Miss Kitty Fantastico
First day in the new house, July 14th, 2008.
Miss Kitty Fantastico – black, fuzzy, long tufts of hair behind her ears, silver-grey shading on belly and tail, like a cross between a squirrel and a monkey and a fuzzy long-haired alien. Everything in disarray. M. saw her first, or maybe she saw him – grabbed him through the bars of the cage with her little paws, tiny needle claws sunk into his shorts pocket, wouldn’t let go until he bent down to play with her. I was trying to ask him something, get his attention, should we get one of these collars for Jake, or wait until we went to the next store, where maybe they’d have the teal ones we always got him, after the shine had gone off the old one? He didn’t seem to hear a word I said; I turned around to see what could be distracting him and that’s when I saw her. M. was entranced, and it wasn’t just the usual sneaky magic cute kittens work on everyone the world over. I pulled him away, said the usual things we always say, about resisting temptation, we already have two cats, two very well established territorial cats, and only so much house, and only so much yard, and only so much of everything else unspoken – money, energy, time. It’s hard to recall what happened next – I think that’s when we went to our pre-determined destination, to get more cans of wet food, and then somehow we were back near the cage again, and it was my turn. I couldn’t resist, I had to lean down and put my fingers through the bars, and she wrapped her little skinny fuzzy legs through the bars and grabbed me with her paws. I didn’t realize it yet, but that was it for me; she’d got me, hook line and sinker; I was a goner from that moment on.
I tried to resist – I’d resisted dozens like her, or so I thought – how many cute cuddly kittens had we seen, waiting to be adopted in that very shop, in boxes at the local farmer’s market, behind glass in pet stores; how many times had people asked us if we wanted one, pleading the case of some poor homeless feline? We’d always stood fast, always held our ground, always straightened our backs, turned our heads, held up our hands and said “NO.” Not this time. She meowed and purred and danced and stood up on her hind legs and pawed the bars and ran back and forth, and every time we reached inside the cage she was right there, grabbing on for dear life, and we knew then we had to flee. I said, “I think I’m in love.” I said, “this has never happened before.” And it was true. There was a lump in my throat, tears pushing at the backs of my eyes, a surge of ridiculous emotion. It wasn’t hard to figure out why we were so vulnerable; how appealing a new life was, when so much was fighting against life, when the loss of someone, of something that you always take for granted will be there, was lurking around the corner, hiding in the shadows, when the death of a generation, the loss of yet another piece of the foundation, another support strut could happen at any moment. Easy to see why we might be more malleable than usual. Never mind that she would have had a direct line to the soft squishy centre of our sappy hearts even in the best of times. If we had been deliriously happy, we would have wanted to share it with her; in sadness we wanted comfort; in the prospect of losing love, we wanted someone to love even more, and here was this tiny life, this force of nature, who so clearly wanted us.
We were adults. We were strong. We said (he said, playing the rational cop now), let’s go out to lunch, and think about it. Get some distance. Get some breathing room. If we still want this when we’re done, we can come back. If she’s not here, if someone else has snatched her up (how could they not?), then it’s a sign it wasn’t meant to be. All I could think about, leaving the store, was that she might not be there when we came back. That surely, with charm like that, the next person she reached out to would melt in an instant, and take her away forever.
We went out to lunch. We got some perspective. We ate some comfort food, drank some coffee.
We couldn’t stop talking about the kitten. We’d be talking about something else, and it would always come back to that. Then we really reached the point of no return. We started talking about names. I had it, in an instant, in one of those flashes where you just know it’s right. “We could call her Miss Kitty Fantastico, ” I said, and I knew from the look in his eyes, that had done it. It was hopeless. Now, it might sound like a silly glam name, and it was, and it is, but you see it has a history. A long, pathetically nerdy, hopelessly geeky, history. It was the name of the cat that Willow and Tara had in Buffy The Vampire Slayer (the show, marvellous little seven-year phenomenon that it was, a rare beacon of light in an otherwise damp, dark miasma of reality TV, painfully unfunny sitcoms, and bad over-done drama hell.) I only say this on the odd chance some other human being comes across this recollection at some point, since pretty much everyone we know (that we care about) will get the joke (except for those over fifty, and, well, moms of course). There is something about stories, that can get deep inside you – if they’re told right. The story of Willow and Tara was told right. It got under our skin, in the way TV and pop culture usually doesn’t, down to an emotional level, where we hold Peter Pan and Wendy and Benji and Bambi and Luke and Leia and Han Solo and Chewie; in the never-never land of Robin Hood and the Littlest Hobo and Lassie and Black Beauty and all our childhood heroes and heroins.
We were so distracted, we forgot to take our doggy bag with us. We didn’t even realize it until after we got home, and were starting to get hungry – hours later.
