I. When I was a young child I adored cats, perhaps because you could hold them the way you couldn't hold a dog, or maybe just because they were exotic since we didn't have one. I recall chasing my neighbors' black outdoor cat and trying to hold her and pet her. When the neighbors adopted her they let me name her. I named her Frances. The neighbors' daughters did not seem pleased with this choice.
II. At this exact same time the musical "Cats" was en vogue. My parents even took us to see it but beforehand bought a tape of the soundtrack which I played and performed interpretive dances to on the sun porch. "Memory" was huge, of course.
II a. I don't remember much about the musical, aside from my parents commenting with surprise and some judgment that the actors performed to pre-recorded music. I do remember how much the musical embodied the '80's in a way that I loved, from the leotards to the legwarmers.
III. Some other neighbors eventually hired me to catsit for them while they were gone. This was when I started to sneeze a little bit whenever I hung out with the cat.
IV. Flash-forward to college. My friend Sarah, who was a little bit older than I was and lived in the coolest most grown-up apartment of anyone I knew, invited me over for a sleepover. She had two cats that were cuddly and lovable. Despite her attempts to medicate me with homeopathic remedies, by the time I went to sleep on her futon it felt like my eyeballs were covered with hair and trying to jump out my face. I was acutely aware of the presence of my sinuses. Sarah commented, "I never believed until now that people were ever actually allergic to cats but you really do seem allergic."
V. I fell in love with Steve, a man who owned two cats. Before he moved to Chicago full time he spent one summer in a tiny studio apartment in Lakeview in a building that was described by its landlord as a "former flophouse." I slept over one night. It was hot and uncomfortable and just when I fell asleep one of his cats jumped on me. I left at 5 in the morning and only came back during the daytime.
VI. The cats had their good points. When you used the bathroom, the black one stuck her paw under the door in what originally seemed like an amusing way (before I started to find it stalkerish and possessive) and the white one was enormously fat and free of dignity. When we moved in together we agreed to keep the majority of the living space cat-free. I got weekly shots for my allergies. I felt pretty good as long as I didn't pet the cats with my hands. I instead scratched them with pencils or rubbed them with my feet.
VII. I learned a few things about cats that I didn't know until I lived with them. One is that they eat their own hair and then vomit it up and that's just something they do that apparently cat owners are fine with. The other is that cat urine is the worst smell in the world.
VIII. The white cat ceased urinating in her cat box and instead found hidden corners of the basement in which to pee and sometimes not hidden corners, either: just anything she could pee on, she would. We threw away a lot of stuff, from camping tents to beach chairs, which were tainted with old cat urine. We took to building makeshift barricades in the basement to keep her away from the things down there that we did not want urinated on (which was everything.)
IX. I would complain about this situation on Facebook and one particular woman would opine that the cats seemed unloved and possibly abused. This sent me up the wall because not only were we redecorating our house according to the proclivities of the cat's pissing preferences, cats can't read Facebook. And even if they did, I wouldn't care anyway about their feelings. By this point this situation summed up, to me, everything I hate about cats: that they trick people and enslave their minds, brainwashing you into thinking that you not only should accept a cat ruining your home, you should like it.
X. We moved into our current house, which is a nice house, that, unlike the old townhouse, has very few uncarpeted zones. By that point, when I was pregnant with my second child, I had stopped getting the shots and also stopped trying to pretend that I had it in me to care much for any pet, let alone one that was ruining my house. Steve's parents kindly drove from Arizona to Chicago and carted the cats off to live at their house where they, among their many other cats, were much more beloved than they were here. It was an elegant, guilt-free solution.
X a. Steve and I agreed that we plan on never living with a cat again.
X b. We had a tense moment a few weeks ago when a feral kitten stuck out in the rain seemed to threaten this plan but fortunately for our marriage it was too skittish and ran away before Steve could capture it and do whatever he thought he could do for it.
XI. The musical "Cats" is back. Yesterday I read this New York Times article about the strong feelings, for and against, that has inspired over the decades. I have nothing against the musical itself and if my kids wanted to see it badly I'd be up for taking them. But my feelings about cats the animals have tainted my feelings towards "Cats" the musical. The sensuality and playfulness of the costumes and choreography that I so loved as a kid, when cats were exotic and foreign to me, seems at odds with what I know about cats now. The cats in "Cats" do not deserve slimfitting leotards and legwarmers and cool makeup. If they wore stained rugs and had clots of litter dotting their butts instead, that would seem more apt.