Thursday, September 10, 2009

Confessions of a converted cat lady


I consciously made my first truly irresponsible decision my senior year of college. I got a cat. I’d just returned to the States and signed my first lease. Before I’d always wanted an animal of my own, but a pet had been out of the question because I'd lived in a dorm and made a habit of leaving the country for months at a time.

I'd come back from Argentina with a new perspective. In one semester the South American grading scale destroyed the perfect GPA I'd nurtured for three years. I grieved death and elopement 5,000 miles away from home. I resolved to stop sacrificing my happiness in the name of responsibility. I would no longer spend all my energy trying to make straight A's. Why had I built a life of discipline and self-denial?

I started my last year of college running for miles by the water in downtown Charleston. I spent hours at the beach walking by the waves and reading in the sand. I channeled my creativity into decorating my enormous 19th-century bedroom, poring over design magazines and the Marshall's home goods section. And I decided that a kitten would make me very happy.

* * *

Before I’d been wary of cats. I shrieked upon discovering a fat cat snoozing on my bed in Buenos Aires. I grew up with a mom who shuddered in disgust at the mention of a feline. As a child I came home from playing with the neighbors’ kittens with swollen eyes, hives and chronic sneezing. My dad suffered similar allergies and shared my mother’s disdain for the creatures.

But my new roommate’s cat Captain Jack changed my mind. The shy tuxedo hung out in my room, sprawled on my bed or stretching with me while I did my post-run yoga. Desperate for furry affection, I forced him to cuddle even if his claws ripped a hole in my new sweater and snagged countless shirts. The watery eyes and itchy nose faded as he won me over with his soft fur and purrs.

When I went home in December my childhood sheltie (R.I.P. Molly) seemed big and smelly in comparison. I declared to my parents that the day I drove back to South Carolina I’d visit the shelters in search of my perfect kitten. They begged me to reconsider. “That varmint will never step foot in this house,” my dad said. But by then they knew that when I make up my mind to do something – like take a job in England or interview for a fourth unpaid internship – no one is holding me back. I spent Christmas break Googling “cute white kitties.”

* * *

The day after I adopted Evita, I bought a pink collar, pink bowls and a pink litter box at Petsmart. From then on I studied in my bed with her on my lap instead of at the library. I wanted to bond with her during her kittenhood. I forgave her when she sprinted across my keyboard (ripping out b and p) as I typed my senior thesis or batted claw marks into my notes while I memorized media law cases. I let her chew a few textbook corners, sympathizing with her teething gums. Evita soon recognized the sound of my bike rolling up the driveway. She’d greet me meowing at the front door. I even bribed my best friend to move in my bedroom for a week to keep her company when I bought a last-minute flight to Peru. "I can't believe she got her cat a nanny," my roommate said.

But my parents were right. I wasn’t ready for the commitment. I decided to move to Barcelona after graduation. Would they mind watching Evita in the meantime? She was less than a year old. I left a notebook full of detailed instructions, with lines like “Please wash my collar every couple of weeks. Give me a snack before bed so I don’t wake you up early. Use only the clumping, fresh scented litter that makes me smell like a powder puff.”

I felt so guilty leaving her behind. I feared my father would resent babysitting my cat. I insisted that my mother e-mail me a weekly photo of her so I could track her growth. I showed the pictures of my gatita to my little English students in Spain so often that three-year-old Casilda started kissing them and saying "I like my cat."

* * *

Seven months later I came home from Europe to find that Evita leaps across the house to greet my dad at the door when she hears him open the garage. She meows and flops her self belly-up on the rug until he administers her an osteopathic rubdown. He calls "Evita Carmelita!" before he goes to bed. She follows him upstairs for Tie Time, in which he drags an old tie along the carpet and into the jacuzzi for her to pounce. Then he builds her a pyramid of pillows on the queen mattress for a ritual he’s dubbed Pyramid Power. She dutifully leaps on the floral bedspread and dives into her fortress. Only her swooshing tail sticks out. He says she’s recharging her batteries.

After her nightly pyramid, my mother hides two treats for Evita to find in her pink kitty cube. In the morning, she yells “Here Evita!” before she makes the bed. The cat likes to tunnel under the sheets or between the pillows in what she believes is a game just for her. Throughout the day Evita naps in an office chair beside my mom while she’s on the computer. My mom occasionally breaks from the screen to comb Evita’s gray-and-white coat to a plush sheen. The kitty rolls over to let her groom each side, purring and wallowing in the massage. Some evenings Evita curls up on the footrest of my dad’s Lazyboy chair as he reads Cat Who mysteries aloud.

I confess that I’m jealous. I want Evita to love me. And I’m disappointed in myself. I’ve failed at adult responsibility, ditching my first pet on my parents. But mostly I’m relieved that my kitty is happy. I want the best for her. And maybe valuing her welfare above my own desires is a sign of developing maturity after all.

3 comments:

  1. Evita is so sweet. Your dad gives her an osteopathic rub, not orthopedic.

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  2. Oh Rachel . . . that was charming. That kitty is so spoiled. I'm very amused. I'm also glad that you're not hung up on straight A's anymore. In 2 years, they won't mean a thing:)

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