The fingernail peels off easily, faster than I expected.
I leave it on the counter — the freaky, Frankenstein-ish finger I wear everywhere.
My talisman, it carries a metaphor for life. Leave it to a cat to teach it.
I had no intention on learning that particular lesson on that particular Saturday in January. The cat had other plans.
Some would say it’s better to learn this lesson late in life than never. I say that, like all good lessons, it was the cat’s fault.
Or maybe the dog’s.
Acting ridiculously stereotypical, my dog chased my cat up a tree. Acting even more ridiculously stereotypical, I decided that the cat needed to be rescued.
Why you ask? I don’t know. A need to be compulsively helpful, I guess.
It’s hard to say. I certainly had enough other things to do that Saturday, a whole day’s worth in fact — trips to the bank and post office, a lunch meeting, a bill-paying spree and more.
None of those mattered, though, when I stared up at that sad, sweet little feline face, framed by high, brittle branches in that old hemlock tree.
So I did what any compassionate person would do, right?
I set aside all my plans, all my desires to stay clean and on schedule, and I jumped right in to save the cat.
I dug out some old roofing from the carport that collapsed in a wind storm, grabbed a screwdriver and some bolts and proceeded to design a contraption that the cat could calmly and mildly traipse down – something that would save the dear, sweet thing’s life.
Only nothing seemed to work. The bolts wouldn’t fit, or they fell through the holes.
I ripped my hands on aluminum siding and covered them in grease. The ramp I tried to make kept slipping — and that was only the beginning.
In one mad dash into the house, I slammed the door, catching the whole of my middle finger in the jam.
It crushed it, spewing blood in all directions.
I stared down at the smashed appendage, then up at the cat and grabbed the only thing handy that could absorb all that blood — a maxi-pad stuffed away in the glove compartment.
Then I reached for a hammer. I was near to resolving the cat’s perilous perch problem when I heard a purr and felt a soft head rub against my leg.
I turned and stared and it hit me, like all good lessons do: The cat got herself out of the tree.
The finger, in the meantime, continued to bleed, filling that maxi-pad and swelling profusely.
I stared at the blood, pondering the truth of the situation.
The cat got herself out of the tree.
Then it hit me. Maybe everyone else already knew this grand fact of life — maybe I was just ignoring what was right in front of my face.
Maybe it had been true all along — the cat can always get herself out of the tree.
If so, why did I need to bleed?
That finger didn’t just stop at bleeding. No, this life lesson wouldn’t let me off that easy.
It’s not the cat’s way. No, that finger decided to smell, or at least that’s what women in my art class said.
They said it stunk, actually. In spite of my cleaning it regularly, apparently, it stunk.
Others thought that it wasn’t normal for a finger, crushed or not, to be three times its normal size, especially a month after getting smashed.
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll get it checked.”
That led to antibiotics, which led to an emergency room visit, because I can’t really take antibiotics. So, $2,500 later, the lesson is anchored in my psyche.
The cat can get himself or herself out of the tree.
I didn’t need to bleed. In fact, maybe I never needed to bleed.
Maybe the cat could always have gotten herself out of the tree.
Then it dawned on me that this was the obvious answer to all of life’s questions. The cat can get herself out of the tree.
I didn’t need to worry. I didn’t need to sacrifice.
I didn’t need to bleed.
So, I did. I didn’t stop caring, just bleeding.
Since most local politics (national and state, too) is nothing more than ritualistic bloodletting, I let all of it go.
Since much of my civic and volunteer experience has involved more than a little bleeding, I let that go, too.
When I mentioned all this to close friends, they said it’s about time. When I told them I hadn’t any desire to write a column regularly, because, you see, the cat can always get herself out of the tree.
They said that was as it should be.
So, peace to you, my friend. Just don’t stay up in the tree too long, unless you like the view.
Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.