His name was Dorothy

A tomcat with attitude taught me to shrug off city life for a slower pace.

I first saw Dorothy in the bushes, his gray stripes blending in with the brambles, as immobile as a cat waiting for a bird.

"Here kitty, kitty," I called, offering him a breakfast crepe from my plate.

His big yellow eyes widened as he weighed what might be in it for him. Slowly he yawned and picked his way out of his pile of dead leaves, stretched and walked nonchalantly up to my summer cabin in the mountains. He wasn't in a hungry hurry, although I could see that he was thin under his mass of long fur. He wound around the balustrade to give himself a rub, then walked up to the pancake and ate it.

After he'd finished a can of tuna and a bowl of milk, he lay down in the sun, lolling over on his side, warming his white stomach fur, his head turned back. He closed his eyes to a thin slit of yellow, watching, still wary.

Since he wore tortoise stripes over one shoulder like a sarong, I named him Dorothy Lamour, even though his gender wasn't certain. There was something in his eyes that warned me not to look under his tail. It was an insistence on his basic dignity. I was to take him "as is." Scars on his white nose and rickracked ears were proof that this cat could hold his ground. Later one night, when his stomach was full of trout and he was asleep in front of the fireplace, I gently lifted his tail. Fast as fire, he doubled up and swatted, claws extended. He missed, then lunged to sink his teeth into my hand. I didn't move or make a sound. His yellow eyes appraised me, then his jaws slacked. He stretched out again with a certain smile. Dorothy was a male. But the name stuck.

Dorothy became a symbol for me that summer. I was newly divorced and wondering about life. I'd run to the mountains to gather together the pieces of myself. Sometimes, when I'd be sitting in the cabin, cold and staring at the bleak sky, I'd look at Dorothy. The cold never seemed to bother him. In fact, nothing did. He'd stretch out on the couch and look as if he was happy to be out of the rain. He'd roll lazily over on one side and give himself a bath as though that were the only thing to do in the world. He'd lick his paws, lift his leg and then lie back down and look out the window as though he didn't care what was going on outside. Soon, he became so confident of me that he'd fall asleep near me but with the snap of the door in a wind, he'd jump awake.

I used to think I was happy when I was busy. In cities, everybody runs fast, even if they're going nowhere. I was proud to tell people how busy I was. My husband was busy and my children were busy, busy, busy with college, jobs, parties, projects, people, going places and getting back to the house where nobody was home.

But the more you're with a cat like Dorothy, the more you begin to shrug it all off. Or I should say, take more on. I watched his calmness and imitated it with my own. My ears settled down to mountainsides of sighs and whispers and my nostrils sniffed in the fresh air like Dorothy's. In a place where the most frenzied activity is a falling pine cone, my nerves yawned and shut up shop. Outside my window, the majesty of the land rises in granite strength, and I begin to feel that I, too, can match these mountains. Everything up here is one cool cat.

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