Home, With Cats

Minx (L); Enzo (R)

Minx (L); Enzo (R)

Why does that image fill me with such joy? It didn’t used to be like this. Or did it?

Outside, voices around the firepit. Downstairs, Dennis’s fork clinking against his salad bowl. Upstairs, me without an idea for my blog and Minx giving himself a bath beside me. He never looks at a loss for what to do with himself. He isn’t worried, for example, that he has a sexy female name, or that he only has a tooth or two left in his head. Or that, considering the square footage of his ample body, his tongue is a small enough weapon against filth. So I’m a cat lover. So what? This is the new (?) me. A living cliche`. Poet. Cat Lover. Tea Drinker.

When I was a kid, we had cats the way some people have an ant problem. Cats proliferated, an army of gold fur against any rodents stupid enough to hang around the grain bins. They stayed outside, gathering on the back steps for leftovers, slinking through the fields and woods, dashing out of the hayloft when we approached. They were feral things, wild-eyed, hissing.

But their kittens, if you could find them, were tame as lambs. We dressed up Tammy, our first calico, in my doll clothes. Litters in the barn attic kept me entertained for hours when all of my adolescent friends were playing CYO basketball or blow-drying their hair into feathers. What could be better than those little triangular kitten faces? They way they walked, plucking leg after leg up off the dusty barn floor?

I guess I’ve always had it in me.

On my kindergarten report card, Mrs. Carpenter wrote that I demonstrated an affinity for poetry. I don’t remember poetry in kindergarten. I remember oak tag (and how it was severely rationed which made it all the more precious to me; god, I loved that stuff). I remember recess in a leafy, well-shaded, wall-offed yard. I remember feeling lucky that I didn’t have Mrs. Friend next door whose voice I could hear through the coat rack. I remember Chris K. chasing me around the room on his scooter and having to dash behind the ironing board in the play kitchen. I remember a see-saw. But I don’t remember poetry.

Anyway, maybe certain loves are with us always, just waiting for a day when our kid begs us to take her to the cat shelter and we agree, thinking it’s cheaper than the movies.

This is how much I love cats: I got up this morning and found Minx mewling on the porch roof outside the bedroom window. The screen door was opened on the porch, Minx’s trademark six inches (How he gets it open when we can’t and use the other door, instead, is more testament to his brilliance) and Enzo, too, was gone.

The first thing I found to put on was not a bra, but a plain white t-shirt. And it’s raining so it became some kind of weird spring break flashback (not that I ever partook; never received an invite to that one), but the point is: I didn’t care. The movie in my mind spooled forward, starring my doomed hero and the fisher cat and coyote villains. Without Enzo, who would keep me company leaping about in the sheets as I folded them? Who would perch on the bathroom sink to make sure I flossed? Who would climb into every closet, cupboard, drawer, I opened?

I wish I could love an apex predator, I thought as my neighbor paused in his driveway and then hurried into his house. Wouldn’t life be so much less risky? But, instead, I love cats.

A few years ago, I interviewed for a job as head of the English department. Although I had more teaching experience, a much younger colleague was chosen. When the principal explained his choice, he said it was very close between us, but the deciding factor was that he believed my colleague would be able to generate more data than I would.

I’ll give him data: Every year in my poetry class, I conduct a very scientific hand-raising survey. Who here owns a cat? Most kids raise their hands. Coincidence or cliche`? What’s the goddamned difference?

Anyway, these days I channel my inner cat. Choose whoever you choose, I chant. I will maintain my superior indifference.

So here I am. While other people are out there leading the world with facts and figures, I sit typing away, steeped in gratitude that, just when I was about to a) cry, and b) get arrested for indecent exposure, Enzo padded out of the barn, lynx-like, dismissive, keeping close to the foundation. Getting soaked, after all, is so disgustingly homo sapien.