I am lying flat on my stomach, the bottom half of my torso protruding from the closet in my office. The top half is wedged in between a file cabinet, our DVD and VHS players, and a cardboard carton filled with framed pictures. My arm is outstretched to its limit across a crocheted afghan and up into the nook created by these obstacles. My bagged wedding dress is draped across the top, adding the finishing touch to this cozy canopied cranny.
One nanometer closer and I would be able to brush with my fingertips the outermost ends of the whiskers of the kitty cat, who regards me with a dull look. I strain a little and am about to make contact when she languorously stretches, coils into a ball and buries her head under the plume of her tail. She is a fur donut — I don’t know where she starts and ends. And she is now securely out of my reach.
The cat is punishing me, although I can’t exactly tell you why. It may be because I patted her 16 times, instead of 15, earlier that morning. (That one extra pat turns your docile puffball into a ferocious feral feline in a heartbeat.) Or maybe it’s because I refused to play “bald cousin” with her. (More on that in a moment.) Or it could’ve been because I didn’t feed her before I went to the gym. Or that I did, but not the food she was in the mood for. Whatever the reason, she’s got one of her pickles on, and she’s making me pay by this retreat into her office. I feel that if I could just give her a pat, she might emerge. Her rebuff is hurting my feelings. I stretch a little farther.
I’m not exactly sure when I crossed the line from being someone who has a cat to a verifiable Cat Lady. I mean, it’s not like I planned it. I know it isn’t cool. You never hear anyone say, “I love Portland. It’s such a cat-friendly city.”
I suppose if I’d had a choice, I would’ve been a dog owner. You own a dog, and you get instant status. You parade your pet around in public with your poop purse righteously dangling by your side. You recognize other dog owners from around town in Whole Foods as “Zoë’s dad” and “Bailey’s mom.” You shop at Fetch and Planet Dog and bring your pooch to work. And when Zuzu eats someone’s lunch, well, your officemates just shouldn’t be so careless with their liverwurst, now should they?
Cat fanciers, by contrast, generally hang out at home, alone in their embroidered calico-kitten sweatshirts, festooned with cat jewelry, and send one another links to funny kitty antics on YouTube. (Comrades, check out “An engineer’s guide to cats.” Hilarious!)
The fact is, I didn’t have much of a choice. John and I inherited the cat last year after my mom died. Although we’d both grown up with pets, neither of us had had an animal of our own (dating history aside) in our adult lives. We’d talked about getting a kitty, but I always feared we’d end up with Cujo Cat, and that I’d be stuck home alone all day with its scratching and spraying and biting and myowling and would lose my already-pushed-to-its-limits mind.
But this cat did none of the above. In fact, she didn’t do much of anything but hide. She had some emotional issues to work out — she’d been bumped from home to home — and I thought I should give her some space.
That is, until I decided I wanted her to help fill my lonely freelance days. Instead of letting her slink around under the cover of night, I went looking for her. Once I discovered some of her secret dugouts (e.g., her office), I devised ways to entice her out. That’s when the concept of “bald cousin” was born, and when I started crossing the line.
“Bald cousin” was a ploy I used to coax her out from under furniture. I’d sprawl on my stomach, ball up my fist and present it, knuckles forward, so she could rub her snaggletooth over them. It was pretty gross, getting all that cat lip-and-gum action on me, but she seemed to like it.
Well, folks, I can tell you it was a short and slippery slope from that to a full-blown case of Cat Lady. Soon thereafter, the nicknames started. Then, the voices (one for me, one for her response). Then her theme song. There’s more, but please don’t make me go on.
So, I can see why dogs have a better rap than cats. Dog owners may be smug and annoying, but they’re seldom creepy. Plus, dogs are so eager to please, with all that unconditional love and heroic crap. They rescue small boys from wells and babies from burning buildings. Cats? They’d probably just sit on the sidelines, gazing down into the murk or through the flames, until they figured out there’s no food involved, and saunter off.
That said, I’m perfectly happy to prostrate and anoint myself with kitty tartar. Because as any Cat Lady will tell you, the best love is earned — and always just a little out of reach.
Elizabeth Peavey has made her friends promise to shoot her if they catch her wearing even so much as a cat pin.