Our wayward calico cat ran away yesterday morning. She is an indoor cat who very badly wants to be an outdoor cat, and we, as responsible owners, have had well intentioned reservations about just setting her free into the great unknown.

Does the domestic diva know that- after once watching her try and scale a tree and only make it a few feet up before falling flat on her back- we have rated her survival skills at a serious, vote her off the island, nil? Does she understand the confines of the house offer structure and safety, and that she may be unprepared to face the challenges she finds when she is vulnerable and exposed outside our walls? And most importantly, if we just set her free, how will she find her way back home?

We have only had the wayward calico cat since October, and during the winter months she seemed fairly content with her lot in life in our quirky, colorful household. She likes the dogs, she likes soft places to lay. She likes the fact that if she stands outside our bedroom door and yowls at 6 am in the morning, somebody will likely get up and feed her.

But as springtime came around, she became increasingly restless with where she fell in the hierarchy of things, i.e. a domesticated, indoor animal. She started trying to escape every time the door was open. She clawed the furniture with even more fervor than usual. She pressed her face against the screen, staring fixedly off into the distance, looking like she would rather be any place, but here.

She prowled and she meowed and she howled as she lingered close to windows and doors. She took to defecating in front of her litter box when the rest of the household was out on the porch or patio, and she was stuck inside. Though I am certainly by no means an expert at animal behavior non verbal cues of communication, I think I cam surmise her clear meaning: “This situation is absolute crap.”

She yearns to be outside.

In the interest of kindness and compromise with the tortured soul, we’ve tried to negotiate. The whole leash/harness debacle was a spectacular fail when she went Houdini Ninja on us, promptly disposing of the harness in an elaborate display of angry hissing and acrobatic prowess. Letting her out and hoping she’d stay within the fenced confines of the yards resulted in her reenacting scenes from Prison Break and us chasing her over the neighborhood and corralling her back to the house. And on yesterday’s beautiful 75 degree perfection of a June day, she finally made her real break, refusing corral, kicking, screaming, scratching and bolting. She went feral on her life.

We watched her go agreeing the day had finally come to let go. Let her have her way. Stop forcing her to be so domesticated, when she clearly wants freedom to roam. Have a little faith that if she is supposed to make it back home, in the grand scheme of things, she will.

It was February of 2011 that I went feral on my life. It may have been in a far more civilized manner than the wayward, calico cat, but the metaphorical kicking, screaming, scratching and bolting holds true. If there is always a reckoning, than this was mine. After 13 years of partnership with the same person, I had come to the devastating realization that I was simply posing as an indoor cat, who badly needed the space to roam free.

Something inside of me had been thrashing and hissing for months. Scratching up the furniture and tearing at the shreds of my tired heart. Rattling the walls of a rusty cage, trying to break free. I stared wistfully at the doors and the windows, needing something I couldn’t even put into words. I dreamed of death and catastrophe and magical escapes- anything to stop the pain and keep me from making a decision I hardly understood. I howled each night for 6 months straight, testing the strength of my voice, before I finally found the courage to pull a reluctant tune out of the thrashed recesses of my throat and fling it into the space of things you can’t take back.

A terrible, feral space of kicking, scratching, screaming and bolting, that will finally set you free.

I found myself uttering words I couldn’t believe I was saying. At first they came out in reticence, a song I never imagined I would sing, and then suddenly all at once. Dreadful words strung together in a discordant tone, with no melody to be found, other than a melody that was rising from a place deep within who simply acknowledged; I can no longer do this.

I am not meant to be sitting on this side of the screen door. I need to be out there.

I am not meant to be a domesticated creature prowling the halls of a gilded cage. I must be free.

I am not an indoor cat, I said.

I watched my words pierce the heart of someone who was good and respectable and kind and loving, and who was fundamentally so radically different than I, that he would never, ever, ever understand my need to be outdoors. He didn’t understand why anyone would want to leave structure and safety. He didn’t understand the language of the howl. And fundamentally- in that heart of hearts, most core place or truth, we all must find within ourselves- he couldn’t be anything other than who he was.

And neither could I.

And I knew we could no longer ask each other to try.

That night I drank my shame of failure by the cupfuls. But I could no sooner have stopped those words than I could have stopped my heart from pressing against that screen, straining to break free, and become something more than what it was in the space it then occupied. I was vulnerable and exposed. Entirely uncertain as to how I would meet the challenges that awaited out there. Entirely certain I had to try. Not yet understanding what I would someday come to know:

I had to leave home in order to come home to myself.

The wayward calico cat was waiting on the fence when we came last night. Waiting to be let back in so she could drink deep from her water dish, stretch deep on my lap, sleep deep in her comfy kitty bed. Then dash out the door first thing this morning so she can do it all over again. Have a good day, we said. Come back when you are ready. 

I hope out there, in the great unknown, she finds what she needs to soothe her restless, feral heart. I hope she hones her survival skills and figures out what she needs to keep herself safe. I hope she occupies spaces now big enough to carry her howls on the wings of the wind, so she can be wild and free. And despite her temperamental, cantankerous, calico cat ways, I hope for as long as she is meant to, she keeps finding her way back home.

Sooner or later, we must all find our way back home.

Some of us just take a wayward path to get there.