Are You Afraid?

Cat watching birds

Cat watching birds (Photo credit: rarvesen)

We had another cat, once. It was fond of hunting and spent long days away, causing us to never-mind when it was gone. We reasoned that the Ma cat was teaching it to hunt and it came and went when she did. The Ma cat often spent time away, was not altogether tame, in fact.

We always called this cat “the other cat” because it so resembled Black Jack that we had trouble telling them apart. It was not Black Jack, though, did not have Jack’s and Earl’s hilarious dominance gene.

The Other Cat always held back, if there was a tussle for the food dish. It usually did not prefer petting and seemed somewhat afraid of touch, in  general. It ate and hung around with its siblings, but was the odd man out and didn’t seem to care.

I’ve known people like this, too. With people, long ago, we used the term “wallflower”, indicating the loner, the shy one who held back. I remember a classmate who hung around like The Other Cat. Her short hair had transformed nearly into a helmet with hairspray. She wore beige makeup all over her face, including beige lipstick, and didn’t wipe the excess off her eyebrows, which made her face pale and featureless, as if she were about to pass out. Like many popular girls, she sewed her own clothes, but they were—I don’t know—somehow blank-looking. Maybe color hurt her eyes, or something. She probably bathed every Saturday, but she often glistened with the need for a midweek dunking.

She never arrived first and always took the leftover seat. She never spoke much—only if called upon in class. She offered correct but lifeless answers, parroting the textbook but seeming unable to think aloud. When, at the bell, others bolted with gusto from the classroom, she gathered books with limp hands and slipped out onto the fringes of the hallway melee.

No one flattened her, which, now that I think about it, amazes me. Yet, this, too, adds to her persona: A collision, at least, would have proved she existed.

No one took offense at her. Sometimes the kind girls reached out to her, but no one kept it up. Her wan smiles hardly rewarded us enough and we were too young and untrained to care deeply. Boys would walk around her, embarrassed to make eye contact, but never insinuating the ridiculous remarks they saved for targeted girls.

I wonder about her, now. Now that I care about the downtrodden, now that I invest time to draw women out of themselves, I wonder about her home life. Did her parents encourage her? Did they abuse her?

She was absent from our 40th reunion . . .

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