Fact Perceived as Fiction, or Fiction Preferred Over Facts?

There was this story I used to tell, a true story about a cat that belonged to a family across the street from our house, a story that no one ever believed—a story that lately has me wondering why people believe some stories and yet don’t believe others!.

Cats, I like them, and I have owned a few—Chulita when I was very young, Hippy when I was a teenager and Mamasita when I was in my early twenties. And although I haven’t owned a cat in a very long time, I like watching the ones in our neighborhood sauntering across the street or lazily napping in the sun on a neighbor’s front lawn.

One of my favorite cats that used to live in our neighborhood belonged to a family whose house was ironically kitty-corner from our house. But their cat wasn’t a kitty. It was a large, older, overweight black and white cat that the children lugged around like a sack of potatoes. After work or on weekends I used to sit in my driveway before backing my car into the garage and watch the two girls and a boy, who lived in the corner house, playing with their cat they had loaded into a doll stroller or a wagon, or were carrying like an inanimate object slug over a shoulder or hanging from an awkward embrace. I used to marvel at how accommodating and relaxed the cat was. And after a long work week dealing with problems I often felt the desire to own a cat again, to have a fuzzy friend to pet, cuddle and love—as much as those children loved their cat, who was always with them when they played in the front yard.

But I couldn’t own a cat. I barely had time to do anything but work, where I spent six days a week managing over a million square feet of high-rise, mid-rise and industrial buildings. My properties were in Irvine, Gardena and Lynwood, and on days when I traveled from Orange County to Los Angeles County, and back again, I used to stop at my house and eat lunch or take a nap, especially  when I knew I would not be home from work before ten or eleven at night.  It was on one those days after eating left-overs and taking a quick twenty-minute nap that I saw the neighbor’s black and white cat lying next to the curb dead.

I had backed out of my driveway and turned left in front of the neighbor’s house when I saw the cat’s mangled body strewn on the lawn next to the curb, its neck obviously broken. It was horrible! And all I could think of was those poor children arriving home from school to find their beloved cat dead. I had to do something. So, I pulled over, got out of the car, walked past the poor dead, broken cat and up to the front door of the house. I was relieved to hear a television on, which meant someone was home. But after ringing the doorbell numerous times and knocking on the door loudly no one answered. I waited a while; I even called out, “Hello, is anyone home?” But still no one responded. That meant I had to do something.

On my way back to the car, I looked at the cat more closely, but I did not touch it. Although I couldn’t see any blood, I was certain there had to be blood and possibly guts somewhere underneath the cat. Therefore, I got back into my car, drove back to my house, where I located a pair of yellow rubber gloves and a large, black trash bag, the kind used for yard waste. I also wrote a note, which I planned on putting in the neighbor’s mail box asking the mother to please call me in regard to the family cat. I listed my phone numbers at work and at home, and then walked over to the neighbor’s house ready to do what had to be done.

Up until that moment, I had never had to deal with a dead cat. When we moved back to the United States from Mexico, Chulita was taken to our maid Maria’s home town, where Chulita became a great hunter, eradicating the mouse population from the local Catholic Church, which Maria’s parents maintained. Hippy moved next door when I moved out of my parents’ house, and lived a happy, pampered life until he was twenty-two years old. And my beloved Mamasita disappeared one day, never to be found despite my months of trying. (Although, I am certain she was kidnapped by a family down the street, who had asked to buy her on many occasions, even though the Garden Grove police—who never searched their house—assured me the family did not have her.) Therefore, with much trepidation I crossed the street in my high heels and put on my yellow rubber gloves, prepared to do what had to be done.

But when I stood over the cat, I was not sure exactly how to pick it up. The head was turned to side and tilted up in an awkward angle; and the cat’s body, which was on its back, looked like it had been severed from the hind legs, as one leg was bent to the right and the other leg was under the cats body along with the tail. The last thing I wanted was for the cat to come apart as I tried to place it in the garbage bag. Therefore, I decided to open the trash bag, place it over the cat, and try and scoop all the cat’s body parts into the bag. Then as I lowered the opening of the bag over the cat I heard, “What the hell do you think you are doing?” When I looked up, there was the children’s’ mother coming down the walkway towards me, her arms flailing and her face bright red. “I’m sorry,” I said, “But someone ran over your cat and I didn’t want your children to see the body.” I quickly lifted the bag to show her, and the cat sat up, stretched its legs and yawned widely.

For the rest of the week I laughed out loud every time I thought about my neighbor seeing me—a stranger—dressed in a black wool business suit with a garnet colored silk blouse, wearing heels and bright yellow rubber gloves about to scoop her cat into a large trash bag. What a sight! Unfortunately, the neighbor did not laugh. She did not stop scowling even after I explained my concern her children would come home and find their cat dead. And as she picked up the cat and threw it over her shoulder, she never tried to make me feel better by explaining that their cat often slept on the lawn next to the curb in some very strange positions, which was something I later noticed. My efforts to be a helpful neighbor were not appreciated. Instead, she stomped away and until they moved out a few years later, the mother never waved back when I saw her outside with the cat and her three children.

At least I had a great story to tell—or so I thought. But when I told the story no one laughed. Instead they would clear their throat and then change the subject.  And I could not figure out why, until I told the story to a friend who spent the entire time I was talking looking around the room as if she didn’t believe me. Then I began wondering what it was about the story that made it unbelievable. Of course, I didn’t have photographs of the neighbor’s cat; cell phones did not have cameras in them back then. Nor did I have photographs of cats sleeping in strange positions, looking dead or broken, like these photographs I stole off the internet today.

I have not told the story in years. But I have thought about it recently, especially when I read stories the president of the United States tells, stories he does not follow up with facts, and stories he tells to influence those who are listening. Why do so many people believe him? Now I could understand if people initially believed the president—after all he is in a position of authority. But whenever anyone tells a story or makes a statement with the intent of influencing another person, that is a signal for the person listening to go into critical thinking mode—to analyze what has been said by identifying the inferences and the “facts” so that then they can conduct research and determine what is true and what is not. But why don’t people do that? I hear people re-stating lies the president tells, when what he states is illogical and when there is published evidence from numerous reliable sources that proves he has lied. And sometimes the proof he has lied comes from him, because he changes his stories, contradicting himself! It is as if some people would rather believe the lie then know the truth.

It has made me wonder about my cat story—what was it that made it unbelievable? After all I was not trying to influence anyone. Was it because the story had information people did not want to hear because it went against what they believed about cats? Or was it because they had never seen a cat sleep in a position that made the cat look like they were dead or broken? Or did they not want to believe I would go get rubber gloves and a trash bag and dispose of the cat so the children would not have to see their beloved playmate dead? I don’t know; I never asked. All I can do is wonder, like I do now at election time when so many people in this country do not take the time to analyze what political candidates or incumbent says—when they do not conduct research to find out for themselves what is fact and what is fiction. Instead they prefer to believe the stories told because it meets what they want to believe—not taking into account the consequences. And there is no excuse for such irresponsible behavior; there is reliable information out there, and like my stolen photographs of cats sleeping in strange positions, that information can help determine whose stories are accurate and whose stories are not!