So much has happened and is happening since my last update about maple syrup there is no reasonable way to include it all in this post. I have had very good reasons for not being able to update that I will gloss over by simply saying we had to finish all of our projects on our homestead so that we could put it on the market and sell it. We had a contingent offer on a new homestead we love and I’ll write about soon. We then successfully sold our homestead and moved and have been trying to settle in now for a month.
In that month, we learned that the kids would be going to Disney World in February with their band, and so we began organizing fundraising and payment schedules and even deciding to add a grown-up vacation for Brian and I and then meeting up as a family for a few days after the band trip was over.
A week later I learned I was officially terminated from my job–essentially they didn’t elect to renew my contract for another academic year and so “termination” refers to the action required in the university system to initiate the actions necessary to process the fact that I’m not returning. I learned about that two days after the second-worst school shooting in our nation’s history.
My termination is shocking. People were flabbergasted and confused and unsure. So I was unsure. I’m hired for part-time over the summer. Am I really out of a job?
I don’t do well with uncertainty. I can live with ambiguity and I’m relatively tolerant of uncertainty for things outside of my control. But jobs generally feel like something I have a part in. Except I don’t in this case. And that’s why everyone’s so confused. I’m an excellent scholar, teacher, and administrator. I’m well-liked by students and colleagues. I do good work. Surely all that effort matters to whether I deserve to keep my job?
But it doesn’t. I guess?
This past Sunday it was race day here in central Indiana. I was sitting outside in the sun as the flyover jetted towards the track. My own personal flyover.
My anxiety was elevated. Very elevated. I’ve been transparent that I have an anxiety disorder. I do not take a prescription drug for it and have been just fine with my coping mechanisms and self-care routine. I have less good days. I even have bad days periodically, but I’m “high functioning” so most of the time I’m able to perform “normal” and even “excellent.”
We came home from my parents house for a Memorial Day cookout and Charles had been outside all day. I’d been worried about him in the back of my mind. He hadn’t returned before we left the house and I was worried about him in the heat, consoling myself all day that he would have gone into the forest. It’s shady. There’s a creek. It’s so much bigger than our old forest at our old homestead.
I sat in our adirondack chairs facing the forest and I waited. He’ll come home. He always does. I got nervous waiting, but I knew he’d return. He wouldn’t choose not to return home. And sure enough, out he burst from the forest, running towards me.
He and I have a special bond. He has, over the past two and half years, become almost like an emotional support animal for me. As a teacher, mother, wife to someone on the autism spectrum, and overall empathetic person who moves through life trying to help, support, and encourage everyone else, having an animal that offers *me* unconditional support and love when I need it has been a breakthrough for my mental health.
Don’t get me wrong–I love Kali.
She’s the absolute sweetest cat in the world. I love her to pieces. But she NEEDS ME to keep her safe, protected, and snuggled at all times. Charles is independent but social and loving out of choice. He’s adventurous and mischevious, but makes sure to snuggle in bed with me every night, announcing his arrival with our routine of a head butt and a pat before he goes to his spot and settles in. He might even “make biscuits” by kneading the blanket and suckling like a kitten.
He’ll follow me on a trail and if he gets sidetracked and wanders for a bit, he does this cute eye squinty face with these little meows as he runs back towards me once he sees me again.
At night, if I’m restless and can’t sleep, I can curl up at the end of the bed with him and he’ll put a paw on me and purr until I fall asleep. If he gets up and leaves in the middle of the night, he’s sure to be back again before I wake up.
He checks on me–he’ll look at me and “brrrr?” and then I’ll smile or say something that indicates I’m good, and he’ll relax and go about his business. Or we’ll chat. I’ll talk. He’ll talk back. I don’t know what we’re talking about and I’m sure he doesn’t, either, but I know it feels companionable and good.
Two nights after Sunday, after that fleeting moment of fear–the “what if he didn’t return?”, he darted out the door.
The cats are not allowed out after 6pm. It was 7:30pm. Liam had gone outside as is his habit periodically to walk and think. Charles had darted out. I was distracted with the drama and uncertainty over my job, handling something at my desk. I clearly remember now Liam saying Charles had gotten out. I muttered something in return. Liam did not work to get him back inside.
And that’s the last time I saw him.
I stayed up. I went into the forest calling and calling. I saw little owls and oppossums. But not Charles.
I didn’t sleep that night.
By 5am I had reported him as lost. By 8am I had posted all over social media. By 9am I had made flyers.
A week ago I had ordered him a special collar, a tag with his name and my phone number, and then I’d opted at the last minute to throw-in an AirTag. Why not? It’s big and clunky and he might hate it, but this forest is so big. If he wandered, we’d know right where he was.
The collar and the AirTag arrived that morning. I keep asking myself “what if it had arrived the morning before?”
We’re on Day 6. Everyone assures me this is normal. We just moved, he’s likely confused about his territory. This forest connects to our old forest. He’ll have to cross a road, but it isn’t too busy. Kindly neighbors are looking. Friend and family came to help look and hand out flyers. Others are reassuring me with their own stories. Cats who took a week to return to old homes 2 miles away (about the distance Charles would have to navigate). Other cats who went on walkabouts and returned 2 weeks later.
I appreciate all of this kindness so much.
I have gone out every day to bushwhack through. I’m positive I’m trespassing on private land and that makes me feel bad, but I’m desperate. There’s no trails. It’s dense. So dense I actually got within 4 feet of a blue herron and I didn’t see it and it didn’t see me and I scared it so much it flew-rushed at me in a *whoosh* that had me shaking a little after.
I’ve forded creeks, climbed a few trees, picked thorns and ticks and spiders off me. I’ve sat in fields and called and called and called.
And I just keep coming back to the first night he was lost. Chloe and I returned to the forest behind our old homestead. It was too early for him to be there–there’s no way he could have traversed that distance even if he knew exactly where he was going–but still we went. That forest is still “ours” in a way–a secret trail hidden in the woods that very few people even know about let alone traverse.
The trail isn’t being maintained, which isn’t surprising because we were the ones to maintain it, but it’s still passable and I made sure to help clear a few things while I was there. We walked the loop, smiling and crying as I saw ghosts of Charles darting in and out after me, or paused at the tree he once found himself stuck in after chasing something up. As we exited, there was a double rainbow–a double promise from God that Charles is not only safe but that he will return home eventually.
Even with this promise. Even with prayer and listening and getting the same answer over and over again: “be hopeful; have faith,” I still have bad days.
Yesterday was one of them. We had to drive to northern Indiana to drop Chloe off a camp. Liam begged to stay home, which made me very nervous but he’s also at an age now that he should be able to do this just fine. I think it was the idea that my family was splitting even more. My anxiety just shot through the roof and I found myself having a meltdown by the time I got home.
Returning home is the hardest for me right now. There’s no Charles to greet me as I drive-up or as I open the door to the house.
So I prayed some more last night. I dreamt he came home. And this morning, I choose hope. We’re on Day 6. He’s out there, hunting for food (he’s an excellent hunter), drinking from the creek that he can follow all the way home, staying the shade and safety of the undergrowth of the forest, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll make it back to our old house today. In the meantime, I’m going to clean our new home, focus on cooking a meal, get Liam to his first day of summer tennis, and probably even do a little work, despite whatever is happening with my job.