On *Not* Letting The Cat Out Of The Bag

Hello from the West Coast! I was sitting here thinking the past few weeks “when am I gonna get time to write an update” and made myself go to my closest coffee shop because the time is now!

So…we made it to Washington state! Should I end it there?

It’s been a busy 6-7 weeks since our big travel push. So many of you asked ‘how was traveling with the cats?’ that I feel like this whole post could (might be?) about that (Editor’s note: it is).

August 29-30th was a wild, mildly traumatic ride for me and for B&Q. Wrapping up one’s entire 7 years of life in the city, cleaning everything out of an apartment without a car, without a partner/person, and leaving at 4am to go to the airport for your new life? 10/10 DO NOT RECOMMEND.

Thanks to great friends we got everything needed into the 8x8x7 POD on Saturday in pretty quick time. Bean decided that people coming over to help carry out our things was just a biiiiiit too far to tolerate and squeezed himself between the top of the fridge and the bottom of our cabinets. They’d done so well with all the moving things so far that to see him physically be so anxious was tough. He alternated between that nook and on top of the cabinets until the end (when I put him in his carrier on flight morning). Queen was delighted and asked for pets and treats non-stop from almost everyone.

Sweaty moving day face and Bean, above it all

Unlike most PODs users, I couldn’t get the unit dropped off in my driveway…because I had no driveway. We had to go to the warehouse as they can’t deliver to residential streets/apartment buildings and they didn’t go any further north than Everett on the delivery in Washington state, so warehouse to warehouse it was. Which saved me some money overall but did require more ‘legs’ of work to coordinate.

I rented a Penske truck from my local Home Depot and got there around 8am for pickup. For some reason it wasn’t until I was butt in seat that I realized how I might have to parallel park a 20ft truck by myself on a busy city street and started to panic.

I had been telling myself up to that day and the 3 that followed: We made a plan. We’ve prepared. We’re just executing the plan. So I put the truck in gear, checked the mirrors, and drove the 10 minutes back to my place, doing 2 laps before finding an ‘ok’ spot for the truck and paying the meter.

This ended up being a constant that last week in Chicago. Suddenly fear would pounce on my shoulder and whisper ‘seriously? you think you can do this *gestures* and do it alone?!’ That voice was…pretty insidious. I think she tucked away in a box and might still be hiding out in my storage unit to come out on darker days. I busied myself with something move-related, swatting the voice away, and just. kept. swimming.

Hey guess what? MOVING IS STILL THE WORST. Yeah. In case you thought that changed since we’re forgiving student loans and rolling back solid 50-year Supreme Court rulings, it hasn’t. Moving is emotionally and physically and mentally taxing as heck. If I said something wild to you over that last month I just…I might need a pass. I felt like sleep was a joke; the last 2.5 nights I slept on an inflatable camping pad with a travel blanket. My main goal was ‘hope the cats don’t pop the pad’ and my scary thoughts were about the TSA checkpoint w the cats. That was a recurring one.

Monday the 29th was spent coordinating final freebox pickups to neighbors, cleaning, taking stuff to friends/the post office to mail, and a final meal from First Slice Pie Cafe on top of a box. Forever we stan. Coffee-braised pork burrito, marry me. Toffee Coffee pie? Bear my firstborn. All the staff from every location deserve flowers and to pet baby animals.

I nervously watched the USPS tracker waiting for some calming drops from Jackson Galaxy, the Cat Daddy/cat whisperer, because I wasn’t convinced the gabapentin was going to be enough to drug the cats on flight day. I’d kicked in my address change to start that day, so I was scared the USPS dude wouldn’t actually leave it, you know? Successfully nabbing it felt almost as good as winning in the grocery checkout line wars. You know what I mean.

I had very little left in the apartment, so I just started/kept cleaning. I still had my router/modem so I kept playing episodes of Scrubs and podcasts, cleaning nonsensical stuff like the walls (where did all those marks come from?), dusting the top of cabinets (eons worth of skin cells), and trying to keep that scary voice at bay that 12 hours from now everything would change.

To be honest, writing about this day/night/day is making me emotional. I’m snug and safe in a sparsely-populated coffee shop and am anxious just recalling it. Tears feel close. Should I keep writing about this? Is there a catharsis in telling you how bad it was? Or is it self-pity to ‘complain’ about it on my blog? I’m working on a ‘my feelings are valid’ kick lately, so I’m going to keep going.

