I thought it was stupid from the very beginning. I was against it. But you persisted. And we were living together and the world seemed like the world seems when you're twenty. So, we checked the paper. "Let's just go look," you said. I looked into your eyes and said the same thing I always said: "OK."
So, we went to this lady's house. She had a box full of kittens. I didn't know jack shit about cats, but I didn't have any problem with them. And the kittens were hella cute. The box was pretty evenly divided. Half the little things were all white and half were black and white.
"Take your pick."
How do you even do that? You were motor-mouthing the lady and I wished to God that no one had even invented Dexedrine. Or that I had a handful. How do you pick a living thing? I honestly had no idea.
So, I'm staring at this mound of fur and thinking, "I don't even fucking want a cat. What the hell are we doing here?"
It's just me, staring at these kittens. Then one of them opens his eyes. He sees me. He stares at me, and then he walks over and puts his front paws on my leg. Makes that kitten noise. It chipped a little of the blackness off my heart. It did, and I don't care if you think that's stupid or not.
"We'll take this one."
"Don't I get a say in this?"
"Nope. I didn't either. He chose. Or she? He? Yeah, he chose."
We named you Cat. No sane person can hate a kitten. I learned that pretty quick. Suddenly, I was a pet owner. I could barely keep myself alive and probably wouldn't have bothered if it hadn't been for you, your dexedrine, or your dad's credit card. We drank a lot. We did a lot of things a lot. We lived in a tiny room in a punk house. It was no place for a kitten. You couldn't keep your hands off him. I couldn't give enough of a shit to put the bourbon, weed, and whatever else we had away. When we turned off the light, the kitten came and slept on my chest. And he did it every night thereafter. And, man, did that piss you off.
A year or so passed and the cat got big, and I realized I liked cats a lot. Then one day I came home and the locks had been changed. It didn't surprise me too much. You had that runny nose again. And you hadn't come home the past few nights.
I didn't have a cell phone, and I don't think you did either. It was a long time ago. I called you at work. I said that if you didn't come home, I would kick the door in. And if I couldn't, I would call the cops. God, I hated you so much at that moment. I have never hated like that since.
You came home, and you were all coke-freaked and fucking weird and talking about how I couldn't take any of your CDs or whatever. I picked the cat up.
"I don't give a fuck what you do with any of my shit. You think I'm leaving the cat, you're out of your fucking mind, though."
"I know you'll take the cat. I thought about it."
And that was the greatest gift you could have given me. I still hated you, but the lingering love was there ... right up until you didn't fight for the cat. Then, I lost all respect for you. I found the cheapest, ghetto studio I could find. When I came back, you'd boxed up all my shit. I guess the Dexedrine was good for something.
I had been getting clean-ish, but that stopped with a quickness. Over the next several months, I read everything John D MacDonald wrote, and I drank as much bourbon as I could. Which was a lot. And I'd rail some mini-thins when the Dexedrine memory hurt too much. And I'd smoke. And I'd pet the cat. He followed me everywhere. My lap was his. It always will be.
You can think it's stupid all you want, but I don't think I'd be alive if it wasn't for my cat. We'd sit and play fetch for hours. He tolerated the drinking. He hated it when I was on uppers. He wouldn't come near me when I was tweaking. So, I stopped. I didn't want to disappoint him.
It seems like all this happened to a different person. Every morning I woke up, and I had no idea where I would go to sleep that night. No benders anymore, though. Someone had to feed the cat. You never went hungry. I made sure of that.
I probably would have died. I certainly wanted to. But it wasn't the fucking cat's fault, and I wasn't going to let him suffer for it. My stupidity. Our stupidity. It was about this time that I realized I loved that fucking cat more than anything in the world.
That was 16 years ago. Now, I'm a grown ass man. I'm fucking old, man. Not old old, but older than I ever thought I'd get back then. We've spent almost half my life together, the cat and I. We lived with my best friend for years. I got married. My wife was always nice to my cat. If she hadn't been, she would not be my wife. She would be married to someone with money and normal emotions and maybe that would be better for her, but not for me. Not for us.
We brought two babies into the house, and the cat wouldn't go near them. The doctors - everybody - don't let the cat near the baby! And I'd think, "You don't know shit about me or my cat." If I'd have thought there was even a glimmer of a chance that the girls were in danger ... you never hurt a person except Eugene and Billy and they asked for it. Dog people. Too rough.
When the girls were the same weight as the cat, everything changed. Every morning, my oldest would wake up and grab that black tail, rubbing it on her nose and giggling. The girls were never gentle with my old black and white cat.
The cat was gentle. He understood. He understands. My youngest is one now, and she is hell on wheels. And my cat has never hissed at her. Never scratched. Never done anything but accept that little people can be rough, but they don't mean any harm. And I'm onto your game, Cat. You could run away. Instead, you move a foot away and wait for the baby to come grab another handful of fur.
I don't like putting you in the carrier, Cat. I don't like taking you to the Vet. I don't like them sticking things into you - taking your blood and piss - and I can't even explain it to you. But you understand. I know you do. You trust me. You always did, whether I deserved it or not.
I will always think of this story because it says it all. I used to have one of those eye masks you can put in the fridge. I came home one day and you were covered in gel, Cat. Then I saw the mask. Then I freaked. I didn't know what the fuck they put in those things. I picked you up and we got in the shower. And I washed you. And you licked my face the whole time, claws embedded in my shoulders, but not from anger ...
So, they're testing your blood as we speak. I won't even spend the money to find out why I have "decreased liver function". I don't care. But I'll spend $300 to find out what's wrong with you, Cat. I owe you that and so much more. Even if all that I find out is that time is a bitch. Some people have pets. I've never felt like I "had" you, buddy. I always figured if you wanted to, you'd leave. But you never left my side. You're my friend. We have each other.
Through pneumonia and horrible sicknesses (natural and self-inflicted), there has always been one thing I could count on. One furry little thing that chose me 16 years ago, when I didn't even choose myself very often.
We've gone from one room, filled with addictions and sadness to three rooms filled with love and baby smells. I don't know what the tests will say. It doesn't matter. Cats don't live forever. I know that. It has been one of my worst fears for over a decade.
I'll repay you as much as I can, bud ... it will never be enough. But I'll sleep beside you while you're sick. I'll try to keep the sunny places clear for you to use. I'll try not to cry, and I'll try not to punch the wall until my hand is a mangled mosaic of bones and blood. I'll try to live up to the example you set, bud. Because you always had class. You still do. You didn't learn it from me. I think you were born with it. And, when it does happen, you'll die with it too, Cat. And I will reach for the dignity that you tried to teach me. I wonder how close I'll get?
I don't care about too many things that aren't human. But I always figured you were only half cat anyway. The other half? I have no idea. Something more noble than human, there's no doubt about that.