Fight or Flight: Scaredy Cat

by Dian Reid-Jancic· Follow Dian on

Last week while I was working on some projects, Jackson’s hair raised on his back and a tight growl emerged from his throat as he stood up and moved cautiously toward the front door. I followed to peek out to see what or who he was so intent on keeping away. When I spotted the stray cat curled up on my porch step, I remembered that my dog’s sense of what’s dangerous is quite different from mine.

This was a cat I’d first come into contact with the night before. She slid under the house, as if to escape my footsteps as I walked past our crawlspace. It was dusk, and all I could see was the reflection of the streetlights in her eyes staring back at me as I squinted to see through the grate. She sat beyond my reach, patiently waiting for me to go away. I wondered for a moment if she had curious or scared eyes, and then went back inside to let her be.

Now in the living room, I stood looking out the front door, remembering the previous night’s encounter when a beetle flew onto the porch and scared the cat. She jumped off the step immediately. The sudden movement made Jackson go into full-protection mode, barking furiously, lunging at the front door, determined to tell all passers-by: “Don’t come any closer.” The cat flitted out of sight, and I stepped outside to see if she found her way back under the house. She had.

Scaredy CatHere this cat peered out at me, possibly wondering who I was, what my motives were, and what would happen next. She has no idea that I would never harm her. No clue that if she came close I’d let her nuzzle up to my legs, unaware that I find her fascinating. I hope she returns (and doesn’t have babies under our house).

I imagine this cat to be in survival mode. Unconcerned with anything but assessing the danger factor of coming out from her bungalow of safety. I think, wow. I’ve spent much of my life like this.

I spent much of my early life trying to figure out if the person in front of me was trying to hurt or help me, and ultimately deciding that few could be trusted. Flight often won over fight, as I’d learned from my mother’s death that fight could have serious consequences.

Then I think, wow, this is what it’s like to come out of the closet. Peering out from the shadows of your safe place, wondering who is friend and who is foe. Learning about the hairs that stand up on your back, and how to respond when they do. Learning about who you are on the inside, while people judge you for what you do on the outside. Trying to find a safe, sacred space where you can sit and assess the situation before making any fight or flight decisions.

And then I think, wow. This is what life is like.

We had some work done under the house since I snapped that photo, and I haven’t seen the cat since. I trust that she knows how to take care of herself, given she’s made it this far. And if she ever needs a little help, I hope she remembers the quiet little spot of reprieve under our house, babies or not.


whollyjeanne September.23.2010 at 9.49 pm

“Learning about who you are on the inside, while people judge you for what you do on the outside.” i love/hate that sentence. Definitely love – just love – the entire post.

Dian Reid September.24.2010 at 1.10 am

you know, i think that’s been the most difficult thing in my life … is keeping myself focused on who i am on the inside and tuning out people who judge me for what i do on the outside.

so glad you stopped by today =)

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