Let me tell you about Shelly and Cat. I met Shelly when I started writing for The Gabber. I was recently single, new to the freelance world, and shocked at the newness of my life. While I wasn’t bitter I didn’t exactly trust anyone, either. I didn’t want any more people in my life. I was quite content with my dog, who never judged me and never let me down.
Somehow Shelly wove herself into my life. She suffered through my misadventures, including driving me to no less than three government agencies spanning two counties when my license gets suspended. Her girlfriend cooks for me and her closest friends welcome me into their circle and show me that there are people in the world you can trust.
As a rule I don’t have a lot of friends, but these women- Stacey and Leah and Amanda and Maricris- are genuine, warm and funny. These are women you want to hate — they all look like prom queens and cheerleaders and the girls who made my life miserable in high school — but I cannot. It’s like I’m living in some odd marriage of Sweet Valley High and Sex and the City. And of all these women, it is Shelly I rely on the most, Shelly who waited so patiently for me to unclench and accept her friendship.
Only two things aren’t perfect: Leah has a weakness for cats and Shelly and Maricris decided to move to Denmark. These two things will intersect in just a few sentences.
Sunday night Calypso (my dachshund) and I head over to Leah’s to say goodbye to my rock, my confidante and one of my closest friends. In my abject misery I barely notice the stray cat. Only when I take a seat on the front porch do I notice a new cat — a furry brown tabby — loitering. When Leah says she thinks someone must have dropped him off a few days ago and they simply cannot have another cat so they will take him to Friends of Strays, I feel a spurt of anger at how cruel people can be, but that’s all.
Leah has a much bigger heart than I do; if I am the Grinch Leah is the Grinch after his heart grew three sizes. I am most assuredly not a cat person; give me a dog any day. You can play with a dog. You may, of course, play with a cat, if by play you mean “feed and clean its litter box.” Roll a tennis ball past a cat’s nose and it will raise one eyebrow and look at you like you’re trying to sell it Amway. If a dog is the happy immigrant’s child eating chicken with her fingers, a cat is the Protestant descendant of a Mayflower family who sneers at the dog for not knowing which fork to use.
I do not like cats.
Except this cat doesn’t consider that when he saunters over to me. He puts his paws up on my seat.
“Hi,” I say. “I don’t like cats. Go away.” In cat language this apparently means “jump in my lap and curl up and go to sleep.”
I can’t take a cat. I have no place for a cat. I do not, I remind my dearest friends, like cats.
“It doesn’t matter, the cat likes you,” Shelly says. Easy for her to say. Even if this cat jumped in her lap and started to lick her left breast, Shelly’s moving to Denmark this week and can’t keep it. Traitor. I look down at the brown ball of fur kneading my leg in its sleep. As much as I don’t like cats I cannot conceive of simply opening a car door, putting a cat on the side of the road, and leaving it there as I drive away.
I have no litter, no litter box, no food, no carrier. I cannot take this cat. Leah’s husband, Dan, slips into the house and returns a few moments later with a spare carrier, litter, litter box and food. My brain argues one last time that I do not like cats.
The cat opens his eyes and blinks at me, curls into a tighter ball, then rolls on his back in my lap. He stretches a paw up and touches my chin.
Cat is now curled up on my pillow in my apartment. His life is perfect except for Calypso.
Poor Calypso. She doesn’t understand how anyone can look at her and not see her inherent cuteness. She has spent the past two days standing a few feet away from Cat (I really will find a better name), wagging her tail hopefully, and looking at him with big brown eyes. Cat hisses and closes his eyes. He doesn’t seem to have the motivation to swat or move. It’s like having a hound dog that uses a litter box.
I’d love to call Shelly and tell her all the funny Calypso/Cat stories. But I can’t; she left for Denmark this morning.
Cat hisses again.
Calypso just wags her tail. She would like to make friends now, please. The hiss increasingly lacks fire. Calypso hopefully puts her paws up on the couch. They come nose to nose. Cat hisses again and Calypso barks, a shrill, puppy bark that I know means “Let’s play.” Cat closes his eyes. Calypso presses her nose to Cat’s forehead. Cat’s eyes spring open and he hisses and swats at Calypso.
I hope Calypso hangs in there. I know what it’s like, needing a friend so badly but hesitating to reach out. She’s doing well to take a page out of Shelly’s book, to just sit there, wag her tail, and wait for Cat to come around.
And as for Cat?
Cat may act aloof, but I know what it’s like to be suddenly alone in a brand-new place. Even if it’s better than anywhere else you’ve ever been, you’re still having the time of your life without anyone else around. And while you aren’t abandoned, you feel that way. It’s hard to trust anyone.
Believe me, I get that, Cat.