University City

Sometimes, it can take a journey to be on time

Most of us turn to the animal kingdom to describe our tendencies: The tortoise and the hare, the early bird, the ant and the grasshopper.

I've always been more of a grasshopper than an ant, and never an early bird. I was late for my college graduation.

When I landed an interview for my first job out of college, I was 15 minutes late (somehow, I still got the job).

I would have been late to my own wedding, but I avoided the issue altogether by eloping.

My husband is the opposite; if we do arrive on time, he says we were "almost late." So I've tried to reform.

I had a doctor's appointment recently and, rather than rush out the door with only seconds to spare, I allowed plenty of extra time to make the trip.

There were extra challenges, too: I had a minivan full with my two children plus two neighbor kids that I baby-sit.

The plan was for my husband to meet us after work at the doctor's office, where we would trade vehicles and he would taxi the children back to the house. All the kids are preschoolers.

Did I mention I was eight months pregnant?

I broke a sweat just thinking about loading the van.

Sippy cups? Check. All diapers changed? Check. Everyone strapped into a car seat? Check.

Diaper bag not still sitting atop van roof? Check. Should have double-checked that one.

As we traveled the seven miles down the toward the interstate, I noticed a car behind us following quite closely. I didn't think much of it; the speed limit on that road had been reduced recently, and some folks hadn't quite adjusted.

Then, that same car followed me at my next turn. And my next. And my next.

Uh-oh, I thought. I've had nightmares about this.

We're going to get to a deserted stretch, where this creep will run me off the road and the next thing you know we'll be on the evening news.

Worse still, my untimely death will cause me to miss yet another appointment.

Finally, we arrived at an intersection, where the man pulled up beside me and motioned.

We were now in full view of at least three other drivers, so I hesitantly lowered my window.

"Do you have a gray-and-white cat?" he asked.

Of all the things I had expected the man to say, this wasn't one of them. "You have a flat tire," perhaps, or "I could have killed you and your family back there."

But not an inquiry into my domesticated animal possession.

The realization hit me in waves. If this man is asking about my cat, then he must have seen my cat.

If he has seen my cat, then my cat must have been somewhere in or around the van in the last few minutes.

If my cat has been near the van in the last few minutes, then my cat is not at home.

If my cat is not at home, then I'm going to have to find it and return it there.

I am never going to be on time for anything in my life.

"Yes?" I said after a few seconds of blank staring.

"He was riding on your roof all the way down the road. Then, when you turned, he jumped off into the grass."

"OK. Thanks," I managed as the man pulled away.

He wasn't going to murder me.

I was going to murder my cat.

Back I drove along our previous route, scanning the shoulder the entire time, looking for tufts of fur.

Ten minutes later, there was no sign of the cat. I traveled up the road for about a mile (why I illogically thought the cat might travel along roads to find his way home, I don't know).

Finally, I turned back around, not having spotted the cat, taking him for lost, and with enough travel time to make my appointment.

Meanwhile, my two kids were distraught at the loss of the family pet.

The neighbor kids had picked up on their distress and all four of them were crying.

I was actually beginning to chuckle - not at the children's distress, but at the thought of our 8-pound fur ball roof-surfing for a seven-mile stretch. If only I could have seen it.

And then, I did see it - the cat. A patch of gray and white was crouched in the ditch on the opposite side of the road.

I whipped around once again, pulled over, put on the hazard lights and scooped up the cat before he had a chance to run.

He appeared unscathed, so I hopped back in the van, turned around once again and drove furiously to my appointment.

When I arrived, I was sweating and covered in gray fur, but I was on time.

My husband gave me quick kiss and a knowing glance that said, "You were almost late."

Perhaps it's best that I don't try to reform. If I'm late, so what?

They say the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. When a cat gets involved, things can get really hairy.

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