Familiar Surroundings

Cattica Redemption

I was trying to make a little order in our basement which is full of boxes and furniture. One task was to clean a bookshelf and make rearranging its contents for better use of the space. Blocking access to the shelf was an old recliner we used to have in our family room; the recliner my wife, Genifer, rocked in each time she was pregnant with our two daughters. The recliner she rocked in, holding our girls after they were born.

When I was done, I pushed back the recliner against the bookshelf and placed on top of the chair in an upside-down position, a wooden rocking chair with spokes for the backrest facing outward. The combination of furniture had the look of a prison cell.

Chester in his cell at Cattica State Penitentiary in 2019.

That night, when I was done working on the computer in our cellar, I began to head upstairs and glanced over to where I would usually find Chester sleeping on a segment of the sectional sofa; but this time he wasn’t there. I made a cursory look around the area but didn’t see him. I knew Chester hadn’t escaped, so I figured he had found a new hiding place and left it at that.

“We are, each of us, our own prisoner. We are locked up in our own story.”

Maxine Kumin

The next morning, I told Genifer about not seeing Chester and that he was probably snuggling inside a bag. When I said bag, I meant a paper bag but Genifer thought I was referring to a plastic one, something I wouldn’t have let Chester go into. So Genifer went downstairs looking for the cat to make sure he hadn’t suffocated. A short time later, she found him sleeping behind the bars of the rocking chair.

I went downstairs to see for myself where Chester was and found him in a state of tranquility, laying behind the spokes of the rocking chair.

After my wife went back upstairs, I asked Chester why he chose to spend the night where we found him. “Because it feels familiar,” he said.

I didn’t fully appreciate what 8 months incarcerated at the Cattica Penitentiary in western New York had done to Chester’s psyche. Psychologists and criminologists label the process of inmates adopting to their forced confinement as, “prisonization.” The price for stealing high-end kibble was the psychological need of Chester to feel safe in a cell and not trust anyone.

I now understood where Chester’s personality traits developed from and how it impacted him, especially his fear of strangers entering our home. It reminded me of how Brooks Hatlen (played by James Whitmore) and ‘Red’ Redding (portrayed by Morgan Freeman) felt when they each were released from prison in the movie, Shawshank Redemption. After decades behind prison walls, they both wanted to go back into lockup, where order and routine was a world that made sense to them, despite its dangers.

My new found empathy for Chester didn’t last long. “Where’s my kibble, screw,” he growled at me.

I released the detainee from his cell and we marched upstairs; not the green mile walk, but the kibble stroll. Chester was due his chow and I didn’t need a prison riot or I’d hear from the warden, a.k.a. my wife.

If This Wall Could Talk

For months now, Chester has sat and stared at a small wall connecting the kitchen and family room. During the day, all that’s on the wall is the faint light from the outside on one half and a light shadow on the other, running from floor to ceiling.

My wife, Genifer, is convinced Chester is seeing a spirit or spirits. She’s not sure if it’s human, animal or both, but believes whatever is in the wall, its communicating with Chester. As she said, “we have company.”

“I have studied many philosophers and many cats. The wisdom of cats is infinitely superior.” 

Hippolyte Taine

A few times a day, Chester will just plop down in front of the wall and look up. It’s not like there’s a laser pointer or insect moving over the wall, just the still light and shadow. He doesn’t have the look of seeing something he would go after, it’s almost reverential. No meows, just a stare, solemnly gazing up.

Only Chester knows who or what is inside the wall.

‘There are no strange sounds emanating from the wall. No flash of light or strange odors, except Chester’s litter box. He’s transfixed at the wall and at peace with the world during this time. You can walk past him and he won’t flinch or acknowledge you’re there. All that matters is the wall. It’s as if he’s having an out of body experience.

I’d like to tell you what he sees, hears or feels, but when I ask Chester about it, he just ignores me. It’s his secret and he’s not sharing.

Kitty Nirvana must be a special place. I’d love to visit it sometime.

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