The Imaginary Cat
by Nicole Pauling
Since August of 2003, my husband and I had heard meowing outside of our home. We would go
and look only to come away wondering if we could be suffering from hallucinations. It was
possible, we supposed, that we were both feeding into each others neurosis (this seemed to
make sense at the time since we both are psychology majors). So we managed to ignore the
imaginary cat we had conjured to compensate for something lacking in our childhoods. Even
as we diligently worked on ignoring the sometimes pathetic crying of the figment of our
imaginations, the cat continued to haunt us. Even though we had agreed that counseling
might be the only way to resolve the issue I still continued to look for the cat just in
case our diagnosis was wrong.
One evening in November I came home on a night when all sane people would already have
been tucked in bed. At the time I worked in a psychiatric unit so sanity didn't really
apply to me anyway. At midnight I shuffled towards my house. It was then I spotted it on
my porch. Our auditory hallucination had finally manifested itself in the form of a
pathetic orange cat. It sat on the porch crying, sounding slightly like a human baby to
"Great," I thought, "Now I think my imaginary orange cat sounds like a baby." I huddled
down and stuck my hand out towards my illusionary cat. I imagined that a hallucinationís
bite probably wouldn't give me anything lethal. The cat came forward with a limp and
ignored my outstretched hand and instead tried to crawl into my arms. This imaginary cat
was a cuddler. It took me only moments to realize this was a cat on the verge of
starvation and freezing, with some serious problem. I suspected he might be dead before
the morning came. I sighed and set him down. I had a huge black lab inside that could
destroy small cities with a swipe of his tail, a husband who was allergic to some cats,
and a daughter who was a year and a half and had never even seen a cat.
I went inside, grabbed a box, a blanket, and a bowl filled with bologna and another filled
with water. I took them back outside and set up a makeshift home. I doubted he would
survive the night, but at least I had made the effort. I gave the cat a last pat and went
inside. I dove into the bed and put my freezing hands on my husbandís back. He whimpers
and pulls away and I know he enjoys this game as much as I do.
"Thereís a cat on our porch." My husband is basically asleep despite the cold hands. He
goes to bed by 10:00 each night so this is long past his bedtime. I put my hands on him
"What?" He groans.
"There is a cat on our porch. I think itís dying."
"Donít bring it in the house." And back to sleep he went.
The next morning my husband went to work at 6:30. By 7:00 I was checking to see if the cat
was still alive. He was so I put him in the bathroom. He was the most pathetic thing I had
ever seen. His hip was so bad that he couldn't sit like a normal cat, instead his back
legs lay sideways on the ground while he sat up with his front ones. I cleaned out a
space on the bottom shelf under our sink and put in some towels. It was a good place for
him to hide and feel secure. After my daughter got up we went to the dollar store to
find cat supplies. I was glad to find that we hadn't really been going crazy after all
and bought the cat everything I thought he might need. I got a litter pan, fake mice,
and little plastic balls with things inside them. My daughter Katrina claimed those as
hers and the cat never even got to see them. Back at home the cat was surprised me. He
was still alive.
I set up the litter box and the food and water. Then I gave the cat a bath. I figured that
he probably didn't want a bath but his hair was smelly and I thought he might have fleas.
Oddly, he didn't seem to mind at all. The hours melted away as Katrina and I catered to
the catís every whim, which was mainly to be cuddled and coddled, fed continuously. and
left alone to sleep.
My husband took the news much better than I expected.
"I told you not to bring him in the house!" He didn't yell. Just added a little lift in
his words -- psychology majors donít yell.
"Heís going to die anyway. I didn't want him to be out in the cold and all alone!" Again,
no yelling, just strong emphasis. My husband came into the bathroom to look at the cat.
The cat stumble-walked over to him and was rewarded by being held on my husbandís lap.
My husbandís allergies didn't act up so the cat got to stay. Soon they were fast
For the next two weeks when either of us came home we would ask, "Did the cat die?" We
hadn't bothered to name it because it was obvious from its poor nutrition, ribs showing,
and hind legs there was little hope. But strangely he didn't die. I decided with the help
of Katrina that we should call the cat "Kitty." My husband had different ideas. He decided
that the gentlest, timidest cat in the world should have a name that bolstered his kitty
self-esteem. His name for him is "Ferocious Tiger Beast." I only wish I was kidding about
this. So when we have company we introduce him by two names. I refuse to call him
"Ferocious Tiger Beast" and my husband refuses to call him "Kitty."
