The Brain that Cried Wolf

overreact
Photo from Photofunia

I am unfortunately good at thinking up worst case scenarios.

Late yesterday afternoon, I heard a cat meowing incessantly outside. I didn’t think much of it at first; cats do that. But when my husband got home and heard it, and I told him how long I’d already been hearing it, he became concerned for it. We both have a huge soft spot for animals, especially cats, but I think my husband is even more sensitive to them than I am. After it had been meowing nonstop for a couple of hours, my husband went outside in the rain to see if he could find it and see if it was okay. What he found was a muddy, wet, young female ginger cat who was seemingly in distress, crouched against the building below our balcony. She was barely more than a kitten. I put some dry cat food in a dish and handed it over our balcony railing to my husband to give to her, and she ate it as if she were starving. Another neighbour came along and said the cat had been out there meowing for two days, on and off. We realized we hadn’t heard her before because we’d had our noisy air conditioner on and had only recently turned it off because the temperature had dropped.

This neighbour thought the cat belonged to the man in the basement apartment below ours. That apartment’s window was partly open, and the neighbour picked up the cat and shoved her through the opening, but she came out again, meowing loudly. She did not want to be inside, even though she seemed to be in distress outside. How odd.

I started to worry about the downstairs neighbour. What if something had happened to him, and the cat was trying to get help? (Or if not help, at least food, which seems more in character for a cat.) Why else would the cat be so hungry and seem distressed, when she could easily go back inside her own home through the open window? And this had been going on for two days? Something must be wrong.

When my husband tried to walk away, the cat followed him. He decided he couldn’t leave her there so he picked her up and brought her into our apartment. I got a towel and dried her off. My husband opened up a can of wet food and offered it to her and she ate the whole can. This was a very hungry cat.

Still worried about the neighbour, I went and knocked on his door. Keep in mind I hate talking to people and will avoid it if at all possible. There was no answer. I left a note on his door, explaining the situation and letting him know where his cat was.

Realizing that if something had happened to him, leaving a note on his door was pointless, I then, despite also hating making phone calls, called the 24-hour customer service number for our building and, with my voice quivering, explained that I was worried about a neighbour. The customer service person put me on hold and called both numbers she had for him, but got no answer. She said she’d send a staff member to check on him during business hours the next day, but if I really thought a “welfare check” was immediately necessary, I should call the police. I decided to wait a while and see if he came and knocked on our door in response to my note.

Meanwhile, the adorable young cat was making herself very comfortable in our apartment, and our own cat was not impressed. When we adopted our cat six years ago, we were told that she liked and got along well with other cats, but I guess she’s been an only cat so long now and this was such an unusual circumstance in her life that she got a bit upset at the intrusion. Fortunately, she only hissed; she didn’t try to attack. The visiting cat retreated from her, but was otherwise unconcerned. She even had a drink out of our cat’s water bowl, climbed our cat’s tower in front of the window, and played with one of our cat’s toys.

Before my husband had gone outside, I’d put enchiladas in the oven for our dinner, but when the timer went off neither my husband nor I could eat. Speaking for myself, I was just all stirred up inside, worrying about the neighbour. I was afraid that either he was lying in his apartment dead, or he was okay and would be pissed at us for abducting his cat. Either way I could not envision a positive outcome to the situation. There was no way I would have been able to choke down any food under the circumstances.

After a couple hours, there was a knock on the door. I hid and let my husband answer it. He told me later that the man was in a work uniform, so had obviously just come from work. The man was baffled as to why the cat had seemed distressed, saying, “I left the window open so she could come and go as she pleased.” But he was very friendly and didn’t mind that we’d taken the cat in, thank goodness.

I felt tremendously relieved that the neighbour was okay, but also felt like a meddlesome fool for my overreaction. I had to call the building’s customer service number back and tell them that the neighbour was okay. I felt humiliated. Thank goodness I hadn’t actually called the police.

I have felt agitated and unwell since this happened. All’s well that ends well, but I don’t feel well. I can’t seem to fully calm down. I keep going over it all in my mind.

I think one reason I’d jumped to the wrong conclusion was because earlier in the day I’d read a news story about a pizza place checking on one of their regular customers when he hadn’t ordered a pizza in a while, and it turned out the guy had had a stoke. So I guess that had planted the idea in my head.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve overreacted to something in my neighbourhood. In another city I lived in, I heard and saw someone trying to kick in the back door of the house behind mine, so I called the police. It turned out it was the owner of the house; she had locked herself out. Why would someone try to kick in their own door though? Isn’t that a tad destructive? She was a bit of a hothead though, as became apparent after the police left and she stood outside and screamed at the top of her lungs, “When I find out who called the fucking cops on me I’m going to kick their fucking ass!” I became terrified of encountering her after that.

There was another time I called the police because I saw a group of young men with guns standing at the edge of the forest next to the university campus. I never heard the outcome of that one but since there was nothing in the news about it and the university wasn’t put on lock down or anything (my husband worked there, so he would know, even if it hadn’t made the news), I later surmised that perhaps they were just paintballers or something.

When these things happen, I feel like I’m being a good citizen, keeping an eye out for my neighbours and my community, but I clearly misinterpret things every single time. I am a fool and my perceptions cannot be trusted. But what if some time in the future, something really is wrong, and I don’t report it because I’ve gotten it wrong so many times? It’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf, only there is no boy, just my own alarmist brain.

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