Coming Home: Felix the Cat Part III
By Melissa Roberts
In the summer of 2008, I experienced the nightmare of millions of adults during a recession. I lost my job.
At the time, I lived in a small St. Louis apartment with my elderly cat, Felix. Felix is a special needs kitty with chronic kidney disease. Felix and I had already survived her near death and two years of me working as a hospital chaplain. I wondered what would happen to us next.
I had applied for chaplain jobs in St. Louis, and closer to my family in Kansas, beginning in the spring with interviews, but no offers. That summer, I branched out into positions involving teaching, social service, church work, and indeed anything remotely related to my skills and education. Friends, colleagues, everyone I knew gave me tips, and I followed up with no luck. Anyone hunting for a job can relate to that maddening hunger that nothing, but the security of a permanent income, can satiate.
Over Fourth of July weekend, my anxiety increased. I attended a picnic with a friend and then came home. Staying up to watch fireworks live was just too much effort. Felix slept on the blue and white couch, curled up with her tail around her body.
I sunk into the green boudoir chair beside her and looked around. I had scrounged and saved to set up my nest for nearly two years on a limited budget. My books, my art work, my collection of Welsh Portmerion china with 18th century botanical prints, my purple writer’s desk with candles and computer, Felix’s toys- everything had a place. We had a home.
The following week, I began applying in restaurants and fast food joints. My lease was running out, and I had to find some means of income to sign on for another year. I distinctly remember the confusion in a Cold Stone Creamery manager’s eyes as he interviewed me. “You have a Master’s degree,” he clarified, shaking his head. “No offence, but why do you want to work here?” Yet another job I did not get.
By mid-July, I had to do the unthinkable. I could not afford to renew my lease. I asked my parents if Felix and I could move back in temporarily. “I can put my life in storage for a month or two,” I promised myself. “It’s not a big deal. Just until I can find a job.” After reflection, Mum and Dad agreed as long as I promised to actively seek employment. No sane thirty-year-old wants to move back with the parents, but the world isn’t sane.
As August approached, I began to pack. While planning my budget for the move, my heart sank. I didn’t have the money to rent a truck to make it back to Kansas if I wanted to preserve my emergency fund. I could only keep what we could fit in my car, Dad’s truck, and Mom’s van. I began to brainstorm. What must I take? What must I leave?
Felix hates when I pack for a trip, and hate was a mild word to describe her rage at our home moving into boxes. She watched from across the room as I packed, tail lashing. If I ignored her, she would walk up and get between me and the box. Sometimes, I found her rubbing her scent glands fiercely against the corners of the packed boxes. “These are mine,” her body language said,” mine, mine, mine” I didn’t want to see my library in storage more than she did, but I had no other choice.
In mid August, the day came when volunteers from a battered women’s shelter came to take the furniture. I had moved to St. Louis with nothing but clothes two years earlier, and most of my furniture was from Goodwill or the dumpsters of my apartment complex. I hoped, in the midst of my tears, that someone else would enjoy it as much as I had.
I put Felix in the bedroom to keep her out of the action. No such luck! She head butted herself against the door before I’d even helped the men carry out the first bookcase. Somehow, she managed to open the bedroom door with her paws, and she made a bold dash for the open door. Just what I needed- to lose my cat too! Luckily, I grabbed her before she could escape.
Felix squirmed in my arms, claws imbedded in my tee shirt. I gently laid her down on the balcony deck, shut the screen door, and hoped for the best. We had a lot more furniture to move.
“You giving all of this,” asked one of the men, his dark chocolate eyes matching the hands that held one end of my couch. “Seriously, little lady. What are you going to live with?”
I gave him the story I gave everyone; I was moving back home and didn’t need the furniture anymore. I did need it; that furniture was my independence. I needed a job so I could keep my furniture and my home. But I had no job and no choice.
As the men walked out with my couch, I stood in the hallway of my former living room. Boxes lined the walls, as well as my collection of sea shells I hadn’t the heart to box yet. At the far end, I saw Felix balancing on the rail of the balcony through the clear glass doors. She sniffed the air, fur shining in the sun- a wild animal trapped on a ledge with nowhere to jump.
Usually when Felix jumped up on the balcony rail I ran, yelled “no,” and brought her inside. Not today. I understood. I, too, felt trapped. I, too, had nowhere else to go.
The men thanked me for the full sized pick-up truck containing four medium-sized bookcases, a couch, entertainment center, dresser, rocking chair, bedding, and two large lamps. I waved as they drove away with two-thirds of my belongings for someone less fortunate than myself.
I didn’t have the heart to go back up to empty apartment. I stared up at the sky for several minutes, mind blank with pain. Then I heard a yowl.
Felix looked down at me from the rail of the balcony where she had sprawled out. Her tail flicked over the edge, a warning. Felix hardly ever meows, just a one-syllable “meah,” that I have coined the dictatorial mew.
“Meah” Felix repeated herself. Obviously, I wasn’t listening. I looked up at my cat, whose eyes were firmly fixed on me. I had lost my job, most of my furniture, and soon I’d lose my apartment. Felix and I would pack up and move back in with my parents. Life would go on.
Smiling through my tears, I walked back up the stairs to my apartment, though the empty living room, and out onto the balcony. Felix turned her head to look at me. I walked up to her and gently coaxed her behind the ears. She started to purr. Surely, we could make it. We still had each other.
Melissa Roberts Bio:
Melissa Roberts is a freelance writer who lives in Parsons, KS. She enjoys sharing stories, cooking, meditating, the beauty in life and people, time with boyfriend Mark and, of course, the presence of the elderly feline Felix. Melissa is a Feature Writer for Suite101.com, an online magazine, and enjoys sharing articles on religion, history, cooking, travel, and spiritual growth there. Here is a link to her website.
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