About three weeks ago, a fat tabby cat came up on my deck. She sidled up, wrapped herself around my legs and meowed loudly. At that point, I jumped up, grabbed my iPad, cup of coffee and retreated into the house, Angrily, I slammed the sliders, and glared back through the double-pane at the intruder. I hate cats, I’m highly allergic to cats. I don’t want a cat and can’t have a cat. So why is she here? I would soon see that the damned cat would bring me some much-needed clarity regarding my kids. 

A Brief Feline History

I didn’t always hate cats, as a matter of fact, in my youth, we had two cats. One of my earliest cat memories was of one balmy Saturday night, the four of us children were showered, in pajamas, and in the car waiting to leave for a drive-in movie. We were anxious to be off and waited for my mother who had run back into the house for something.  Within moments, she was calling to my father—our cat “Stripey” had had kittens in the clothes dryer. We excitedly piled out of some grey/silver Buick (the first of many for my dad) and ran into the garage. We stared with awe, into the dryer where our cat sat majestically on a pile of laundry and nursed her kittens. The Drive-in was scraped for the night, but we didn’t mind because we took turns putting our heads inside the dryer to get a peek. No one had the heart to shoo her out.

Years later, I had an orange calico cat named “Honey”. Honey was an outside cat, which was the only kind of cats my parents allowed. She conveniently meowed at the back door when she needed to go out, and did the same when her business, whether hygienic or otherwise, was complete.

I have a picture of me on my First Communion, in my little white dress with white embroidered butterflies, holding the big fat cat Honey. I’m looking very pleased with myself and my grandfather, sitting at my elbow looks unamused.

Honey was your average outdoor cat, and as such did precisely what cats are meant to do when she upended my gerbil cage, captured the sole inhabitant, and ran through the house with the small furry creature struggling while hanging out of its mouth. The house was in an uproar, all of us screaming and running around wildly trying to save the gerbil. Eventually, Honey dropped the lifeless creature and retreated outside. I never felt the same about my cat. My father tried to explain that she was doing what comes naturally to cats, by chasing down little rodents. I argued that MY rodent was in a little cage, with a little wheel and colorful water bottle, and should have been exempt from such natural proclivities.

My first New York City roommate had a cat that slept with her—to be clear under her covers, head on the pillow. When she was out, the cat would call her by name. I would allow that these could be the delusions of a joyously indulged happy hour, however I have witnesses, and to this day, they would attest to the fact that the cat cried out her name. In the years that have passed, I have adopted the philosophy that the cat, by the way creatively named “Cat”, was indeed her “familiar.” But there is no need to go further into that.

The Jig Is Up

I should’ve known something was afoot when I found a plastic container filled with water and another filled with leftover chicken, on my front steps conveniently located next to my son’s surfboard. 

Apparently my kids were feeding this stray, without me knowing it. 

I was furious—my deck, which sits high in the trees, is my three-season refuge. Big baskets and tubs of colorful flowers crowd the railing, and my large table with comfy chairs is where I do almost everything—from writing, to bills, to emails, to planning, it is my sanctuary and everyone knows it. I can be found there at the crack of dawn, and later when the sun sets. Anyone is welcome to join me there—except that damned cat. 

Now in the morning, with coffee in one hand, I open the sliders and the cat charges and coils herself around my legs. I have tripped, cursed loudly, spilled coffee and she just keeps coming. If I touch the cat in any way, I get immediate hives. 

First thing, this cat starts crying and generally making a nuisance of herself. When I complain, loudly and vehemently, to the kids they both try to play on my sensibilities. This poor lovely cat has nowhere else to go. Before long, there is more food and water on the deck and my daughter has put out a comforter to keep the cat warm at night. Now the damned cat, who had previously been sleeping somewhere else and just visiting us for food, is here full-time.

My place, my lovely quiet, peaceful place is now being cohabitated with a cat. I’ve fumed as I’ve sat outdoors. I’ve tried to ignore the cat, I’ve put my feet up on the table so the cat can’t get them. The cat has actually used my leg and my exercise leggings, as a scratching post. I am annoyed that I have had to take myself indoors to avoid this cat, and have voiced as such to my kids. I’m resentful of the fact that my needs are being discounted for the love of a cat. 

To my thinking, these two kids (by the way, we are talking about 26 year old and a 20 year old) had chosen the wellbeing of the cat over that of their own mother. I glare through the glass at the cat who will just cries at my door waiting for someone to come out. 

Ah, Now I Get It

I was hiding indoors one evening when my daughter came in from work. 

“Is Charlie here?”

“Who is Charlie?” 

“The cat. We named her Charlie.”

“She better not have fleas,” I caution.

“She has a collar,” 

As I tidy up the kitchen, I look over and see my daughter on the floor of the deck, big fat cat in her arms. The cat is crawling up her arms, nuzzling her hair. My daughter is laughing and talking in the high-pitched voice that is saved for babies and animals. My first feeling is absolute revulsion, but I watch as the minutes turn into an hour with the cat. 

My son comes home from work and opens the door to look for Charlie. He sits on a chair and the cat twines in and out of his legs, he pets her and a sweet, contented look comes on his face. All the cares of the day are forgotten. He tells me the cat has a tangle in her fur under her chin, I couldn’t care less, It’s not my cat. He tries to work it out, talking smoothly to the cat through his grooming. 

I am a physically affectionate person, but watching my kids with this cat, I realize how much they have missed not having the unconditional love of a pet. The non-judgemental, uncomplicated, love that comes from an animal. 

After their father died, it was clear that our family dog was hanging on for grim death. At 16 years of age, he had cataracts, hip dysplasia, incontinence and loss of hearing. I should have had that poor dog put out of his misery months sooner, but I just couldn’t think of another loss. So, in true procrastinator fashion, I waited until the day before I was moving to take the poor pup to the vet for his final visit. After a very cursory exam—the poor dog’s ailments were legion, the Vet began preparations for the end of life. I was dispassionate during the process. For crying out loud, I just buried a husband, a dog is literally no big thing. Following the lethal injection, they gave me some privacy with Freeckles, a courtesy I thought was more of a formality in my case. At this point in my life, this was just another sucky thing that had to be done. As I watched our family pooch gradually drift off, I was overtaken by raw emotion. I bent down and nuzzled, kissed and talked his way into doggy paradise. 

Later that day, the kids were stoic. Frankly, they too measured the loss against the epic one of only eight months before. So two years later, and here they are, emphatically embracing the neighborhood stray.

As I watch them, I see all of that love get poured out onto Charlie. I still don’t like cats, and I really do resent the intrusion, but I have found myself bending down to give a quick touch to the top of her head. Thanks to a little training tip I learned online, she comes near me, but will no longer touch me, so I won’t itch. We have reached detente, Charlie and me. 

I am thankful that she has provided these pet-less young adults, the remembrance and comfort of the unconditional love of a family pet. The cat is clearly not named Charlie, and even clearer still, belongs to someone else. But to our family, this part-time pet provides a few minutes of simple solace in an otherwise crazy world. 

Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or shape.

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