My mother-in-law is in an abusive relationship.
The cycle is classic. A spark of violence, resolution to change, followed by capitulation to the same old tricks – sweet promises of love and peace.
You have to understand, my mother-in-law’s heart is the size of Texas. She possesses the virtues of patience, kindness, and empathy. I mean, she puts up with me, for crying out loud. For his part, Toby is a swashbuckling feline, always up for adventure in the great outdoors. If he were a human, Free Bird would be prominent amongst his playlist favorites. The world is too small for Toby, or perhaps he’s just too big to be constrained. He’s a cat with one life to live. Much like Steven Tyler, he doesn’t want to miss a thing.
This headstrong and impestuous nature, combined with brawny brute strength, makes Toby a formidable opponent when he feels his will is being thwarted. I have experienced this firsthand, most memorably when I picked up Toby from being shaved down for summer. His luxurious coat leaves him prone to mats, and while he has since come to a peace with brushing, at the time he wouldn’t abide it. My mother-in-law had dropped him off at the vets in the morning, I’d agreed to pick him up in the afternoon.
A college kid was in the lobby with me. The vet tech behind the desk pulled Toby’s file and her eyes widened. She told us that Toby had been “difficult.” She said this in such a way that we understood her to mean Toby had nearly killed five people before a tranq gun usually reserved for Great White Sharks was employed to calm him. The college kid’s eyes widened. I played into this, adding to the story of Toby. The college kid looked like a sixth grader listening to a camp fire ghost story.
And that’s when the growls started.
But really, “growls” doesn’t do it justice. Imagine the sound of a demon immersed in Holy Water. It was like that, but worse. And it was coming closer.
“Is that him?” the college kid asked, awe in his voice.
“Yes,” I said. “He’ll be here any moment.”
Along with the demonic growls, thrashing and thumping could be heard. Closer and closer it came, and finally Toby was revealed in all his Dark Glory. The vet tech carred his ginormous pet carrier. Or at least, she tried to. As Toby unleashed his hellish wrath upon its plastic walls and metal bars, the entire thing rocked back and forth, its momentum pulled the vet tech hither and yon, she looked like nothing so much as a drunken sailor. The college kid’s jaw hung wide like a door somebody forgot to close.
“That,” I said, “is Toby.”
On the way over to my mother-in-law’s place Toby continued to speak in a variety of tongues and even showed off by speaking English backwards. I was not swayed into fear, not until I reached the house. Just how, I thought, am I going to release this animal? Do I open the front door and dump him right there? But what if he slips out? Do I put his cage as far from the front door as possible and then run? But what if he catches me? I am very slow. He might catch me.
I listened to my inner Aristotle and went for the middle. I placed Toby’s cage in the middle of the hallway, and, ninja-like, unlatched the cage door. And then I ran for it, Toby hot on my heels. I could feel his flame breath on my feet. Close. Closer. “Oh, God! No! He’s going to get me!” I thought. I slipped out the front door and closed it. WHAM! I heard the sound the Toby collide with the door. He’d just missed his prey.
It’s not hard to imagine what would have happened if he’d caught me. Here is a quote from my mother-in-law. “I was late for work today. I had to stop the bleeding before I left.” (True story.)
All of this said, Toby really does love my mother-in-law. He is usually affectionate, and, as he gets older, he’s calmed and settled as older cats do. She found him when he was just a kitten, out in the middle of nowhere, quite possibly dropped off by someone, although it’s impossible to say how he got out there. He can be a charmer, plays fetch, and is very intelligent. But even though reaching adulthood has mellowed him, Toby is still not a cat to cross. He is lucky to have an owner who loves him for who he is. My mother-in-law has had practice with such matters. As evidenced by this blog post.