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How Stubborn Instinct and a Cat Saved My Life

Trust your inner voice. Guidance can come from the most unexpected places.

By Tammy HaderPublished 4 years ago 4 min read
Photo by Mick Pollard on

The early 1990’s could have been the death of me.

Not because of a Kansas tornado or the onset of the grunge movement. The struggle between assertiveness and passiveness was at the crossroads of my fate.

I was basking in the triumph of living in my own personal 950 square foot mansion with an attached garage. In my mid-twenties and single, I had made a giant leap into adulthood by becoming a homeowner.

It was a frigid night in the dead of winter. I was relaxing in my warm, cozy living room watching television. My cat Rocky was peacefully curled up beside me. Life was good.

Suddenly, the furnace made a loud popping sound, beyond the normal pings and pops of an HVAC system. Rocky, the epitome of assertiveness, immediately snapped up into high alert mode, ready to attack.

Rocky had a zero-tolerance policy for intrusion into his domain. I had the scars to prove he meant business.

Following Rocky’s lead, I sprang into action and consulted the 90’s version of Google. I called Mom and Dad.

After solemnly listening to my description of the incident, Dad admitted he knew little about heating systems and suggested I contact Uncle Bob on this matter. I promptly called Uncle Bob and explained the situation.

Without a moment of contemplation, my uncle responded that I was “over reacting in the way that old maids do”. Within seconds the synapses within my brain began to fire in a specific order of escalation:

  • Stunned — What did he just say to me?
  • Disbelief — I must have heard that wrong?
  • Belief — No, I heard him correctly.
  • Inadequacy — I am alone with no marital prospects on the horizon.
  • Anger — What the hell does my marital status have to do with the furnace?
  • Self-defense — You can insult my hair, my clothes, my face, but you do not insult my intelligence. I know what I heard.

With one sentence Uncle Bob had reduced me to a cliché. An undesirable woman destined for a life of lonely solitude.

Though the potential old maid future was resting well within the boundaries of the realm of possibility, this did not explain the cat.

I could have wallowed in the self-pity of realizing my uncle’s opinion of me could indeed be my destiny. I could have trusted the opinion of another over my own instinct, but I didn’t.

I didn’t know the mechanics of a furnace or the proper nomenclature to describe the incident. I was unable to diagnose the condition of the furnace, but I knew what normal sounded like and that wasn’t normal.

And what about the cat?

Rocky was steadfast in his opinion that something was amiss, and he was not on the life trajectory of an undesirable old maid. Rocky was the anchor that steadied my mind through the tidal wave of self-doubt headed in my direction.

I considered reiterating Rocky’s take on the noise as collaboration of my “over reaction”, but surmised this would generate a crazy cat lady moniker to accompany my old maid status. Better judgment prevailed and I politely ended the phone call.

Rocky trusted his own instincts and I should trust my instincts.

Dad gave me the name of a repairman and strict instructions to make sure the repairman was aware of Dad’s behind the scenes involvement. Such were the times for a single female.

The furnace had a cracked heat exchanger. If the damage were left untreated, catastrophic consequences were imminent.

Continued use would result in enlargement of the crack and the expelling of carbon monoxide into the house. The furnace was replaced the next day.

Had I allowed what should have been a trusted perspective to suffocate my self-esteem, the future of a young woman and a cat could have been silently extinguished.

Years later, with snow on the ground and a biting wind chill in the air, I gathered with family and gazed upon Uncle Bob’s casket. The memory of those crushing words he spoke to me so many years ago came rushing back.

The realization that I was still carrying my anger towards him was unsettling. I needed to forgive him for not being my hero.

I don’t regret my anger, but I do regret having taken so long to move forward to forgiveness. It did seem fitting that it was a bitterly cold winter day that brought me full circle to forgiveness.

I never learned why my uncle rejected the opportunity to grasp a hand reaching to him for help. Perhaps he had his reasons.

He definitely taught me to listen to my stubbornly nagging inner voice. Natural instinct is an interesting phenomenon that has not disappeared from the human race but has evolved as society dictates.

Today our predators are typically fellow humans instead of wild beasts. We fight for survival in the figurative jungles of office cubicles, city streets and cyber worlds.

I still struggle with knowing when to stubbornly stand for a position and when to passively accept the assertiveness of others. When I question heeding my voice of instinct, I remember my first broken furnace and the unconventional guide that led me to safety.

If you are reaching up for a helping hand and find no one there to pull you up, don’t despair. Listen to your instincts, secure your footing and save yourself. Grab onto the nearest rock and hoist yourself up even if that nearest stronghold is a cat, named Rocky.


About the Creator

Tammy Hader

After 30 years as an accountant, Tammy began creating a new legacy beyond spreadsheets. Her nostalgic writing reflects on the past to explain the present. In her stories, you may recognize reflections of your own past.

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