“Hey, I saw a cat who looked just like Hugo outside.”
So said my neighbor, Dennis, who looks in on my beloved cat, Hugo, Emperor of Apartment D1, when I go away for any length of time.
I got up, and quickly scanned my apartment. No Hugo.
I went outside, and there he was. He was shaking. He desperately jumped on the window sill of my apartment to get in, but the window was closed.
It had been wide open just a bit earlier. When I had tried opening the door to leave my apartment about an hour and a half before, the door wouldn’t open. Part of the door mechanism had broken, and I was trapped in my apartment.
I had opened the window to let in a person from my apartment complex’s maintenance department, who literally needed to saw the door open. The window was therefore open for a while.
Hugo saw his chance.
He was quiet. I didn’t even see him go, didn’t even hear him jump out. He was so quiet, in fact, that when I closed the window, I didn’t even know he was gone.
When I was outside trying to get him back, he darted off the windowsill, and ran a few yards away. He stopped, meowing and shaking.
This time I just crept toward him, and got down on one knee. At last he walked toward me and I scooped him up.
Once in the apartment, I really started thinking about how lucky I was. When the door broke I was leaving the apartment to head up to my friend Bob’s in Connecticut. When the maintenance guy was done, I stayed in the apartment for a bit, watching “Black Mirror,” completely unaware that Hugo was outside.
Had it not been for Dennis just happening to return from whatever errand he was running, I wouldn’t have known Hugo was missing until I was ready to leave my apartment. Granted, he was so scared to be outside that he probably wouldn’t have left the area below my window, but he had run away when I walked toward him; if someone else had tried to get him, he might have bolted, and maybe I never would have seen him again. It just was one of those things where everything went the right way: my neighbor, one of the only people who knows what he looks like, just happened to walk by at the exactly the right time and see him, and I got him back in the apartment within two minutes.
I’ve always known that I adore my cat, but I really never understood just how much I love the guy until I had this brief, jarring instance of imagining a life without him. Again: it would have been so, so easy for this to turn into something where I never saw him again. I just got really, really lucky.
And as I thought about this, hugging him all the while, I got the faintest glimpse of what a parent must go through when one of their children is missing. The world suddenly seems so big, and it becomes so clear how easy it is for someone to get lost in it.
“Promise me you won’t do that again,” I said. “Promise.”