We rushed across the parking lot, trying to pretend we didn’t want to break into a run, in case someone came and snatched her up in the next five minutes, the next thirty second… It was foolish, insane, absurd… It made no sense. We didn’t care. It was just a kitten. We didn’t care. Her magic was powerful, indeed. The spell she’d cast over us worked like… well, I s’pose “like a charm” would be redundant, not to mention cliché. But we didn’t care about clichés, about appearances, about being rational.
We’d talked it through. When the addition is finished, we’ll have more room. We’ll train her to be more amenable to travelling. We’ll get an extra big, extra comfy kitty carrier (which we did – soft walled, soft floor, sides and back that roll up like tent flaps so you can see the world, washable). Our car was designed with campers and yuppies in mind; there were all sorts of places in the bag to secure a carrier down, to keep her safe. We’d leash train her, so we could walk her outside, in those long months before we let her go out on her own. The cats were ten years old. We didn’t want to wait until the soul-crushing misery that would descend when we lost them. We didn’t want a rebound romance. The overlap of generations was appealing – it even made sense.
We even went so far as to solicit the advice of a stranger. M. asked the waitress if she thought people with three or more cats were weird. One cat, normal. Two cats, they keep each other company. Three cats – that’s when people start to wonder. No, not at all, she said. She was most unhelpful – or helpful, depending on which side you were on. She had friends with seven cats – normal, healthy, well-adjusted nice people, with lives and jobs and families, who just happened to have a lot of cats. She could tell we were already bewitched. She asked us what name we’d been thinking of. We told her and she said it sounded nice – whether she was humouring us or not, she didn’t laugh – probably didn’t get the other side of it, but it didn’t matter. So what, even if it was an over-the-top drag queen/drama queen glam name? She was “fantastico”. It could have been the name of a magician. That would have been appropriate, too.
So we adopted her, then and there. We had to go to the bank machine to get more money – cash or cheque only (to cover the shots and vet visits she’d already had – it was through a local NPO) – but before we left, we made them promise not to let anyone else take her before we got back. I think they’d seen this kind of infatuation before. They promised. We tried not to run there and back. We stopped half-way and hugged each other, for no reason.
She came home. We knew it wouldn’t be an easy transition. Still, it was hard – seeing Jake and Dude so wary – seeing Dude hiss the way he used to do at Jake, when he came home after spending the night at the vet’s. It was the smell, more than anything. Dude is especially sensitive to that. We spent the evening alternating between being new moms to Miss Kitty, making sure she had a mini litter box and food and water in her carrier cave, and reassuring the cats, telling them in every way we could that we still loved them, that this was still their house, and don’t be mean to your little sister, she’s lovely, you’ll see, you’ll come around. Still, it was hard – like introducing two good friends, and sensing that right off the bat they don’t like each other. Or bringing The One home, the one you know you’ll be spending the rest of your life with, and knowing instantly they and your parents don’t get along. Oh no, you think – here we go. This is going to be fun.
So later, when Miss Kitty was up romping the bedroom with M., when the downstairs was once more the sole domain of the house’s two proper owners, and Dude jumped up on the couch, and became his old kitten self, and rolled over to let me rub his belly, and purred, and looked up at me like he always did, I cried. I couldn’t help it. He was going to be okay. It was all going to be okay. Sure, there’d be days, likely weeks ahead of cats hissing at nothing – at shadows, tables, the wind, each other. There would be the long adjustment, the acceptance that not all the things currently in scratch-free, pee-free condition would remain so; that there would be moments of panic at unexpected escapes, things knocked down that should have been put away, being woken in the night by whines and mewls and howls and meows, and later, likely by fighting cats, tousling on the landing – all that was still ahead. But in that moment, when Dude was himself again (even if it was for a short time) – and later, when Jake and Miss Kitty touched noses (before Jake remembered to be annoyed, and hissed again), I knew it would be all right.
Besides, there were other signs as well. I was going to skip the night’s Pilates class (yes, I’m thirty-something, living in a family neighbourhood, I have a membership at the Y and I actually signed up for a Pilates class – I may be a rebel deep inside, but some parts of our lives are taking on a disturbingly normal sheen)…. Anyhow, the thing is, I didn’t end up missing it after all. Just a bit before (or after?) seven, a girl from the Y calls me to tell me the class has been cancelled for the night, because the instructor couldn’t make it in. We don’t believe in God. I don’t really believe in Fate. I believe in Free Choice, and the future being a thousand thousand paths of possibility, not one straight line – but sometimes, the wheels of the universe are all turning the same direction; sometimes, all the atoms and quarks and quirks and strings line up just right, vibrate just so, and things are meant to be. That I believe.
It’s still Miss Kitty Fantastico’s first day. Although, since it’s now after midnight, technically her second. Dude is sleeping beside me, Jake on the chair across from me. Calm, content, their old regular selves (for now). In a moment, I’ll be helping wrangle Miss Kitty so M. can bring the carrier up for the night. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to jinx it, but… I’ve got a good feeling about this. Knock on wood.