Empty Nest Boomerang
by Peter Kravitz
My wife and I had finally settled into our empty nest when, with little warning, our 29-year-old daughter decided to return home to Long Island from the Midwest, where she had been living for six years.
Of course, we were happy to have a child back, even an adult one, but we no longer lived in the five-bedroom farm ranch where we raised our three children. We had just downsized to a modest three-bedroom townhouse a few miles away. And we were not thrilled that she was bringing her cat, Dorian.
They rolled in on a hot September day in a huge U-Haul truck after the 1,000-mile trek. Our daughter dug the long, ginger, green-eyed cat out from under the front seat. Dorian and I eyed each other uneasily. They took over our guest bedroom. We had planned to limit the cat to the bedroom, but, like most attempts to tell your children what to do, that lasted about an hour.
Dorian was initially shy and hid high in the bedroom closet. Gradually and stealthily he emerged, late at night and early in the morning. We had to keep all other closet doors closed lest he dive into them and disappear. He enjoyed leaping onto the expensive new dining room table, which thankfully had a plastic cover, and digging his claws into the expensive new dining room chairs, which had no covers. The chairs became frayed, and my wife threatened that our daughter would have to replace them.
Dorian also developed a taste for my favorite houseplant. My daughter admonished me not to leave grapes out as they were highly toxic to cats, but apparently my plant was a suitable substitute. His sporadic but loud and very annoying meowing translated, according to my daughter, into boredom. Clearly she was fluent in cat. So we were supposed to feel sorry for him even as we were forced to relentlessly wipe cat hair from all surfaces to protect allergic friends and family.
But despite his disruptive nature, Dorian’s quirky feline personality grew on my wife and me. He was friendly, unlike our aged and grumpy 13-year-old Maltese poodle, Toby.
Our crowded nest now housed an adult child, my wife and me, a lethargic old dog, and an energetic young cat. The smaller space made for less privacy, but at least the cat and dog tolerated each other. On occasion Dorian hissed and swiped half-heartedly while crossing paths with the dog, who, outside of a rare growl, mostly ignored the feigned attacks.
Dorian was only permitted outside on a leash, though he stared out the window as if he were dreaming of being free to hunt the small wildlife that fluttered by. Our daughter in fact did hunt—for jobs and apartments—by day in Manhattan. This was her focus, but though she talked a good neatness game, she left dirty mugs, glasses, dishes and crumbs sprinkled in every room.
After about a month, my daughter took advantage of having saved money by living at home rent-free and jetted off to Sweden to visit a friend. “You’ll take good care of Dorian?” she asked.
“Of course,” we told her. In the mid 1980s, while living with my parents, I too had fled the States. Syrian Arab Airlines had whisked me from London to Damascus to New Delhi, and then I bussed it through the Himalayas to Kashmir, alone. So I related to her need to escape.
With my daughter gone, the cat would join me at 5 a.m. as I readied for work and beg me to feed him. I caved each time. After all, he was our only grandcat — grandanything. My wife longed for a grandchild. But as none were arriving in the near future, Dorian was a cute substitute.
We played fetch with crinkly Mylar pom-pom balls. He was much better at fetch than our dog. But he kept depositing the crinkle-balls in his water dish.
“He’s simulating drowning his prey,” my daughter had previously explained.
She messaged us from Sweden on WhatsApp: “Are you cleaning his litter box?” Neither my wife nor I wanted to get near it, but failure to do so meant that the smell of cat poop would quickly fill the entire house.
After my daughter returned to America, she quickly found both a job in Manhattan and an apartment in Brooklyn. And suddenly daughter and Dorian were gone.
The nest is empty again and very quiet. And while I love my daughter, as I love all of my children, what I realize is that I really miss the cat.
Artwork by Deviantart.com: Empty Nest by MadGarden (US) and The Cat by Sunilk2020 (India).
Peter Kravitz is the author of So You Wanna Be a Teacher, a former Philadelphia reporter and retired New York public high school Journalism teacher. He's a regular contributor to Silver Sage Magazine.