Feline IMing

When our cat Bonnie was young, she’d periodically disappear into the wooded gulch behind our house in Hawai’i and be gone anywhere from a few days to a month or more. We called this “going holoholo,” a phrase people in the islands use to describe a variety of leisure activities, from taking a vacation to going fishing. The first time she disappeared, we thought something terrible must have happened to her. I was broken-hearted. But early in the evening a week later, she announced her return with yowling at the front door; she was famished but no less the worse for wear.

We got used to this pattern, more or less. We never knew where Bonnie went — it seemed unlikely she was spending time at another human household, which some cats are known to do — or what the impetus for her disappearances was. I sometimes had the sense she stepped through a wrinkle in time-space, though I cannot tell you why. Finally we just put it all down to her bold, high-spirited nature; even at age 15, she still occasionally slips off into the gulch for a short stay.

Over time, a communications process developed that helped me during her absences — a kind of feline instant messaging. I’d connect with her energetically through intention, and she’d immediately send a picture — one of a small set of pictures, or icons, I learned how to read. For example, if she was on her way home, I’d see her trotting along briskly; I couldn’t quantify “how long” it would take her but knew she’d be back “soon” (24-48 hours). But if her wild side hadn’t yet been sated, I’d see her sitting still, the Kohala wind ruffling her long, silky fur. Then I knew it would be “a while” (at least several days, possibly longer). Sometimes I’d get alternate pictures of her trotting, then sitting: she was headed back, but not straight back. Every now and then, there’d be a one-off, a picture with an unpatterned message, not drawn from the established icon set, and I’d interpret those as best I could. There were times, too, when in addition to whatever picture I got I had to ask, “Are you okay?” Her answer then came in words, not pictures — another layer of IMing.

Bonnie was gone for 6-7 weeks twice, and that was so long ago I don’t recall specifics about her IMing. But I recall the outcomes clearly. The first time she came home fine. The second time I’d had a powerful dream and was sure she’d died — and she nearly had — but that’s another story…

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