Teaching Cats a Lesson

Illustration by Skyler Swezy
Illustration by Skyler Swezy

 

During the day, Tommy DuRoss is a probate lawyer. In the evening, he performs improv comedy in Los Angeles. This story takes place three years ago, when he was 27 years old. The following is derived from a recorded interview.

My wife, Nicole, and I adopted two cats from the same litter in late 2012. We named them Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor (the first two female justices to sit on the US Supreme Court). They were the cutest little animals imaginable, so adorable, so playful, and total pals too. They really liked each other. They grew up fast and soon entered adolescence. Cat-olescence.

They became super rambunctious, and they’d wind each other up. To a certain degree, it was hilarious. But in the middle of the night it was awful, just awful.

Anyway, one night I’d been working late. I’m a lawyer and I had court the next day, so I’d stayed up preparing. It was after midnight, I was exhausted, and I had to get up early.

I went to bed but was stressed about court and couldn’t sleep. Lying there, I heard the cats start to wrestle. They were slamming into doors and thumping around. I said to myself, don’t do anything. Put a pillow over your ears, just try to ignore them, and go to sleep.

Then, I heard scamper, scamper, scamper. One of them jumped onto the bed where my leg was exposed and sunk a claw deep into the back of my thigh. I lost it. I started chasing them around the apartment. I wanted to discipline them. I thought, this is the last straw. I’m going to teach them a lesson, because they have to learn sooner or later. Which is a very rational thought, right?

I pulled a pillow off the couch and started hitting the ground and yelling, “Stop it!” I wasn’t swinging it at them, I just wanted to scare them.

Here’s when my biggest mistake happened, I wasn’t satisfied with scaring them in the kitchen and the den.

They ran into our guest bedroom, which had windows leading straight to the sidewalk of the busiest street in El Segundo, CA. Late at night there was no traffic but there were millions of nooks and crannies.

At this point, they were scared. I’d made my point. I followed them into the guest bedroom. They were cowering and so scared that they both hopped onto the windowsill. The window was open but a screen blocked them.

I wasn’t in my right mind. I yelled, “You need to SHUT! UP!” And hit the pillow as hard as I could against the wall underneath the window. The cats freaked out, backed against the window screen, it popped open, and they fell out onto Grand Ave. I was like, no, no, no, no, noooooo!

These were not outdoor cats and they were extremely elusive. I immediately panicked. I looked outside the window. They stared up at me, froze for a second, and then just fucking scattered. I thought, no, nononono!

I ran outside wearing what I’d gone to bed with — just boxer shorts. Shirtless, I realized it was raining. I started scouring the street around our apartment barefoot. I got on my stomach and looked under cars. I thought, Holy shit, what have I done?

Eventually I went inside, put clothes and shoes on, and grabbed a little flashlight. Back outside, with every ticking second, finding them became less likely. Plus they were terrified of me.

Nicole was sound asleep, totally unaware. After 30 minutes of earnest searching I was like, fuck, I don’t know what to do. I hope they’re nearby and they get hungry and come home. I gotta go to bed.

Nicole woke up at 6:30am. She said, “Uh, Tommy, did the cats get out last night?

I said, “Yes.”

She said, “Ruthie was at the door meowing to come in.”

I thought, Awesome! They came back!

She said, “Where’s Sandy?”

“Sandy didn’t come back?”

“No.”

Shit.

I came clean and told her exactly what had happened. On one hand, she was horrified but on the other, she understood. Sandy was gone. There was only so much we could do. She took it pretty well.

We both went to work. That night, when we got home the search was on. We spent weeks looking for Sandy but we never saw her again.

 

HOW DID YOU SEARCH FOR SANDY?

We posted fliers all over the neighborhood. We placed ads on the local missing pet websites. We went to the shelter. Unfortunately, we hadn’t microchipped her.

It was bad. At one point a woman called saying, “Hey, I think I found your cat. I saw your ad on the website and this cat matches the coloration you described.”

We arranged for her to bring the cat on a Friday night. I was excited. I couldn’t wait to see Sandy again. There was this big reveal, she opened the cat carrier and it wasn’t Sandy. At that point I lost hope.

NO ONE ELSE CALLED?

One Saturday my wife and I were walking home from lunch. I got a call. I said, “Yeah, hello?”

This teenager said, “Hello. I think I see your cat. I think I found your cat.”

I said, “What? Wow! Thank you!”

He said, “Yeah, we just had Chinese food and we’re pretty sure we ate your cat!”

I could hear all these teens laughing. I’m like, “That’s not ok!”

HAVE YOU CHECKED YOUR TEMPER?

The thing is I don’t lose my temper around animals. Haha.

Honestly, that was the last time I snapped.

The ironic thing is if I were to bet, I’d put money on it being Ruthie who claw stabbed me not Sandy.

HAVE YOU FORGIVEN YOURSELF?

Yea, I’d say so. Still, if I think about it too hard I get really upset. Right afterwards, I felt so, so guilty. I was super bummed. I didn’t have to follow them into the guest bedroom.

I like to think that someone took her in. It was a good neighborhood and she was a really sweet cat. I’d be lying if I said I don’t have dark visions. Like a psychopath found her. Or someone is performing one of the crimes from the movie Seven on her, like Sloth, where the guy is barely kept alive except it’s my cat.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT THE RAGE FELT LIKE WHEN YOU HIT THE PILLOW AGAINST THE WALL?

All I wanted to do was assert control in an uncontrollable situation. There’s no way to control two kittens that love playing with each other. Emotionally I was just really, really mad.

WERE YOU ABLE TO FALL ASLEEP THAT NIGHT?

Yes. Well, what choice did I have?

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