For starters, I still have a home. I still have a vehicle. I have not lost anyone I love to a natural disaster. I have lost no personal belongings. My home has not flooded. My businesses are still intact. And I don’t mean to be ungrateful, because I know that I have so much to be thankful for.
But I have watched as a community that I love and embrace as my own has undergone much tragedy. The flooding in Eastern Kentucky on July 28 may stay in my memory forever. Despite the fact that its only direct physical impact on me was causing a necessary, but abrupt, end to the Appalachian Writers Workshop, I have followed along on social media, via the Hindman Settlement School website, and have even made two trips back with supplies to try to provide assistance. It is hard to know that people you love, people so much like yourself, are suffering so much because nature is arbitrary and aimless.
I drove home the morning of July 28 with a lot of things on my mind. A trip that typically takes 2.25 hours took more than double that. I am trying to put together a blog about that day. So far, I’ve not written much about it. I’ve truthfully not permitted myself to think much about it. Instead, I have tried hard to focus instead on proactive ways to help that community. To share what they are going through in order to help the people in those communities get more of the help that they desperately need. I have intentionally kept as much of my personal experiences as possible bottled up. Which, I know, leads to other issues. But I don’t want this to be about me. Honestly, I survived the actual flood with nothing tangible missing or gone.
I got home and hugged my husband for a long time. We had dinner together. I Snuggled with my sweet kitty-puffs that night. My big boy, Football, had finally started sleeping on my bed again after the fiasco several months ago when I tried to catch him to take him to the vet and he got scared and shredded my arms and face to bits. The next day, I decided to spend the day in the company of writers, some of whom I had been with the morning before, when we all parted ways at Hindman, taking part in Writers and Readers Day at the Virginia Highland Festival. I went to visit my Cousin Melenia and her kids at my Aunt Patty’s house in Castlewood, VA, on that Saturday, and Russ was off from work, so he actually got to go with me. On Sunday, I wasn’t feeling great, so I canceled a book-selling day at the Virginia Highlands Festival. I kept thinking to myself, how blessed I was to have everyone and everything in my life, that I had escaped any real loss.
On Monday morning, just four days after returning home prematurely from Hindman, I left for a few days at Surfside Beach, SC, with my friend Becky. I hugged all of sweet babies and promised them that I would see them soon, as I was returning from the beach on Thursday. Never suspecting that this would not be the case. Never suspecting that one of them would not be here to greet me when I returned.
As promised, I came back on Thursday. I came in and the water bowl was bone dry. Which likely meant that it had been empty for two days. There was food in the individual dishes, but no water. Russ gets busy. I understand that. He gets really tired, because he works super hard. I get all of that. He comes in from work after 12+ hour shifts, makes his breakfast, then goes to bed until he gets up to leave for work in the afternoon to do it all over again. And the cats are my babies; he doesn’t hate them, but he’s not close to them like I am. Not for the most part. Baltic and Ichabod were waiting outside, and came in with me as I carried in a load from Rupert. Sophie was on the bed meowing her welcome when I took my suitcase in and plopped it on the bed. But I couldn’t find Football when I got home. He was not in the house. I couldn’t find him outside. So I texted Russ and asked. And that’s when I learned that Football had run out of the house on Wednesday morning when Russ got home and had not been seen since. I was angry! I was panicked. Football has never left like that since he decided about three years ago that he lived with us. This was not like him at all, and I knew it was not a good sign that he had been gone for more than 24 hours without coming home. I was hoping that Russ had just missed him on the porch or something.
I spent the next few days calling for him. Leaving out his food dish and a litter box between storms. Searching the neighborhood streets and ditches, in case someone had hit him and just moved his body over to the side of the road. I talked to a few of the neighbors. I showed pictures of him. All with no results.
Tomorrow will mark two weeks since he left home. I have accepted the reality that he is not likely coming back. And I’ll be honest. It’s crushing me. I finally figured it out the other night when I was talking to my friend Kandy via Messenger. I have lost babies to all kinds of illness. I have even had a few that were hit by vehicles in my life (only one since we have lived here on Midway). But the thing is, I knew what happened to them. There was closure. They were dead. I knew that, so I could deal with it appropriately. With Football, I have no idea what happened. Where did he go? Did he go back to wherever he called home before he came to live with us? Did they rejoice at his return to them after three years gone? Did they put him inside so he couldn’t come back home to me? Did he choose not to come back home to me? Did something else happen to him? Did something injure him in such a way that he could not make his way back home to me? Did something kill him? Unless he someday shows back up on our doorstep, or unless I somehow find his body somewhere dead, I will never know what has become of me. Unlike any other cat I have ever had in my life, he chose to leave me. And that fact alone has gutted me. I cannot stop thinking about the implications of being abandoned. Of having someone, person or animal, choose to walk out of my life. And I’ll just shoot straight here: it hurts like hell. I cannot express the level of pain it has caused me for the past two weeks. I cannot stop thinking that I should have been here. If I had been here one day sooner, he would still be in my life.
But I can’t go back and change any of that. Believe me, if I could, then I would. And I’ve stopped being angry with Russ; it wasn’t his place really to go looking for a cat that ran out of the house. I would have, but that’s part of being Chrissie, not part of being Russ.
None of these words changes anything. None of my tears or emotions will ever bring him home. My prayers have not been answered in the way I had hoped. Everything is just empty. And so it will remain. But I will always love him. And I don’t think I will ever stop hoping with some part of me that he comes wandering home to me at some point down the road. In the meantime. I’m still filling four food dishes at every meal. I still call out for him when I’m outside. Just in case he is somewhere where he can hear me. Just so he will know that I am still here and that I still love him. That he will always have a place in my heart and in our home. No matter what…