When my daughter was very young, she asked if she could have a kitty. We told her that our landlord wouldn’t let us have pets, and that included kitties. Periodically, overcome by kitty love, she’d pop the question again. Despite our reply always being the same, her hope never waned.
The truth of matter? Our lease’s restriction provided a smoke screen that concealed my actual distaste for all things feline. I was loathe to divulge my genuine feelings — she would surely recoil in horror at such an aberrant attitude. I hoped this whole kitty thing would simply be a phase she’d outgrow.
During the Winter of Her Discontent, my parents came for an overnight visit. My mom couldn’t help but notice the theme in my little one’s bedroom: a profusion of kitty memorabilia.
“She sure does love kitties, doesn’t she?”
“Reminds me of somebody I used to know,” she added with a little grin.
For a split second I wondered who in the world she was talking about. But then her facial expression, in addition to the tone of her voice, registered.
“You mean me?”
“Well, yes! When you were about her age you carried your kitty around with you everywhere, draped across your little arm.”
Wait a minute, here. What’s she talking about? I don’t even like cats. Not one bit.
My stunned look prompted her next remark.
“Surely you remember…”
But I didn’t remember. Yet I believed her.
Following this brief interaction, I wrestled with the notion that during my early childhood I had been a Cat Lover. This identity was dissonant with the persona I’d adopted for myself. My denial rose up to defy the new information. Me? A cat person? Hardly! But I knew my mom wouldn’t have described my behavior that way unless that’s how it had been.
In the ensuing weeks and months, the barricade I’d constructed around the kitty memories began to crumble. I began to recall a little grey cat with very soft fur. I also recalled holding it on my lap as I sat on the sofa, and listening to it purr. I remembered telling my mom it sounded like her motor was running. And I remembered carrying it draped across my arm. I began to embrace the notion that I had once loved a cat.
A couple of years later, interest rates lowered and we began house hunting. By this time our girl was six.
“If we get a new house, can I have a kitty then?”
Uhhhhh… what to say now?
“I guess so.”
As that brief reply spilled from my mouth, I experienced a moment of dread. A reasonable dread — at least to the heart of the four-year-old that still beat in my chest. There was a genesis to the wall I’d built around my cat loving heart. It happened one afternoon…
My mom was preparing to clean the parakeet’s cage, so she put the daschund out in the back yard, leaving the bird free to flit about the house. If the identity of the person who then opened the back door is known, it has always been withheld from the tale’s recounting. The dog ran back inside, did what dogs instinctively do, and attacked the parakeet. The bird’s demise in the dog’s jaws was no doubt quick and relatively free from suffering.
With the dog barking, the bird squawking, mom shouting, and kids crying, Dad came rushing in. Through all the clamor, he ascertained that the dog had just taken out the newest addition to our little menagerie. He heatedly scolded the dog, and chased it through the house. She escaped out the front door.
What I never knew until my parents’ visit, was that the dog ran straight into the street and was struck by a car and killed as quickly as the parakeet. Count ’em: that’s two pets down in probably a less than two minutes’ time. But it gets worse. The adorable little grey kitty became so traumatized by the mayhem and madness that she ran away, never to return.
My mom tells the story of how I, sitting on a family friend’s lap shortly thereafter, told him my pitiful tale of woe.
“We got bird food and no bird. We got dog food and no dog. And we got cat food and no cat.” Sigh.
The big people thought the way I shared my sorrow was rather cute. But I’m thinking it must have been right about then that I began fortressing myself against the risk of feeling any future loss and pain on account of some cat. I believe I vowed not to love kitties, ever again. And in the process actually forgot that I ever had.
We ended up buying about the thirteenth house we looked at. Within a month or two of moving in, we were invited to dinner by some folks who lived in the country. And wouldn’t you know it, they had two baby kittens that had just been weaned by their mother. My daughter carried one of them around the entire time we were there. And yes, she asked our hostess if she could take it home.
“Sweetie, I’d love to say yes, but your mama would probably kill me if I said you could have it.” Prior to my regaining the kitty memories, that probably would have been the case. However, shortly before we said our goodbyes, I discreetly let the woman know that if she was serious, I had previously decided to let my little girl have a kitten.
That night, after a quick errand to buy litter, a litter box, and kitty chow, everyone else was in bed and I found myself holding a little ball of fluff. And wouldn’t you know it? His teensy motor was running. And right then and there I made the conscious decision to let this itty bitty creature “in”.
Thanks to my girl, I found my way back home to my real self.