When we moved into our house, a little over two years ago, everything connected to our staircase up to the second floor was a solid half-wall. Except for the one side of it that had some kind of an almost Bavarian, gingerbread house-like vibe to it, with oddly carved slats serving as, presumably, statement-making balusters. It was a strange choice for a focal point, and ugly. The rest of the stairs from top to bottom were the aforementioned half-walls, bulky drywall constructions that must have been done because it was easier (and cheaper) for the builder, including two short sections that made for a kind of balcony where you could look down to the cramped entryway below (I don’t think it deserves to be called a foh-yay). Early on, we had it all replaced with a more traditional railing – balusters and newel posts and a handrail. It opened things up and improved the aesthetics drastically in the house.
It took no time at all for our 10 week old kitties to find the joy in weaving in and out of the balusters like border collies in an agility competition. Cats are such daredevils, of course, with that treacherous combination of extreme sure-footedness and disturbing insouciance that makes you wonder how they survive. Last night, Princess Wuhannah Rae and Madame Quarantina Maggie were in their ten minute gap between 3 hour naps, pouncing, kicking, biting, scratching, and rolling all over the place, just as the rest of us were quieting down for the night. My wife and The Boy had just laid back to watch Some Good News with John Krasinski, our daughter was in bed with a bottomless stream of dog videos lulling her to sleep from her phone, a few inches from her face, and I was steadily vanishing into my big leather chair in the living room.
Thinking about it now, I can’t remember if I heard the squeal before I heard the thud, or if it was the other way around. It hardly matters. I heard them both and I knew right away that the thing we joked about but didn’t believe could happen, happened. From my seat I was closest to her by far, and as soon as I stood up I could see little Rae laid out on the hardwood floor below the second story balcony. She fell ten and a half feet.
Over the past week we had seen them both close to that edge. We just figured that it was an obvious enough peril that even as kittens they would have the sense to keep clear of the drop. But they must have gotten to playing, and forgetting, and that’s how it happened. I ran to her. When I was within a few feet she managed to pick herself up and run awkwardly away from me. By now everyone else was downstairs, too. They had heard the scream, the yowl, the obvious cry for help. For a few minutes we couldn’t find her, then The Boy checked the thin space on top of the craft bin on the bottom shelf of our living room console, and there she was.
We got her out of there, held her gently, and let her down to watch her get around. It looked, sort of, off. But were we just seeing it through our fear and our shock? Was she doing fine but we couldn’t believe it?
No, no that was definitely a stumble. And her sister wanted to play with her, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. She wouldn’t climb onto anything, much less jump down, and she seemed entirely too willing to just lay down.
My wife dialed up an emergency vet. A technician heard her story and put her on hold for what turned out to be a very long time. I started googling things like “how high of a fall can a
cat kitten survive.” Our daughter was pragmatic and observant, touching Rae here and there, checking her responses, and collecting data in her straightforward way. The Boy began by relating – “I know sometimes when I jump from somewhere high and then land, it hurts right around this part of my leg.” He points to a spot just above his ankle. “Maybe it’s the same for her.” Then, anticipating his sister’s reply, “I know she’s a cat and I’m not, but still…” Soon, though, he couldn’t stand thinking about it any longer, and his insuppressible empathy got the best of him. He started a hard, breathless cry that lasted for the next half hour.
My wife was still on hold with the emergency vet. I was getting surprisingly reassuring answers from the internet, which, as always, I took as gospel truth in spite of every bit of common sense telling me to do the opposite. One study was done that looked at cats that had survived five-story falls. Five stories! “How often does this happen,” I had to wonder. There were all manner of anecdotes about cats surviving drops from improbable heights, and walking away like nothing happened.
Eventually the vet got on the line and gave the practical guidance that none of us had the placidity to come up with on our own. “If she seems ok, monitor her tonight. Call your vet in the morning if there are any problems, or if you are still concerned.” Duh. Then also, “Keep an eye out for any signs of respiratory problems.”
That was good for a moment’s worry, but her breathing was normal, and she seemed ok. A little off, but wouldn’t you be? Sure, she seemed ok. I told The Boy, “she seems ok.” He told his mom, “I think she seems ok.” Our daughter told us all, “She’ll be ok.”
My wife carried Rae into the bedroom with her. The boy followed, and I tagged along, the four of us settling in to get back to watching Some (much needed) Good News with John Krasinski. Our Daughter and Maggie came in and joined us a minute later. Rae curled into my wife’s lap and slept, but we were all nervous because she wasn’t purring. She tends to purr when she’s falling asleep. The Boy pointed to a spot on her midsection. “Usually when she breathes, this part goes up and down.” He moved his finger half an inch. “Now this part is.” Nobody said anything. His heart had discovered the lure of minutiae within a deep worry.
Maggie found a nook behind our pillows and purred enough for the both of them. Enough for all of us.
It was past 11:00 now. The bed was far too crowded for me to sleep, but nobody else had any trouble. I took myself downstairs to sleep on the couch, telling myself all the while that Rae would be just fine. My daughter said so, and she’s never wrong.
At about 5:45 this morning I woke up. I heard my wife come down the stairs, turn on the coffee, and then head back up. I didn’t hear anything else. But I listened. I just laid there and listened and I don’t know how long it took but finally I heard it. Like the fingertips of a hundred hands frantically drumming a desktop, the sound of eight tiny little padded paws tearing all helter-skelter across the hardwood floor – two fully healthy cats enjoying another ten minute gap between three hour naps by pretending to be lions. One of them would say, if only you asked her, that just last night she was in the savanna, lying in wait for a passing water buffalo, when she somehow fell from the highest branch of a tree.