I’ll tell you what I told everyone who’s asked: I hope I never have to do this again. I don’t know what that means for my future Foreign Service career/application but it was traumatic. I feel like that’s the closest word. I’d asked a friend who’d moved last year to Seattle with a cat if they were glad they’d driven and she said in hindsight, it would be better to fly. It would be 1 bad day vs several not great days for the cats, if that makes sense. Turns out, 1 bad day is still…bad. Who knew?!

AND EVERYTHING WENT RELATIVELY WELL! Pretty much! TSA = great. I forgot the leftover gabapentin and calming drops in the fridge (after I had dosed them; it just would have been leftover/more for later), and one of my suitcases was 5lbs over, but otherwise honestly it went well/executed the plan. Which is why I think I’m confused about these feelings.

Maybe it’s just admitting how scared I was. How close I came to losing it but I couldn’t; who would have picked up the pieces? It had to get done, so I did it. But I did it so, so scared.

How I blustered and brave-faced my way through ‘am I doing the right thing’ and telling folks I’d loved for years goodbye for the last time, and sang my final silly RIFF songs, and confidently told people my plan and I’m full-on, honestly crying right now in ye olde Woods Coffee Shop and it was so hard. It was awful, y’all. There’s not many times I’ve been SO hyperaware of how single I am. Most of the time, it’s fine. I have great friends and family and a well-honed mental game of getting things done by myself. Traveling alone. Dinners out by myself. Going to theaters solo. But something about all of this, the planning and doing and carrying all the fears in a blue IKEA tote non stop and worrying around all the ‘what ifs’ was truly tapping the ceiling of my emotional capacity as just one person. The relief there would have been in sharing the emotional labor and load with another person would have been…everything. But there wasn’t. So I just handled it. But I’m starting to think sitting here that ‘just handling it’ wasn’t really ‘dealing with it,’ ya feel?

TSA was great; honestly. ORD TSA in Chicago did so great helping me with the cats. I realized laying in the dark the night before, not sleeping, on my sleeping pad that I had no way to ‘connect’ the cats to me/each other. I knew I’d have to take them out of the carrier and keep them with me as the carrier went through the xray. And what if they had a real freakout – a cartoon cloud of claws and fur and fangs – and I couldn’t get them back? Sure, they were both in harnesses and both had an air tag on them, but I’d packed their leashes in the pod. Call it resourceful or ratchet, but as I took their old scratching post out to the dumpster, I cut a length of sisal rope/twine from it about 18″ long and kept it in my pocket, to tie the D-ring on the harnesses together before removing them in the tiny TSA booth. Both TSA agents were incredibly kind to me. I had such…panic face. Anxiety was radiating off me in waves. I bet I smelled like desperation. The female agent complimented how cute the cats were as I choked out a thank you and how grateful I was as this was the part I was the most scared about and thanked them yet again.

Then Queen started to have…opinions. Bean was just doped up to heck. Full happy, dopey boy. They both got the same dose and we’d done 2 dry runs of drugs, but I don’t know if she just adrenaline’d through the meds or what. She was breathing hard, crawling all over Bean, crying. I put them back on my roller carry-on and walked back and forth, which helped a little. I felt so conspicuous. Several people kindly asked me about my cat (and they were delighted to hear there were two in there, one was just uh, loud) and talked nicely to her. I tried to put my face close to the mesh and whisper loving things to her and let her rub her snoot on my fingers but she was pushing her whole FACE against the mesh and breathing hard and crying and I didn’t know what to do. ORD has animal relief areas, but there weren’t any near me (I’d researched) indoors. And if you went out, you’d have to go through security again.

I began to worry ‘maybe her harness somehow twisted up and is choking her?’ so I carefully unzipped just enough of the side door to slide my hand in and she wanted out so bad. I mean, I would say YEARNING and LEANING that whole body toward the opening. I hated having to push her back in as I loosened and removed the harness (which wasn’t twisted). I realized that meant if she got out that she was sans harness, identifier, air tag, etc. Sure she was chipped, but she’d have to be caught. She was biting and scratching at the mesh (which wasn’t metal) and panting; I was scared she’d somehow get out during the flight.

I had no backup plan/additional carrier. I prayed fervently that we were all going to get through this. Mantras, little verbal rituals, phrases I softly whispered to myself and to them as some kind of lifeline that we were going to make it. We’d done this much. We’d made it this far. We’re almost there. We were through so many of the hard parts. Come on, Queen. Come on, me. We can. We can make it. Almost there. Just a litany of words to keep us all moving for one more minute. To not let the fear catch up.

