Brand building through storytelling

Cats of my life

My son Ben is almost 36, but sometimes he still asks me for a story—a true one, or as close to the truth as I can remember.

Remembering the past, his and ours, is a big part of what I still do as a mother. I remember what Ben chanted in the car on our first family vacation, and where we were living when thieves stole five cans of apple juice while leaving a fine bottle of Burgundy untouched on the kitchen counter, and the last-minute gift he brought home one mother’s day (tulips, stolen late at night from somebody’s garden).

So of course I should remember every cat we ever owned. One cat in particular. “He leaked poo,” Ben said, “and he had three legs. Tell me about him.”

I’ll never forget the cat who leaked poo. A black and white scamp called Paddington, he was adorable in every way except the trail of turds he used to leave behind. And by God, he had four legs. “I can’t say all our cats had the normal number of feline brain cells,” I told my son. “I will say they all had the normal number of legs.”

Ben gave a triumphant snort. “I knew you were going to say that!”

Just because he’s known me all his life, he thinks he can predict my turns of phrase. And he’s usually right. What he doesn’t yet know is how well I remember all the cats of my life, going back to earliest childhood. And why not? I’ve had more cats than I’ve had lovers. I’ve buried more cats—so far—than I have friends and family. No one else living can name them all:

Chris, my first friend, who scratched my cheek and left a scar that used to be prominent but now looks just like all the other little lines in my face;

Chris the Second, who was supposed to cheer me up when the first one died, but who instead taught me that you can’t replace a friend;

Chris the Third, who thrilled me by having kittens, the smallest of which could not compete for a nipple and died within days;

Jingle, whom I forced into a doll’s dress and bonnet while my mother wasn’t looking;

Katie, whose leg was broken by a speeding car, and who then found the strength to climb a wisteria vine to an upstairs window, where she clawed for help and became, from that day forward, a family hero;

Bengal, born to Katie in the basement closet, whose fetching kittenhood I recorded with a Brownie camera and a slew of rhapsodic diary entries;

Dudley, the first cat of my married life, whom Ben so adored that his first word was “cat;”

Masha, named for a mournful character I was playing in a campus production of “The Seagull,” who lived up to her moniker with a constant meow of complaint that drove me wild because I too was a sad sack then;

Sam, who could leap at a ball of foil on the end of a string like no other kitten I’ve known, and who was killed by a car before he grew up;

Freya, named for the Norse goddess of love during Ben’s grade school unit on mythology, the cat who nearly choked to death on a salmon bone because I thought she might enjoy the remains of our dinner;

Casey, who never learned to hold his own in a catfight (and had the torn ear to prove it) but who always came running when we humans spoke his name, and who, when his hearing failed in old age, would do his best to run when we happened to mention Kevin Spacey or Spencer Tracy.

With cats I have expressed every facet of my character. I have been childishly loyal, weeping on my first Ferris wheel because Chris the First could not be with me to admire the fairground from above.

I have also been heartless. In the last anxious days of my pregnancy, I became so enraged by Masha’s crabbiness that I impulsively decided our one-bedroom apartment couldn’t possibly hold both a whiny cat and a crying baby. So I bundled Masha into a cab (a rare extravagance) and abandoned her at the Humane Society, knowing she would never be adopted.

The volunteer at the desk took a dim view of this, and he was not the only one. When my husband heard what I’d done, he called me a “cat killer.” Fair enough. I thought it was Masha who had to go, when what I really hated was the seething negativity in myself.

Still, it’s not as if cats haven’t touched my tender side. Long after Casey’s death at age 17, a tuft of his ginger fur turned up in a bedroom closet where he must have curled up in search of a little privacy.

By that time we had neither a child nor a cat in the house, and we liked it that way. But when my husband looked at me with Casey’s fur in his hand, we both felt a shiver of sorrow.

Someday Ben may ask me which cat pulled a package of veal cutlets from the bottom of a jam-packed shopping cart that I’d briefly left unattended. It was Casey, of course. He ripped the paper open, that clever little guy, and carried the cutlets to a hidey-hole in the basement, where they later turned up with a generous coating of dust. And I loved him for it.


Posted by Rona

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