Happy Anniversary, Buster! One year ago Sept. 22nd I received the call. "¡Encontramos al Buster!" (We found Buster!) He disappeared three days after our arrival in Mérida in July 2007. My fried Pea traveled with Buster and me to help us move. The house wasn't ready and we had to stay in a hotel. Buster was humiliated and sickened after being confined to a small cat carrier (he is huge!) under airplane seats, hauled around four airports, required to shit in public in a tiny cat box, and basically be in a constant state of travel and discomfort for over 24 hours on our trip from Kona, Hawaii to Mérida, Yucatán, México. When his final destination appeared to be a hotel room, he begged me to let him outside. The hotel had a huge enclosed courtyard, so in the middle of the second night I got up and let him out. He sniffed around for a while and then came back to the room and returned to hide under the bed. When we had already been in the hotel two days and had to change rooms, that was the last straw for Buster. The room we moved into had wide iron bars on the windows, and Buster decided to break out of his jail. Then I think the hotel cats ran him off.
Buster and I had come to Mérida to recover from pain and suffering: illness, death, earthquakes, vog, poverty, joblessness and lack of enthusiasm, to be specific. It was so upsetting having Buster lost among a million people in a huge noisy city. He had never been away from the hillside around Kona. He was used to lots of land and his favorite lava tubes. There was little traffic and no city noise. I thought I was doing the right thing bringing Buster to start our new lives. He missed Jim. He was traumatized by the major earthquakes we had in Kona and several months later was still hesitant to come inside the house. He had respiratory problems from the vog. The truth is we were both a big mess.
Although caught up in the rigamarole of buying a house in a foreign country, organizing and supervising its renovation in a foreign language, getting accustomed to a different culture, acclimatizing to the big city's motion and the intense heat, and preparing for hurricanes.....I never gave up hope that I would find my Buster. At first, Pea and I made fliers. Crying, we asked all the merchants in a several block area surrounding the hotel to watch out for Buster. We offered a reward. I published his picture in the newspaper and on Merida Insider online. We searched the hotel twice daily. It seemed hopeless. The rooftops are all connected here and Buster had never seen any such thing. He could have gone a long way. There were huge trees. He could have gotten anywhere and be completely disoriented.
I rented a car and drove around, crying, of course, calling for Buster. I walked the streets calling for him, looking like a lunatic with my eyes puffed out and feeling like an asshole. Not so much because I was making a fool of myself, I am used to that....but because I thought I was doing us a favor moving here, and I had caused Buster to suffer more. The day we were anticipating a direct hit from Hurricane Dean I really lost it, frantically searching until curfew, but I still could not find Buster. There were leads from the ads and fliers...none led to Buster though.
Buster had been through an ordeal. Somehow he made his way back to the hotel and the employees there, who had been fervently watching out for him, captured him in one of the rooms. His leg was slightly injured, he was skinny and completely freaked out. I swooped him up and was talking to him, sobbing, apologizing, driving toward home when I made an ignorant blunder. I made a right turn on red (which is illegal here) in front of a policeman directing traffic. I got pulled over. It was the only time I have ever bribed a cop but it worked. Two hundred pesos and a promise to not drive while crying again we were on our way. Buster was back. He arrived at our new house the same day my belongings arrived from Hawaii, two months to the day we departed.
A lot had gone on in his absence, apart from my camping out in a construction site and the constant searching. One of the calls we got from the fliers was from a parking lot attendant one block from where he was lost. Pea and I zoomed over there and it was not Buster. It was a little female that resembled him just a wee bit. But she was living under a car in an open lot and it was the rainy season. I already felt bad enough about Buster living outside, alone. So I gave the guy a partial reward for his efforts and carried the cat home. Pea and I named her Lotería, which means "lottery", because SHE had certainly won! We were a couple of cat forlorned ladies. Cat forelorned?? Anyhow, she was lots of fun for two months.
There were other calls. One guy told me he saw Buster in a park on the east side of town. When I looked at a map, if he had run straight down 55th Street he could have ended up there, Pacabtún, so I went there. No Buster. Another man called and thought he had seen Buster roving rooftops in his neighborhood in Santiago area, twelve blocks west of the hotel. So I concentrated on that area for a while, walking search patterns I learned in scuba training. No Buster.
One night I was living in my bedroom because the rest of the house was torn up. I had been writing on the computer during a full moon with some odd energy and I could not sleep. That was one long bad night in late August that I won't forget. First I colored my hair. I bought what I thought was the equivalent of my color, but it was not. I really fucked it up. It was a hideous cheap-wig mousy brown. I was frustrated that I could not set up Skype and ready to pull out my fake looking hair. I ranted to my friends for hours in long emails showing just how crazy I really am. Then I tried to sleep in my hammock when all of a sudden I thought I saw Buster in the window. My first reaction, other than yelling "Buster!!!!!!!!" and scaring the shit out of the cat in the window, was to sob. How could Buster have found me at the house? He had never been to the house. It is sixteen blocks south of the hotel. And if it was him, did he hate me now and that was why he ran? There are not many cats here that look like Buster. He is a gray tabby but he is a big boy. Most Mexican cats are slender. It was an apparition, like the Lady at Guadalupe or something! It was a sign to not give up hope. (That cat is now the father of Moka's baby Busmo, we call him Gemelo, which means 'twin', because he really does look like Buster.)
On September 22nd Buster came home for the first time. On Sept. 23rd my friend Lynne arrived with her cat Koko from Alaska to camp out with us, help on the decorating part of the house project, and experience six weeks of México. Buster would only hide under the bed. Lotería attacked him when he came in the house. She also attacked Lynne's cat when she entered the house. We separated them. All five of us were extremely upset. Lotería did not calm down, she had found good territory and wanted to keep it. Buster came first, Koko second, and unfortunately Lotería third. Luckily the electrician who was working nights and weekends, who usually brought his wife and deaf/mute child along, was willing to take Lotería home. His daughter had fallen in love with her. Lotería had been given her shots, spayed and was a loving cat for a one cat household. She could not co-exist with our two traumatized cats. That was that.
Buster found Koko intimidating and pretty much stayed under the bed until the end of October. He would only eat in the bedroom. He went outside, he climbed the tree and hung out in the abandoned building next door. He adjusted slowly. Not long after Lynne and Koko returned to Alaska, little Moka, the abandoned sick Siamese kitten, was curled up at my gate. And so Buster had to adjust AGAIN because I have this (at times) ridiculous soft spot for cats. He and Moka got along great, and he is the surrogate father to her kittens. He particularly loves the little guy that looks a lot like him. Buster has Busmo in training.
And so, to make a long story bearable, if that is possible at this point, Buster is now king of the commando. He has lots of cat friends, who he invites for dinner and catnip, and now he has kittens even though that is physically impossible. While brushing Buster last night as he relaxed on the bed, I remembered the anniversary date. Then I decided this could be Buster's birthday, since I don't know when he was actually born, so he will get tuna for dinner. We have both come a long way in the year that has passed. The commando is strong and life goes on.
Lotería with a feather toy on her head.