It was 1967. I was a first-year graduate student living in Peabody Terrace, the married students’ housing, a walking bridge across the river from Harvard Business School. These were tall, narrow buildings, four units to a floor, all sharing a long narrow balcony that looked east over the Charles River toward Boston. We had the uppermost balcony, a twentieth-floor apartment. When the weather was warm, all four apartments might be open to the balcony, on which rested only two heavy chairs, the frequent strong winds making predictable patio furniture a hazard to ground dwellers.
Treswick lived two apartments away and often walked the parapets, pacing the railing, three feet down on one side, 200 on the other. One evening, our door to the balcony open, I stepped from the bedroom into the living room and found Treswick aprowl. Words of encouragement accompanied by mild gestures toward the open door did not inspire him to exit. Raised tones and more challenging approaches only served to anger the feline. He stood his ground, offering hisses as counterpoint. Rapid wieldings of a long-handled broom and several high-octaved unintelligibilities finally convinced him; Treswick backed out, expressing discontent and disaffection toward me, my wife, and our unborn children.
My wife Jane worked as a school nurse, often coming home before I did. Her previous and long-standing fear of non-cuddly felines was now in foment. I came in late one afternoon not long after the aforesaid interloping to find the bathroom door locked. Jane was in the tub. She had come home, leaped when she found Treswick in the living room again, and escaped to the the bathroom, where she had been closeted for two hours. The cat had exited, how long before I could not know. Jane was pruney; I was pissed. I trotted over to the owners’ apartment, explained the invasion, and suggested an accommodation. Each of us would look to see if the other’s exterior door was open. If so, the examiner would keep his closed. With such an arrangement, I explained, Treswick would patrol only when our living quarters were closed to him, and we would enjoy the air only when Treswick was locked in.
A few nights later, balmy weather prompted me to check the door status as I retired. Treswick’s was shut. I opened ours to the night air.
Jane, in her first trimester with our first child, had already gone to bed and was nearly asleep when I joined her. Our bedroom, small, concrete-walled, and spare, had one window that opened to the building side opposite the balcony, providing a welcome cross-breeze on this warm night. Twenty floors up, there was little ambient street light; the room was lit by starlight only. The moon, which began this evening on the balcony, east, was a building away. I fell asleep.
Sometime later in slumber, I turned from my left side onto my back, Jane to my right, and awoke with the realization that Treswick had come in our balcony door and settled down on the pillow between us, his fur brushing my cheek. Reptilian brain suddenly firing, my heartbeat leaped from ahhh-sleep to lion-on-the-veldt. But my body did not move. Even slogging through the sodden clod of partial consciousness, I knew that to startle Treswick was injudicious. But what to do? I am right-handed, and my right arm was beneath the beast. I am near-sighted, and the room, dimly lit by the toenail moon now in the west, was entirely undefined.
Lying on my back, cat near my right ear, I constructed a plan. I would slowly extract my left arm from the covers, carefully reach across my chest without translating that motion to the bed, pillow, or feline, grab Treswick with one sure snatch, and fling him back across my body hard against the concrete wall which stood only two feet from the edge of the bed. It was not a great plan, but it was all I had. If he awoke while I was cocking my arm… If I mishandled the grab and left him startled on the bed… If I muffed the fling and only angered him… the night murk would be claws, blood, and blinded eyes.
It was dark. I was desperate. I had one chance.
I slowly extricated my arm from the covers. The cat didn’t move.
I began moving my arm toward Treswick. I was just past halfway when I felt my wife begin to turn. The roll began at her hips; one moment more and Jane would turn her head, either discovering the cat or upsetting it. Either way I would have to strike immediately and with all the force I could muster..
The impulse to reach and snatch formed in my brain and began its electrochemical transit to my arm. My vision, heightened in the moment by adrenaline and necessity, focused on the back and neck of the cat. But my wife’s head turned, and in that sliver of time before my muscles fired, I realized that the darkness of fur that appeared as Treswick was actually Jane’s head. Motion and mind froze.
I had nearly grabbed my pregnant wife’s head and flung it against the wall.
I was the man who mistook his wife for a cat.
It was years before I told her.