Happy 63: Emmett Houdini Silverman Skiba

If you've been following the comic, this probably sounds very familiar: I was 27 years old, I'd just broken up with my first boyfriend, a relationship that had lasted roughly a year, I was working a job in a toxic office environment where both the bosses screamed so much, just the thought of making a mistake would cause my hands to shake, I had no friends close by and a sloppy, inconsiderate roommate who kept even my rented basement apartment from seeming like a sanctuary, I'd adopted an elderly cat to fill the gap in my heart, who after 2 months and many expensive vet bills died on me, then promptly got a foster who had a heart attack and died in my bed while I stood by helpless. I felt like I had no control or stability in my life. So I set out to get a kitten, specifically an orange kitten, because personalities often run on the color gene lines for cats and gingers tended to be more affectionate. I found Zane Emmett (later to be renamed Emmett Houdini) in an Uncle Henry's listing. He wasn't a rescue. He came from a nice family up in Maine, last and sweetest of a litter of accidentally kittens and if my sisters hadn't gone there to fetch him for me, that's probably where he'd still be with loving adults, children, other cats and a dog. Taking in Emmett was not an altruistic act. It was pure selfishness. I needed an anchor, a constant, something to fill the loneliness in my heart. I half jokingly used to refer to him as my sanity. He was the first big responsibility that I had ever taken on, a potentially 20 year commitment to care for another living creature, so you can imagine the devastation I felt when I realized he'd slipped out at 10 o'clock the other night.

Now Emmett had long been an indoor-outdoor cat. Like with children, I felt there came a point where I had to let him be free to pursue his own path. He had wanted to explore the great world since the moment I got him. I naturally waited until he was a year and I had moved somewhere relatively safe for a cat to roam. My family had always had indoor-outdoor cats. We were pretty lax about them, as I've often joked to my husband when he's getting wound up about our feline's locations, when I was a child we didn't even know if a cat had gone on a walkabout until he'd been gone several days. I wasn't quite so laid back with my precious Emmett. He had a strict sunset curfew and I'd stand on the porch and call to him till he came bounding home through the surrounding yards like a puppy. There were coyotes out there and goodness knows what else, having him in at dark seemed like a reasonable way to mitigate some of the risk of his outdoor adventures. He always came home and even though I knew that every time I let him out in the morning, it could be the last I'd see of him, I came to be at peace with this fact. Living your life has risks, but that doesn't mean we should all shut ourselves up in little rooms. In his case those risks were of being hit by a car or eaten by another creature or even eating something ill advised. Though in reality he seemed to simply make friends with all the neighborhood humans and animals and invite himself over for kibbles at every feral feeding station in the area.

Time has passed and he's no longer the stand in for a sweetheart or even a child. Emmett is no longer my sanity and there have been several times through mistakes of mine, my husband's or even a house guest that Emmett has ended up venturing out before sunrise or after sunset and while I didn't like the idea that he could get killed out there, it didn't tear me apart either. However, this time was different, staring out into the pitch black of our new wild neighborhood, all deep woods filled with coyotes, fisher cats, raccoons and owls in one direction and double yellow lined 35 MPH road in the other, I cracked. This wasn't a mistake my husband or I had made, or even a house guest in an absent minded moment, he'd slipped out when a contractor was cleaning up, something we'd been meticulous about making sure wouldn't happen for the last five days and yet on the very last day he was out there. We didn't even know when it had happened. We didn't even realize it had happened until our gray tabby started pounding to be let in on the sliding doors. If he was out, surely Emmett was too...

I stood on the porch calling his name over and over,

"Emmett! Emikins! Come here Emmett! Emi! Come on in!" I shook a bag of treats desperately, hoping at any minute he would appear, fearing that some creature of the night was already feasting on his cuddly little body.

I called for what felt like forever and nothing happened. My husband got the flash light and started shining it into the woods. I kept saying I should go inside, wait a little while and try again. For all I knew he had heard my voice echoing off the pines and was just too far away for me to hear his reply, but deep down I feared the worst: that my charge, my first responsibility, the companion who had been with me through thick and thin, the life I had selfishly taken from an assured path of easy happiness, was gone forever due to simple negligence.

I kept calling, my husband kept shinning that light and suddenly we heard a sound coming from the deep poison ivy grove. It sounded like a warbling bird. Could it be Emmett? It seemed unlikely, but I called out to him anyway and waited for a response. The bird warble came again. My husband shined the flashlight in that direction and caught his reflective eyes and pure white fur. It was Emmett, his voice uneven from bounding so quickly through the dense foliage, running straight towards me. I didn't care if he was covered in oily irritants, I scooped him up in my arms and brought him into the house.

He spent the rest of the evening sitting on the couch next to me while I calmed down and for the first time in forever, we left the bedroom door open, so he could sleep all night on the bed with us. He may not be the pillar of my sanity anymore, but he is still so very dear to me. I didn't save Emmett, but in many ways he saved me.