“Got tuna?”

When my brother-in-law called to say he’d found a kitten on the roof of his apartment unit, we, like the suckers we are, said, “Bring it over.  We’ll find a home for it.” 

And so we did…at our house.  We were going through the trial homeschooling phase and had set up a bedroom as the “classroom”.  We immediately brought the snarling, hissing tiny ink black kitten into the classroom with us and he immediately streaked behind a filing cabinet.  When I reached for him he growled a warning and then bit me, hard, drawing blood.  This feral kitten did not like its new circumstances but the kids were enthralled with the new kitten and named him Midnight.  I’m not sure how it happened, but at some point the kitten ran from the room and right into the boy’s room where he hid under the bed.  No food touched, no water touched, no litter touched.  Hmmm.  We figured we’d let him alone to adjust on his own.  And he did.

Sometime in the night he found Sam and thus began the Sam/Midnight adventure that spanned the next eight years. 

Continuing to hold me in aversion, something I’d never experienced from a cat, Midnight let it be known that he preferred Sam and only Sam.  “Mom, what’s he doing?” asked Sam one night as he lay in bed, tiny kitten kneading his chest and sucking vigorously on a piece of his pajama shirt at Sam’s shoulder.  “He’s nipping, Sam, like babies do.”  (Nipping is our word for nursing – another story, another time.)  Sam didn’t know whether to be appalled or feel special but as the kitten began to purr, the look of angst on Sam’s face turned soft.  “Poor kitty, you miss your mother.”  Daily through the years Sam endured little kitten claws that became giant cat claws digging into his flesh as Midnight nipped his t-shirts. Midnight’s affection for and bond with Sam could have been somewhat of an embarrassment to him as he entered the preteen years but his attitude of acceptance and compassion toward his cat seemed never to bother him or become an issue with his group of friends.  It was accepted and common knowledge that Midnight belonged to Sam, and Sam belonged to Midnight.  

Midnight would not, as our other cats did, stay inside.  He would run to the door and sit, crying loudly, “Me-out!  Me-out!”  I would scold, cajole, and we would do our best to distract and tempt him away from the door, but he would persist and whenever the door was opened, he would race outdoors, breaking through our blocks and attempts to stop him.  At one point because I worried so much, we would have someone on “Midnight guard duty” whenever the door was opened but still, he would manage to make a bolt for it, returning soon to scratch at the door and let us know he was ready to come in.  After fighting his attempts to be an indoor/outdoor cat for a couple of years, I gave up – if he wanted out, we’d let him out…and I would be the one who worried.  When he’d come in the other cats would gather round and sniff, sniff, sniff, in awe of the one with the privilege of coming and going.

Long after we’d given up on the homeschooling phase, something I am not cut out to do, and the boys had their own bedrooms again, Midnight returned home one night after the kids were in bed.  One of us let him inside in answer to the scritch-scratch on the door and he raced immediately into Sam’s room.  We went on to bed then and were awakened a short time later to “Mom!!!!  Mom!!!!” 

Racing into Sam’s room and flipping on the light, we were surprised to see him jumping out of his bed and tossing the covers anxiously while Midnight sat in a corner of the room watching us.  “There’s a roach in my bed!  It was crawling on me!”  We all searched and found a giant roach which was killed and flushed.  Sam was settled back down as was everyone else in the house.  Midnight, however, decided it was too much commotion and raced to the front door and begged to go out.   Before we got back into bed he was scratching to come back in so after letting him in, we went to settle back to bed but once more heard, “Mom!!!!!  Mom!!!!  There’s another one!”

Stunned, and wondering where in the world they were coming from, this roach, too, was hunted down and killed and we spent thirty minutes inspecting the walls, floors, windows, closets, moved every piece of furniture, poured bleach down the sinks, and assured Sam that they were now all gone.  Midnight once more trotted to the door and was let out.  Once more we answered when he scratched to come back in.  Once more we let him back in and he raced to Sam’s room.  Once more we settled back into bed and once more Sam hollered and we went running.

By now I was highly suspicious and as the roach was caught and killed I watched the cat’s reaction.  He was interested in the hunt and seemed disgusted by the kill and disposal, and raced to the door again.  Hmmm.  

“I wonder if Midnight is bringing you gift roaches to show you he loves you, Sam.”   

Sam looked horrified.  “I don’t like roaches!” 

I explained that cats sometimes love us so much that they want to share special things with us.  I told him about a kitty in Alabama that I had befriended and fed who greeted me one day with a mrow, mrow, mrow and dropped a bloody dead rat on my white tennis shoes.  All of my instincts said run, but I swallowed my fear and thanked the kitty for her gift.  She ran off to play and we disposed of the horrid and thankfully dead  rat. 