After the cat decided he was going to live and started packing on a few pounds we decided
to take him to the vet. There had seemed little point in a trip before since we knew he
was beyond hope; however, we were surprised when the vet said he was in fairly good shape.
Kitty had evidently been hit by a car but there was nothing that could be done except
giving him rest, food, love, and time. "Heíll always have some pain but it should heal up
fine." He got his shots and we took him home. It was odd knowing that the cat wasnít
going to die and that he was actually now a part of the family. As morbid as it seems we
had truly thought that his being with us was a temporary situation.
We found that imaginary cats arenít known for changing their ways. It soon became clear to
us why we had never seen him until he so desperately needed help. He is afraid of people.
Oh, he loves all of us and sleeps with my husband and I each night (with the big black dog
too) but other than that we are only graced with his presence in the morning when he
whines pitifully for his breakfast. He is so plump now weíve had to put him on a diet for
fear heíll damage his now healed hind legs and hips. He eats and goes in and out of the
bathroom 4 or 5 times in the morning. He also makes an appearance sometimes in the evening
when he again decides he is starving and will perish at any moment unless he receives
So now we have a cat but no one else believes that we have a cat. Over Christmas some
friends were over and we were discussing our various pets, and one of my friends said,
"You have a cat? Iíve never seen a cat." Our friend looked at us with a look of suspicion
and then looked at his wife. She shrugged. In all the times that they have visited in the
past year they had never seen the cat. That night we set out in search of the cat to prove
we hadn't gone crazy. We knew there was a cat. He couldn't have been a mere figment of our
imaginations after a year.
My husband went to the bedroom and I went to the spare room. The cat had 3 basic hideouts.
One is under the sink in the bathroom. Since he doesnít sleep there anymore he only uses
it occasionally to escape company, the dog, or baby. Another is in the spare room with my
cockatiel Morgan. For some strange reason Kitty is obsessed with the bird. He never swats
at Morgan. He never hisses or tries to eat him. He sits in a chair or on the same table
the cage is on and watches him. Heíll watch him for hours. Perhaps he thinks that we
rescued Morgan from the cold outside too and so theyíve bonded. He wasnít watching the
bird or anywhere in the spare room that I could see. I came out of the room and went
towards the bedroom. I was in time to see my husband on his hands and knees, halfway into
the closet. This was Kittyís favorite hiding place. He had little spots all through the
closet; on the floor, on shelves, behind clothes, on top of clothes. My husband searched
and searched, tossing clothing over his head and onto the floor behind him. I went and
checked in the bathroom but he wasnít there either.
Our friends sat in the kitchen patiently waiting.
"Itís ok. We believe you have a cat." I could tell by their voices they were humoring us.
The thing about psychology majors is they tend to hang out with other psychology majors,
and they knew that when people were hallucinating or delusional you should simply play
along. My frustration grew and my husband began a search under the bed.
"Here Kitty. Here Kitty" I called in my most soothing tone. Minutes passed and still no
cat. He had managed to turn himself invisible. I gave up and returned to the kitchen.
My husband came out as well, his hair disheveled.
"Iím not sure where Ferocious is."
"Is his name Kitty or Ferocious?" my friend Sarah asked.
Our friends exchanged looks. I knew there was no way to defend ourselves. I could show
them the kitty litter box and the cat dish but people who see things often go to extreme
measures, this would only reinforce their belief we had gone crazy.
"Why don't we finish decorating the tree." I suggested. My husband went and began to
untangle the lights, happy to be away from the disbelieving looks. I wondered briefly
where in the world the cat was. He couldn't have just vanished could he? We all went into
the living room to decorate the tree. Sarah is allergic to pine trees so she sat on the
couch and played with the baby. I threw myself into the task of coordinating the
distribution of Christmas bulbs when Sarah screamed. I turned to look at her.
There was Kitty sitting on her lap.
"He just came out of nowhere!"
I smiled. My imaginary cat could really take some getting used to.
In a previous life Nicole Pauling thinks she may have been a cat. "Who
says that all 9 lives of a cat are as a cat?" She bases this odd belief on
the fact that she enjoys basking in the sun, having urges to laze around
throughout the day, and doing most of her writing in the middle of the
night. "There are worse things than to be a cat!"