Some time during the span of my Elementary career, my family gained sort of a reputation for having lots of cats. The reputation was merited, of course; we had a ton. I’m not sure how the strays found our house where it is still situated on a faded, gravel-paved road surrounded by farming land, but find it they did. I don’t think we ever brought a cat home. They just seemed to be omnipresent, a wave of animals eating out of the dog dish in our back yard.
We had one cat who liked to climb up into the innards of my dad’s truck. One morning my dad started the truck up, not knowing she was there. We aren’t sure what happened to the cat while she was in the underbelly of the truck, but the next time I saw her, half her tail was missing with part of the bleached white bone sticking out at the end. A white flag of surrender.
We also had a pair of cats once that were siblings. One liked to lie down with his paws under his chin and suck on his toes. The sister would clean him constantly. I’m not sure what their dynamic was, but we had to stop letting him in the house because he drooled when we petted him. Cats are weird.
When our weird, stray cats would inbreed–which they did do, often and to our dismay–we would take the litters in cardboard boxes full of old towels and stained tupperware containers (the ones we couldn’t find lids to) full of water and food to the elementary school to give away. My aunt worked in the copy room there, and she’d send out emails to let the teachers know there were free kittens. In the days leading up to Give Away Day, I’d pick a favorite of the litter. It was usually the smallest, shyest cat. Unwittingly, I think I would imagine a whole personality for the kitten, so that by the time they were at my school and being picked over to be taken to new homes, I was extremely sad. No one knew Patches/Socks/Leah/May like I did. They didn’t deserve him/her. My self-righteous, kitten-loving objections never made it past my mom’s consistent logic: “As soon as it’s a few months old, you’ll be over the thing.”
There are only three cats at the home I grew up in now. They stay outside, like they always have. Max, Leo, and Mr. Beans. They tend to do their own thing, and Mama lets them in the house sometimes, particularly when it’s cold. I have a cat now, too, at my new home. Her name is Koa. She’s a calico, fourteen and diabetic, and she has a thousand different personalities that Mitchell and I make up different voices for (whoever isn’t talking for her is obviously participating in the dialogue with her). Sometimes she’s a little boy begging for food. Other times she’s an eighty-year-old chain-smoker with an attitude problem. She surprises us.
I’ve been getting really frustrated lately because, probably due to her diabetes, she’s been urinating on the couch. The stress this causes me is unreal. She doesn’t do it often, just often enough to make me instantaneously burst into tears whenever I notice a wet spot on the couch. Then, I come in with my towels and bottles of enzymatic cleaners or whatever remedies I most recently Googled, ready to tackle the smell, so ignorantly hopeful that it won’t happen again, which is why the tears happen every time, maybe. But every time I look at Koa and try to imagine what sort of discipline would help her–a bop on the head, taking her food away, rubbing her nose in it–I lose the nerve. I see her, sitting on the carpet, looking up at me with her sweet yellow eyes, and I think, she’s just a cat. And not only that, we brought her here! She didn’t ask for the somewhat erratic life of a couple of newlyweds who always have their rowdy friends over, in the space she thought was hers. She didn’t ask to be trapped inside a one bedroom apartment inside an old woolen mill all day every day. Who knows what’s going on inside her small, feline brain?
I hope that, one day, scientists discover a way to measure the intellect of cats so that Koa and I can have a genuine conversation about why it’s important that she only use the litter box to deposit her waste. Until then, I clean up her mess, and I pet her.
And sometimes I put my face to hers and baby talk until she gets annoyed and runs away.
Gunnar is my dog, my family’s dog. He lives five hours away, in my childhood home with Mama and Daddy. He thinks he is forty pounds lighter than he actually is, and he used to make a habit of crawling into my lap when I went home. He smells like dog. He doesn’t really bark. He just kind of…mopes. But in a very kind, old soul sort of way.
I love him, too.