“I don’t like rats either, but I’d rather have a rat than a roach,” he told us. 

“Let’s test this.  Let’s let Middy out and when he tries to come back in, your dad will check to see if he has any “gifts”.  Then we’ll know if he is the one who has been bringing in the roaches.”

Sam reluctantly agreed so we let Midnight out and waited.  Within minutes he was scratching on the door and before letting him dash in, he was caught, live roach in mouth.  After being de-roached, we let him in.  We had our answer!  Our house wasn’t being overrun with roaches but roaches were being run into the house by the cat!  No matter how Midnight begged, we wouldn’t let him go back out for more and Sam carried him to his room where he finally settled down and nipped and they both fell asleep.  

Because we had all reacted badly to the roaches, Midnight next turned to birds.  We scolded him for hurting the birds and refused to let him bring them inside.  He finally learned to drop them at the front door on his way in, but we hated that he killed birds.  Then one summer a perfectly white dove just walked right up to me in our courtyard and I simply picked it up.  This was a tame bird, obviously had been a pet that someone had turned out.  I knew this bird would become an easy “gift” if left outdoors so I brought it inside with the intention of calling a friend who knew someone with a bird sanctuary.  I called the dove Pearl and learned that she loved to lay like a baby in my arms or perch on the back of my neck covered by my hair with just her head poking out.  She loved to have her head and neck scratched.  She was used to people and loved the attention.  We housed her in a cat carrier for the several days she spent with us, placing her high on a shelf the kitties couldn’t reach.  Midnight, being an indoor/outdoor cat was oblivious to her presence until he walked inside one day and saw me cradling her in my arms.  As he approached curiously, she flew straight up to the ceiling fan, thankfully off, scaring the heebie-jeebies out of the Midnight.  Long after Pearl went to a safe haven, Midnight eyed that ceiling fan suspiciously every time he walked past it, sometimes ducking as he’d hurry past.  Years passed before he tried to catch another bird.

Midnight had a love for wandering around the neighborhood and making friends.  When I’d step out back and call for him, he’d sometimes dash over from a neighbor’s  yard.  One day a neighbor told me he used her doggy door to come in and visit.  Another neighbor said he was lounging in his kitchen and invited us in to see.  Sure enough, Midnight was sprawled on his kitchen counter as if he owned it.  When we asked about his own cat, referring to the food and water dish on the floor, the neighbor reddened and told us, “Well, I don’t have a cat, but when my buddy comes to visit I have to offer him something.” 

When new neighbors moved in behind us we met one afternoon when I was calling for Midnight.  When he came shooting over their fence into our yard, the lady of the house asked me, “Is that your cat?”  I told her it was and she laughed.  “Well, I guess I’ll have to get a cat for my kids, then, because for the past several weeks we thought it was ours.  He’s been inside making himself right at home!” 

As Sam grew and began going out more, Midnight’s evening treks turned into two and three-day excursions which would send us all calling for him.  I was surprised when someone several streets away asked me what we were looking for.  When I told her she laughed and said to come on over.  Sitting as happy as you please on her sofa was Midnight.  “I thought he was a stray so he’s been staying here.  He asks to go out every couple of days and then he comes back.  I didn’t know he was living a double life!” 

As these kind people moved on and Sam’s time at home became less and less, Middy’s wanderings became limited to the cul-de-sac with few visits inside the house.  In the heat of our Arizona summers he sometimes wants to come in but mostly he lives in the lantana bushes, on the top of the car, on the outdoor loveseat, under the neighbor’s ficus tree, or sprawled on our little courtyard wall.  A few months ago a stray kitten, feral and terribly fearful of humans, showed up.  Midnight has taken her under his paw, shown her where to get fresh water, where to eat, and where to find cool spots.  I’ll be putting out the kitty beds as soon as the nights start cooling down and I’m sure Middy will show  her where to find that warm spot to sleep, too.  So far, the kitten won’t let any of us near her even though the girls next door spend hours trying to coax her to be petted.  We’d like to get her spayed before “something” happens.

At fourteen, Midnight still begs to be picked up every now and then and digs his claws into our t-shirts, takes a nip or two, purring loudly.   He’s known by everyone in the neighborhood and is both a character and fixture.  Today I noticed out the window he was stalking a bird who was stealing from his food dish.  He hunkered down real low and stealthily eased closer until he seemed to be in striking distance.  As I raced to the door the bird looked his way and when it did, Midnight sat up and began washing his forepaw.  The bird continued to plunder in the catfood dish as Middy wandered to the courtyard wall.  I walked out and petted him, telling him what a fine cat he was.  He blinked at me and looked over at Sam’s car.  Guess he figured there was no one here to give a gift to just now.  When Sam comes home, though, both birds and roaches better watch out – Midnight will certainly want to give his Marine a gift.

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