Almost exactly one year ago I posted this to my Facebook account. Since it pertains to Christmas and brings me happy memories, I’ve decided to dust it off, edit it a bit, and post here – now with photos!
Vagabond John came back into my life ever so briefly last year.
Some years ago now – easily 11 – a haggard ginger tom cat starting coming around. He’d lived hard, was pretty well beat up, and decided to call our porch his home. Initially he was wild and untouchable, but I spent a long time out there just sitting, quietly waiting for him to decide I was OK. And one day, he did. Just like that, I was his human. My parents didn’t want him inside for a number of understandable reasons, but even on freezing cold winter days I would spend hours outside with him curled up in my lap, giving him a warm place to sleep. He also had very warm, weatherproof accommodations on the porch and a constant supply of food and water.
Because it seemed fitting, I named him “Vagabond John”, after one of my favorite of Peter Tork’s songs.
It wasn’t too long before I learned his name was actually Mikey (my name was so much better), and he belonged to an old man at the other end of the street. But a nasty cat had moved in across the street from our house. Vagabond John, John for short, had wandered to our house and couldn’t get back to his regular home. For three years this went on, an aging John unable to fight his way back into his initial territory.
Then one day, some way, that changed. And just like that my Vagabond John was gone. I figured he’d gone home, and I was sad he wasn’t around all the time anymore, but it didn’t take long before another ginger tom moved in on the porch…it’s been a pretty constant string for me no matter where I live.
Well one Christmas a solid year after John disappeared, I opened the door to a cold and snowy night…and there was John on the doormat. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know if he was a ghost, it just seemed unreal. A whole year had gone by and he chose Christmas night to visit. I broke all the rules and brought him inside, gave him food and many cuddles, before letting him back into the night to return to his home.
The next year, he returned on Christmas again.
Once I visited him at his regular abode. He saw me and came bounding up the walkway. We hugged and cuddled there half in the street. When it was time for me to go, he tried to follow me home.
I never made it back to visit. Life got as busy as life often does. And then one day I saw an old cat carrier in the garbage at the side of the road. And I knew that Vagabond John was gone.
A year ago I took advantage of unseasonably warm weather to walk with my son. And at John’s old house, a lady was walking to her car. I stopped her and asked, “by any chance, did you used to have an orange cat?”
She half shrugged. “There used to be an orange cat that would hang out here.”
“For three years he was mine, living on my porch, and I found out that his ‘real’ home was here,” I said, trying not to cry. Though to be honest, I’ve cried a little since.
“He came and he went,” she said. She smiled, but it was obvious that the attachment I had always imagined – his owner absolutely distraught when he disappeared, only to be overjoyed when his Mikey returned years later – was not there.
But then I realized, it was. For me, and for John – for us. For the years we huddled together and cuddled. For the Christmases he came home to me. For the final lingering look as we parted company for the last time.
And that’s what it’s like to love a cat.