Good morning, Rocky. I wish I could take you on our walk; you are too grand a beast to stay behind windows so often, fermenting in sunbeams. Tonight when traffic dies down I'll let you out for a while to gallop sideways through the yard and spaz out halfway up a telephone pole. And to hunt rats with the alley cats who come calling for you all the time, even though you're sissy enough to come running when your mama calls.
And no, I am not falling for your wily mask of big-eyed innocence, my friend. You are sloppy drunk on high proof early morning sunshine, hoping to lure my hand in for an attack that makes retreat a fishhook's bite. You have sharp, long claws in each of your furry fists, and my hands have been a scabby, lined mess since you moved in four years ago. I can't resist your giant furry belly when it seems you're revealing inner kitten to me, and I reach out like moth to flame, "here fishy, fishy" to great white.
You can't help it when your switch flips from kitty to crazed feline Freddy Krueger. I can tell. I can relate. The urge to destroy just overtakes you in a low, confused yowl, and you are compelled to start shredding the limb in your midst. Sometimes, just when a relationship is going well, I pick a fight, myself. Or shred the other guy with intellectual barbed wire hidden in my heart.
I met you in the vet's waiting room the day I took my mom to put her cat to sleep. There were four or five other cats in the waiting room that day. Like you, they were stacked in cages, like last-minute produce needing a buyer before rot sets in.
You were different.
From your cage to the left of my head, you ignored me with magisterial composure while I waited for my mom to return with empty cat carrier. "Kitty, kitty." I reached toward your cage in a groupie's fervor to connect and you hissed at me like Satan and made motions to take my life. Immediately, I was embarrassed and recognized my error: you were nobody's "kitty." This tomboy should have known better. I saw you clearly then: a king in a box, a jungle's worth of pride held together in a rock-hard package of muscle, ready to go.
"What's this cat's story," I asked.
"A couple adopted him two years ago," she said, "and brought him back last week. They said he's 'just not a pet.'"
Just not a pet?
I looked at you again and knew they'd had a point. I also knew your plight struck a chord -- hadn't I spent decades trying to cram myself into tiny molds that didn't quite contain who I was? You deserved to live out your life as the more-than-pet animal you are, just as you are, and I took you home.
Indeed, you were decidedly un-pet-like. At first.
For three months you lurked in the basement before wresting the upper hand from Riley, our littler-than-you Terrier, who hates how you flop to roadblock her when you're bored. Six months later, you figured out how to open the front door, and gifted me with a live mouse upon your return. And somewhere along the way, you matched your ferocious attacks with equally passionate love-sessions, smashing your fanged mouth against my cheek and rolling around like an elephant on my chest. Being ignored frees you up to love. We have so much in common.
You were a boarder in my house, and then a buddy -- but still an ancillary cat until we had to put Bub, my friend of fourteen years, to sleep last year. You're a good cat, Rocky. So what if you've redefined the idea of "pet?" I can respect your boundaries when the crazies overtake you after stabs at vulnerability; I don't imagine they're all that different than my own forms of lashing out when life reaches in too close to my own underbelly.
I'll be back from my walk pretty soon, pal; home to this safe place for aggressively guarded softies like me and you.