The moment we found Ralphie absent from the living room and garden room, our relatives and we headed a full house search, but no one turned up a little orange kitten: nothing--no Ralphie. After an hour of searching inside, I figured he must’ve gotten outside somehow, sneaking out when they had opened the doors. I was frantic Li'l Raphie was gone but reasonably sure a little kitten couldn't go far and that, since it was only late morning, I'd have plenty of time to find him before dark. With better things to do, our visitors left with the salutations that they hoped Ralphie would turn up soon.
They couldn't have been more wrong.
Edgar and I approached the search analytically: "Where would a kiten go? Why wasn't he answering us or appearing to us when we called?" The answer was obvious: he must be stuck somewhere--in a pipe, a vent, a cabinet. It was more likely, we reasoned, that he was still inside the house, so we expanded the house search to opening every indoor space capable of harboring a kitten-sized object--every drawer, cabinet, closet, etc. We searched each room several times, calling his name—no Ralphie.
Finally, with the inside exhausted of finding the kitten, we took our search outside--driving our cars through the alfalfa fields surrounding our woods, taking the golf cart along the brush beside the road, and walking through the woods calling Ralphie's name—no Ralphie. At 2:30, after opening every door to every outside building and callling inside, shining the flashlight around, after getting on hands and knees and prying our heads down an opening of the deck to look around underneath, I really began to worry.
Li'l Ralphie wasn't anywhere in the house, not the basement, the furnace room, the exercise room, the pantry where I stored my canned products from the summer harvest. And he appeared not to be outside either. We had literally looked everywhere humanly possible--even down groundhog holes in the woods. I had bounced across the alfalfa fields, searching and calling through the brush under the power lines. I had roared with the cart through the fields scanning the rows for something orange--nothing, except for an occasional fall leaf. I called down across fields, inspected the Pig Palace where lived four of our pot-bellied pigs, and I had driven alongside the road in search of a little red body--nothing. And all of the searching Edgar and I did separately, together, and numerous times. Each out-building was inspected three times, at least. And, in between searches to the outside, we went back into the house, checking the rooms upstairs. It was simply unfathomable that a kitten could have walked half a mile away, yet a small woods a half mile away was another area we searched: not once, but twice. Going back inside again, we tore up a couple of ceiling tiles in the exercise room, shut down the air exchanger and tapped on the huge python-like pipes leading to away from it--no movement or cries for help.
Finally, in late afternoon and without anymore options for searching, and absolutely exhausted, Edgar gave up, but I continued to walk the woods--calling, pleading for my kitten to magically appear and come to me. I had already changed to my winter coat, a scarf and hat and gloves--the temp was plummeting, which only made me more anxious and tearful because Ralphie was too little to survive freezing temperatures. Behind every bush, every tree stump, I imagined finding Ralphie, sticking his head up. I imagined his running up to me and purring as I held him in my coat, but my images never panned out, and the day steadily darkened.
Finally, I, too, could go no more. Darkness made searching outside impossible. So, imagining him somewhere out in the alfalfa field or woods alone, lost, and scared, I came in and just stared outside into the woods—no Ralphie, and we had absolutely looked everywhere, under the pool cover, even under the hoods of cars, in the barn loft, listening and tapping on the air-conditioning vents. But Ralphie had, simply, disappeared into thick air. I resorted to tears because I was out of all other options.
At around 6PM it was completely black outside, so the only place we could hunt was in the house, and we had already searched each room several times. The search seemed futile. In one last ditch attempt to locate the missing kitten, Edgar decided to turn off the air system in the house: perhaps we could hear a kitten’s meow better when the swooshing noise was silenced. He flicked the switch, and the house went quiet. At the bottom of the stairs, I called for Li’l Ralphie. The next moment I heard a tiny meow. I ran to the kitchen and called again: nothing. I ran back to the foyer and yelled: a tiny, tinny meow answered. I tore upstairs and opened, for what was probably the sixth time that day, the door to my craft (junk) room, and, suddenly, out ran Li'l Ralphie. I gasped. He ran past me, down the steps, with me following in a fury (in an instant my worry turned to anger: Why hadn't he come to us all the times when we called for him in that room?) I followed him to the litterbox where he hunkered down and peed for what seemed like a full minute.
It’s certainly good to know that, to Ralphie, we rate lower than a litter box. The only thing that mattered to Li’l Ralphie was having to empty his bladder. One piece of advice I can offer anyone with kittens is to teach a kitten to respond and come to his name as soon as possible. Had I conditioned him to do that from the beginning, he might have come to me from behind wherever he was hiding in that room.
I can't tell you the relief Edgar and I both felt at sight of Li'l Ralphie in his litterbox. I was happy because now I didn't have to imagine him in a fox's lair, being ripped limb from limb by the predator. I didn't have to worry about his being lost and scared and freezing through the night. I didn't have to worry about my own state, how I'd cope during the night and the next days and weeks wondering what ever happened to the kitten we rescued from shoulder of the highway. I was, at once, so irritated with him for ignoring us when we searched that junk room, yet so glad he was all right.
The rest of the night Ralphie was playing with my hair and romping all over me, but I refused to indulge him. I was pissed and wasn't speaking to him--just as he hadn't spoken to use when we called for all those hours--his disappearance had sucked up my entire day; I had been exhausted from worry and had walked through woods, fields, barn lofts for hours. Who knew how far he had driven up my blood pressure?--probably to dangerous heights. He had deliberately ignored our calls until, so bursting full of pee, he had no other choice but to ask for help.
This morning Ralphie greeted us when we came downstairs. I shook my head, remembering yesterday's awful experience, and still feeling a twinge of anger with him. But I'm over it now. I'm speaking to him this morning.