We boarded and I was in the window seat. She continued crying. Bean…I was like, ‘is he ok? he’s so silent compared to her.’ (It’s drugs, Alyssa. Drugs.) Once we took off though…silence. I didn’t hear either of them again for the 4.5 hour flight. The fear voice tried to tell me she was Shawshanking her way out, chewing and clawing through the mesh; or she was so scared she’d fainted or asphyxiated, etc. I wanted to check but I didn’t want to wake them back up and also, honestly, there’s not a ton of wiggle room in a plane. So I dozed fitfully and counted down the hours until landing. Then we landed and taxiied. Waited to deplane (we were in the back). Started to tear up thinking how relieved I was going to be to have my mom there. To finally share the responsibility of the cats, of me, of all of this with another person.

Then, there she was. I didn’t cry; I just felt a bone-deep weariness settle over me. We’d made it. I made it. The worst bits were done. I hugged her and went into problem solving mode. Must. get. suitcases. because if I stayed I was going to weep and give up and collapse and just a little bit just a little longer to keep it together, come on, self. I went to the last baggage carousel (why is it always the last one?!) and got my 2 checked bags, leaving the cats & carry-on w her. We got in the car and still, no cat sounds. I peeked in to confirm they were both like, breathing, and buckled them in for the drive out of the city. We drove about an hour north to a Panera parking lot and stopped to feed me, and let the cats run around a bit in the car. I’d gotten a travel litterbox and pre-shipped some litter home that my Mom had brought and we opened the carrier to let the kids stretch their legs and take in new smells, sounds, snacks, etc. with all the doors closed/windows up and seats folded flat.

They both emerged, wooed by the smell of churu paste aka cat gogurt, dry food nibbles, and a little water. We left them ‘out’ as we drove the rest of the way home to my parents’ place and put them in the bathroom with the door closed for a bit. I then napped hard for almost 3 hours straight. Just pancaked on the couch outside the bathroom and zonked. We then shifted over to my sister’s place, our home base, and a new bathroom floor/closet to explore.

I honestly don’t remember anything from that night except sitting on the bathroom floor with the cats around 5pm-ish? I must have slept so, so hard. Them too, probably.

So how was moving with the cats? Hard. Really hard. Scary. Afraid something would go bad. So many ‘what ifs’ from if they soiled themselves in the carrier to if they were overweight and I didn’t have a backup plan for that. There was no safety net. And knowing that was part of the anxious responsibility that I was carrying too. There wasn’t a friend to stay with on zero notice, or a name I knew I could call to come get us, everything had to be executed on those last few days, there wasn’t wiggle room or do-over space. And if you’re a Chicago pal reading this thinking ‘oh, I would have come/let you,’ I believe you. But August me was…overwhelmed.

I’m glad it’s over. And I’m hoping I don’t ever have to do something like that alone again. I’d get married just to avoid it. Or buy a friend/family member a flight round trip to help me. Just another soul to like, watch them so I could go pee and peruse a Hudson newsstand alone (what is new with George Clooney, Entertainment Weekly?).

If you’re thinking of traveling 1 human : 2 cats let me tell you, you can do it. It’s not fun and makes for a really hard day, but it really is just 1 truly tough day. I have no kids, but maybe its a bit like childbirth. A really awful day, but then really big reward/relief. We all made it. We’re all ok. But do your research; there’s only 2 domestic airlines (Alaska & Southwest as of Aug. 2022) that will let you do 2 animals, same species/size in 1 carrier. And it’s all (carrier too) got to be under 20lbs and a specific dimension of soft/hard carrier too. Double & triple check. Train your cats to wear a harness; and prepare to clip/tie them together with something less basic than twine. Get medication from your vet that will help with anxiety and practice. Know how far in advance you need to give it and bake that time in. Having something like the Jackson Galaxy travel drops is also helpful to soothe and multi-layer your tools. Practice with the carrier and associate high-value treats/good things with it. Highly recommend Cat School training as a great build up of skills and to condition behavior.

We’ve settled in with Auntie B at her house and learning to live and thrive together. We’ve had some adventures in the last 7 weeks too; buying my first car in 10 years, lots of family dinners, helping with garage sales and catching up with folks. More to come (and less waiting, hopfully) re: everything from finding a new vet/ob/dr/dentist/hairstylist to buying said car to the Foreign Service stuff too.

Until then, here’s a snap of B&Q surveying their new kingdom on our first gorgeous morning in Washington – 🐱🐱💕