I was not raised by cat people. My parents grew up in rural Kansas, where cats are viewed not as friends or family members but as contract killers who have a job to do and nothing more. When I discovered that my best friend had a pet cat — a fluffy ginger tabby that slept on her bed and rubbed sweetly on her calves when he wanted his head scratched — my mind was blown. I wanted — no, NEEDED — a pet cat of my own.
So I set about trying to catch one on my grandmother’s farm. I pilfered slices of lunch meat from the fridge and hid out in the barn, where I’d try to lure the feral kittens from their hiding places beneath piles of wood and old farm equipment. A few times I succeeded, emerging from the barn dusty and dehydrated, carrying a mewling ball of fluff into the sunlight.
One time, a mother cat my uncle had tamed learned to trust me enough to sit in my lap while she fed her kittens. The tiny cats purred and kneaded their mother’s stomach while mama looked up at me, her eyes glazed with contentment. It was the highlight of my summer.
There were also the times, of course, when I grabbed a cat who did not wish to be grabbed. These cats would not say no to food, no matter the risks. When they emerged from hiding to grab the lunch meat, I knew my window of opportunity was slim before they darted back into the darkness. I clutched the scruff of their necks while they hissed and clawed, writhing in my grip until I had no choice but to drop them. I paid the price for my youthful idiocy with angry red claw marks up and down my arms.
My mother agreed that the kittens I did catch were cute — she’d make sweet comments about their little faces — but no, I could not have one. Years of hearing no as an answer left me undeterred; in fact, I think I was more determined to get a cat in the first grade than I’ve ever been to do anything in my life.
And I finally wore my parents down. Presumably sick to death of hearing about it, they let me adopt a black-and-white kitten who I named Sweets. My life became so cat-centric that my previous cat fixation looked like a casual hobby. I wore cat sweatshirts to school every day. I drew pictures of cats. I wrote stories about cats. I talked, incessantly, about cats.
Before I got Sweets, everyone thought of me as the shy, weird girl, but now I was the shy, weird girl WHO LIKED CATS WAY TOO MUCH. It was basically a social death sentence. It was the first time I learned to be ashamed of something I liked. Other than all of the homeless cats living in a house in my backyard, what I wanted more than anything was for people to like me. So I kept quiet.
As I got older, I entered my obligatory “rebellious phase” and realized I cared less and less about what other people thought. I’ve maintained that same mentality throughout most of my adulthood, and I’ve proudly flaunted my love of my two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix, via Facebook and talked about them to anyone who would listen.
But recently I caught myself saying I had a cat, singular, while having a casual conversation with someone I barely knew. I can’t even remember who I was talking to — it was clearly not someone I was trying to impress, and even if it had been, why would I lie about my cats? Is it because I’m over 30 and there’s some kind of crappy stigma attached to being a woman living alone with cats, plural? Maybe the dreaded “crazy cat lady” stereotype?
Has anyone else lied about the number of cats you have — or whether you have any cats at all? If so, what were your reasons for doing so?
About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.
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