I recently hired some cleaners to tackle my kitchen and bathroom, and when they were done, not only was everything clean, everything was also organized. Specifically, they put all the haphazard ephemera of my refrigerator back up in a neatly organized way, which helped me see a lot the items as if for the first time. The two pictures below (each containing cats and paraphernalia from a popular science fiction franchise) were previously on different parts of the refrigerator but now "next door" to each other. Seeing them adjacent started an idea in my head, and after some thought it nearly screamed to me:
If there’s anything that has been consistent in my life, any kind of through-line from childhood to whatever’s passing for my adulthood, it’s black cats and Star Trek.
The black and white cat in the image above is named Mary, and the mocha almond fudge-colored cat is Bridget. The photo isn’t time-stamped, but judging from the "Star Trek 1966-1986" posters on my bedroom wall — when VHS tapes were a mere $29.95! — it was taken in early 1987, when I was 13 years old and living in Fresno. (I was a very mature 13, obviously.)
The picture next to it was of my San Francisco apartment 10 years later, when I was 23 and not yet as concerned with cleanliness as I am now. (Seriously, I’m embarrassed about how messy it looks, especially the floor. If you take away anything from this article, let it be that when I hit my mid-30s, I finally got tired of living in mild squalor.)
That’s Mary in the photo, of course, the same cat from the first picture. Bridget, who I loved but who was never my cat the way Mary was, stayed with my mother in Fresno when I moved to San Francisco.
When I saw those pictures side-by-side, something struck me. I dug up a picture from earlier this year of my cat Perdita (the fearsome Fresno traveler) during one of the times she joined me on the desk in my bedroom to make sure I’m getting work done ÔÇª and yep, there it is:
Black cats and Star Trek.
I’m 39 now, and while it’s not profound to say a lot has changed since the picture of Mary and Bridget on my bed was taken when I was 13, I also see a lot of my personality already in place. Heck, even beyond the black cats and Star Trek, that piece of paper on the bed is probably a story I was writing on my trusty Atari 800. Even at that age, I wanted to be a writer. (Also, the Star Trek posters are framed now, because that’s what grown-ups do.)
Mary passed away in March 1998 — she was my best friend through all the emotional traumas that a person encounters between ages 13 and 24. Between the ages of 11 and 24, come to think of it, because she came to live with me on my 11th birthday in 1984. Mind you, she wasn’t a birthday present. We’d met a few weeks earlier when I picked her out of a litter; she was the smallest and clumsiest of the bunch, and the only one that wasn’t a tabby or a tortoiseshell. Nothing against tabbies or tortoiseshells, they’re fine, but my tastes were already running toward more-black-than-not cats. Besides, as soon as our eyes connected, we both knew we were right for each other.
This picture is taken on my 11th birthday, June 16, 1984.
(A picture of me being very happy to receive the M*A*S*H game for my Atari 2600 was also taken that day, but thankfully it has not survived.)
After Mary passed away, I was sans cat until December 1999 — not even two years, but it feels like an impossibly long time. It felt like an impossibly long time then, too, but my landlords didn’t allow pets at all, and Mary had been contraband. By 1999, though, I’d persuaded them to let me have a couple of cats, especially because my long-distance girlfriend Maddy had just arrived on my doorstep from Kansas with her cats Oscar and Mina.
I loved Oscar and Mina — Maddy and I even did a public access show called kittypr0n about them — but they were never truly my cats in the way Mary or even Bridget had been, and when I broke up with Maddy in 2005, she took Oscar and Mina with her. It was a mutual decision, and Maddy encouraged me to get a new cat sooner rather than later.
That 2005 cat was of course Perdita, the first cat I’d chosen for myself since Mary in 1984. Perdita was the mother of a new litter that a halfway house in my neighborhood was trying to adopt out, but in addition to the fact that I was already determined to adopt an adult/black/mother cat, as soon as I saw her, I knew she was the one for me. The fact that her she was already named Perdita, which I associated with Isabella Rosselini’s character in Wild at Heart, made it all the more perfect.
Come to think of it, my mother named Mary, and of course Maddy had already named Oscar and Mina. I’ve never named a cat, though if Perdita hadn’t already been named, I would have called her Ezri. Maybe the next one — but even if she comes pre-named, I won’t love her any less. (Or if he’s a boy, for that matter.)
I’ve attempted to re-create the Mary pictures with Perdita as much as she would she would let me. It helps that she’s taken a liking to the table and chairs in my mother’s living room in Fresno, the same ones that Mary is being dwarfed by in the 1984 picture.
It was a little trickier to get Perdita to stay still on the couch in my living room, and persuading her to face the same direction as Mary in the 1998 picture was out of the question. But, still: Look how much cleaner my living room floor is now! (Two syllables: Roomba.) And you can’t quite tell in this picture, but the wallpaper of the computer in my living room is a diagram of the Enterprise.
Something tells me that when I’m in 67 years old, in 2040, I’ll be able to compare pictures of my cats then — space cats, no doubt, because we’ll all be in space in 2040, right? — and see that I’m still a lover of black cats and Star Trek. Though, with any luck, I’ll be in a new apartment by then.