffel, it’s time to hit the road for our two-hour drive back to Philadelphia.
I’ve driven with Leo before and he’s not a fan of it, whimpering and crying effectively enough to elicit empathy from a cold-hearted, dead-eyed sociopath. I don’t want to sedate him; it’s only a two-hour drive and that seems a bit excessive. Great power/great responsibility and all that.
I put him in the passenger seat, make sure there’s airflow heading his way, and point the bag’s opening towards me. As he struggles, I can at least put my hand on the mesh and respond to his emotional meows, not unlike how I have conversations with frustrated toddlers.
“It’s okay buddy, I know, I know...”
DAY OF TRAVEL – 3:08 AM EST
Both of us know what happens next – I make a move and he attempts to thwart me. No matter how pleasant we’re being with one another right now, there’s no denying that we’re engaged in a cold war… and it’s about to go hot. The cab is almost here. It’s now or never.
I place my hands on his head again, now firmer in my stance. Knowing his main move is a body twist; I’m prepared for the inevitable. We struggle and squirm, but I succeed. The pill is in and by all accounts swallowed. If he’s able to hide it under his tongue, only to later spit it out with calculating deviance, then it’s a talent with which I’m unaware. No time to worry about that now.
I can’t give him more than a second or two to recover since we’re so pressed for time. I take advantage of him still being in my grasp and walk right over to the pet duffel. If he’s going to hate me, then let it happen in one fell swoop.
The cab driver is calling. Main Street is closed, it’s raining, and he’s asking for alternate routes. I relay directions to him over the bellowing cat, wrangle up my belongings, and get ready to depart. As I close the door to my apartment, luggage and malcontent cat in hand, I hope that the more difficult aspects are behind me.
FOUR DAYS EARLIER – 3:30 PM EST
Leo’s whimpering in the passenger seat has all but ceased. The steady pace of the open road has calmed him, until of course we slow down (or stop), then it starts again. Every time I get near the mesh, he head-butts my hand like prisoner touching the glass during visitation. He tries to push through and be pet. I’d be cute if I could shake the notion that he thinks he’s being tortured.
DAY OF TRAVEL – 4:15 AM EST
So, I’ve apparently picked the travel day that every visitor from Brazil is going home. They’ve decided to do it at 5AM and have ten bags of souvenirs apiece (that’s a lot of Liberty Bells and LOVE shirts). Of course, since it’s so early in the morning, why should the airline have more than three agents at the counter? I’d never even bother with this normally; having already checked in and packed so efficiently that any luggage would fit above my seat. This morning is different though… I’ve got a living carry on. I have to stand in line and purchase a special ticket for him, which is something you can’t do online. Did I mention the AC wasn’t kicking in yet?
Here we are, about 75 strangers in a long line, speaking various dialects, sweating, irritated, and tired, but one thing is for sure – every time I move, Leo bellows. The slightest replacement of the bag and he whimpers. Good thing that glares of parental disapproval don’t need subtitles. I can tell by the looks everyone is giving me that they’re not happy with what they perceive as my treatment of Leo. I have a feeling it will be like this all day; either, “Oh, what a cute cat,” or disgustful stares like I’m torturing him with needles.
FOUR DAYS EARLIER – 4:45 PM EST
He must sense that we’re almost home because the bellowing gets louder and a touch sadder when he belts them out. You can hear the impatience is his voice.
DAY OF TRAVEL – 4:40 AM EST
He must sense that we’re close to flight time because you can hear the impatience in his voice. I don’t want to tell him that we still have to go through security.
I had previously read that I’d have to take him out of the bag and walk him through the metal detector while they run the bag through the machine. This notion filled me with anxiety because as lovable as Leo is, he’s not a “cradle me like a baby” kind of cat. Not to mention at this point he’s been in the duffel for over an hour. I fear the worst - running through an airport, chasing a scared cat.
I approach the belt and hold him up to the TSA agent, “How would you like me to proceed with this guy?” She looked confused and then realized I was holding a cat. “Oh, hold on a minute,” she replied and then walked away.
I stood there for what felt like an eternity, not sure how I can help the process along. Do I take off my belt and shoes? Am I going to be carted off to another room? Will I miss my plane because of all the extra steps? All I can think to do is direct the impatient people around me so they can catch their flights.
She comes back and asks for the cat, carrier and all. “Empty your pockets and put your bag through, I’ll meet you on the other side with him.”
The normal scanning happens, I grab my belongings, and follow the TSA agent off to a little vestibule of a room, freestanding in the middle of the security area. I can only imagine that many a pat down has happened within these four walls. I let Leo out and they immediately abscond with the carrier and leave us. There’s a metal table in the room, identical to the one at the vet’s office we were in four days earlier. Best-case scenario, Leo thinks he’s getting another shot.
My shoes are on, my pants are fastened with a belt once again, and the agent comes back into the room with the pet carrier. Leo is squirmy, but you can kind of tell that the sedatives are kicking in because he isn’t putting up much of a fight back into the bag. I pretend that a small part of him wants back into the sucky but recognizable bag with all this new around him. It’s the evil he knows.
FOUR DAYS EARLIER – 5:15 PM EST
We’re finally home. I set up his makeshift litter box and feeding station for the next few days before letting him out of the bag. Upon unzipping the carrier, a cloud of fur and dander precedes him, like a small mushroom cloud comprised of stress and heat. He looks around, but keeps his feet in the bag. He’s assessing the situation before committing to explore.
I have to give the guy credit – he’s entering the situation with eyes wide open. A lesser soul would jump out in fear and strike. For the first time since this cross-country trip being orchestrated, I feel confident that we’ll make it. Not because of me, but because of him.
DAY OF TRAVEL – 9:45 AM CST
(We traveled back in time three hours…that’s how time zones work, right?)
After a horrible first flight to Chicago (where the turbulence was so bad, it felt like a rickety carnival ride), the 3+ hours spent on our last leg to California has been pretty uneventful – which is a good thing. Leo sits under the seat in front of me. I know he’s alive by the way he presses against my feet, planted on either side of the bag. He lets out the occasional meow, just to remind me he’s still down there.
He pipes up louder when we finally deplane and make our way to baggage. All bets are off because he knows we’re no longer in motion. Feline intuition must be setting off all kinds of alarms, screaming, “It’s almost over!”
Naturally, I don’t have the heart to tell him that we still have an hour drive from the airport.
FOUR DAYS EARLIER – 5:45 PM EST
This cat is something else. Not a half hour after being dragged from his home, tossed in a tiny prison, suffered a vet visit, driven through the state, and then thrown into a new setting; he’s back to normal. As soon as I sat down on the couch, he jumped up and pleaded for my affection as if the previous events had no power over his attitude.
Infinitely adaptable, I can’t help but think that there’s something to be learned from that level of voluntary, situational ignorance.
DAY OF TRAVEL – 11:05 AM CST
My brother carries Leo into his new home where proud human Mom and toddler brother anxiously wait for him. Toys, food, a fancy litter box, smiles, and a new life are there to greet him at the door.
In typical fashion, he assesses the situation and jumps in, as though the last eight, torturous hours didn’t even happen. I found myself revisiting a sentiment from a few days prior; I can’t help but think that there’s something to learn from this cat’s demeanor.
I did all the stressing while he kept cool and stayed present. Here we are; in the same safe, welcoming place, surrounded by loved ones and support.
A part of me hates that I just learned a life lesson from a cat.