Okay, I Admit It
by Diane Payne
The other day when my eleven-year-old daughter Ania and I were walking home from the dentist, she started laughing and told me the dentist asked if her mother was carrying a cat in that pack Tuesday afternoon. When Ania admitted that I was carrying a kitten in a pack (while she rolled her eyes to convey My mother), the dentist said she wouldn’t be caught dead doing that. The big joke is both Ania and I wear those little packs over our stomachs and we each carry a kitten when we walk Barto, our dog. Ania was the first to get a pack and she insisted I get one after the kittens grew too large to fit in one pack. I thought it was cute when Ania carried the cats and I walked both dogs, but the first time I carried a kitten in my pack, I must say, I felt a tad silly. Friends would stop and say, “See, I told you you’d turn into a cat person.”
“No, no. This is all Ania’s doings,” I’d protest.
Claudia, the mother cat, has jumped into the carrier for a couple of walks, but spends most of the time ducking her head, apparently embarrassed when her pals from the days she roamed free see her being carried around like a queen. When friends say we should let the cats go outside, let them live free, I remember the frightening episodes that occurred during the days Yak chased cats, and remind them we take the kittens to the woods when we let Barto run free, and I add, “The kittens seem quite happy to be carried through the woods.”
I didn’t plan on having cats, but I didn’t plan on having dogs either. When we let Claudia move in, we had an old dog that despised cats. Yak wasn’t happy about Claudia, but he was arthritic and realized his cat chasing days were over, and since Yak agreed to let Claudia remain, I had no choice but to consent, and Ania’s been elated ever since.
Not being a cat person, it took a few days to realize Claudia was female, and a few more days to discover she was a mother. Unfortunately, the vet didn’t tell us that until after she spayed Claudia. Ania found the two kittens out in the bushes. Yak couldn’t believe his bad luck when he discovered there were two more cats entering the house. Barto welcomed the distraction. The kittens liked to lie next to Yak because he was furry and didn’t move much. A couple of months after their arrival, Yak died, and the cats kept smelling his doggy bed, waiting for him to return. At times I think I’m still waiting for him to return.
Yak’s not the only reason I don’t know much about cats. I was allergic to them. The first week I broke out into hives whenever Claudia jumped on me or if I lay on my pillow after she had been there first. Ania would look at the welts on my body and dread the day Claudia would have to go. But, after a week, my body realized Claudia wasn’t leaving, and the hives miraculously disappeared.
After years of sitting in the homes of cat lovers, having their cats jump up against me and rubbing their tails in my face, and responding with eyes swelling shut and hives appearing wherever their fur touched my skin, I honestly believed cats were just devious creatures who not only knew they were causing me this great discomfort, but that they were deriving great pleasure from my misery. I always compared cats to dogs, dwelled on how cats snuck around a room and hid behind chairs, or climbed above furniture, then leapt off, scaring the wits out of me. I couldn’t understand why someone wanted a companion who spent the night outside doing who knows what, killed birds without mercy during the day, and had no use for taking walks. But, now I’ve learned cats like sleeping inside under the blankets at night, enjoy taking walks in a pack, and are easily entertained by screeching at birds while they sit by a window, flapping their tails madly.
People have told me repeatedly that cats won’t learn their names, won’t come when they’re called, but the cats react a bit like our dogs. They come running when we call, probably, like the dogs, hoping it means a treat or walk. And Midnight has learned one trick we’ve never been able to teach a dog. If we toss his toy mouse, he retrieves it, over and over. I’m impressed with his stamina.
After a lifetime of being catless, I’ve grown quite fond of seeing a cat sitting on my computer when I write (unless the tail is swishing like wipers over the monitor), another sitting on the printer, and yet another on the chair next to my table. At night, I thought they’d sleep on my daughter’s bunk bed, but no. They crawl into my bed, and Barto’s dog bed is in the corner, so it doesn’t take long before Ania yells that she’s feeling lonely and climbs into bed with us also. Talk about a family bed!
Having cats reminds me of when Ania was a toddler. Once again the house is filled with toys, mostly made out of boxes. There are tunnels, weird bouncy things attached to the ceiling fan, and a bunch of boxes taped together called The Ramshackle. There’s even a birch tree propped up against the wall so the cats can climb on the ledge near the ceiling.
The other day one of my students noticed the cat picture on my desk next to Ania and the dog pictures and said, “Come on, admit it. You’re a cat person now.”
Once again, I said Ania insisted that I keep the picture in my office so the cats wouldn’t feel left out. He has a cat and waited for me to state the truth.
“Okay. I admit it. I’m a cat person!”
“You really are,” he laughed. “I wouldn’t walk my cat around in a pack.”
And I can’t imagine our home without cats or taking a walk without the cats. Geesh, I really am a cat person. I admit it and it feels okay.
About the suthor: Diane teaches creative writing at University of Arkansas-Monticello,where is is also faculty advisor of Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. She is the author of two novels: Burning Tulips and A New Kind of Music. She has been published in hundreds of literary magazines. More info can be found at: Diane's Web site.