I have a confession to make.
Things might be different between us after this moment, but I want you to know that I only tell you this because I really care about being honest with you. I want you to see the real me, and accept me for who I am.
I’ve never been a dog person.
I hate barking. I’m repulsed by slobber. I’m petrified that a dog in my care will bite someone and I’ll get sued. I’m cartoonishly resentful that I need to get up to let them poop outside, especially if it’s cold or if they bark at the passersby while they do it.
I’ve often looked into the eyes of our family dog or my roommates’ dogs and said to them, “What do you want from me? Why are you looking at me like that?!”
Cats don’t want anything from you. They mostly just exist near you, occasionally looking for food or head scratches, both of which are easy to provide. They don’t want you to throw a ball, or get the leash out; they’re happy enough to cuddle up on or near you and just be together. And I’m crying right now.
I’m going into true cat withdrawal. Every time I see a picture of a cat, I get weird. Not cooing or fawning, just looking at it and feeling sad and not wanting to stop looking at it. Sometimes my eyes well up and my boyfriend asks whether I need a drink.
In March, I moved in with said boyfriend (he’s really good at making drinks). He’s slightly allergic, but he’d gotten used to the fluff monster that lived at my old apartment, a long-haired ginger named Colonel Mustard.
I had high hopes that we could either adopt C.M. from my roommates or rescue some scruffy outdoor tomcat without my boyfriend sneezing himself into a brain aneurysm. But, as it turns out, our other roommate is super allergic, and she has asthma, so a single sniff of a cat might straight up kill her.
So, no cats in my life for a bit. Haha, no problem! I mean, it’s not like you can get ADDICTED to cats.
My one source of feline comfort is the neighbor’s rangy outdoor cat, Seamus, who seems to think he used to live in our house. If the door is left open even a smidge, he’ll just trot inside and check out what we’ve done with the place, hide under the bed for a bit, and generally test my willpower and willingness to protect my asthmatic roommate from certain death.
I’ll pick up Seamus to get him out of the house, and I can feel something in me snap and my arms tighten around him. CAAAT, a voice deep in the core of my being will sigh. HASSSS CAAAT.
That voice, of course, is the brain parasite Toxoplasma gondii. It’s the reason why pregnant ladies can’t change litter boxes, and possibly the reason why people hoard cats like they’re collectible. I know I must have it, and it doesn’t change a damn thing.
For those of you not yet lucky enough to know, toxoplasmosis is the state of being infected with T. gondii, a parasite that reproduces only in cats. It can be severely dangerous to pregnant women and newborns, but for the majority of the human population it doesn’t pose any real danger.
In rats, being infected with the parasite switches up their neurons to make them seek out and be near cats, a predator they would normally avoid, so that the cats will eat them and restart the parasite’s life cycle.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that toxoplasmosis will make humans want to be near cats, but since the parasite can only reproduce inside of a feline, some researchers agree that it doesn’t seem impossible.
There have also been signs that indicate increased levels of schizophrenia and erratic behavior in people, especially women, who become infected. Jaroslav Flegr, a scientist intimately engaged with T. gondii research, suggests that there are dozens or maybe hundreds of these types of tiny parasites swimming around in our brains, secretly hotwiring our behavior.
If you remember the amazeballs Planet Earth episode about rainforests, you’ve encountered one; Cordyceps, a fungus that takes over the brains of insects, forces them to walk to a high place, then erupts and releases spores to reproduce (killing the host, of course).
None of this knowledge makes me any less inclined to be around cats. I blame my mother for my foolhardiness.
Growing up, we always had a few cats in the house, and my mom always managed to include one black cat in the mix just to keep everyone guessing; the neighborhood kids voted her Most Likely to be a Witch every year.
My mother’s name is Salem, she has waist-length graying hair, grows twisty climbing plants and herbs in the windows, and through a two-part policy of unconditional support and nonstop knitting, she manages to be the best mom in the world.
She usually has a black cat perched on her shoulder, watching her stir a bubbling cauldron of organic lentil soup. She went from Schwarz to Dirt to her current cat, Waldo, each wilder and bringing home more dead animals than the last. (Cats that hunt outdoors are particularly likely to pick up the parasite, just FYI.)
Mom taught me that cats agree to live with you, but can’t be controlled or managed. They are half-wild, which is why it’s such a miracle when they come in from the night and get cozy on your bedspread. A dog is a pet, and a good one for the right kind of person; but a cat makes choices, and despite not needing you, it chooses a home with you.
I’m starting to have anxiety dreams in which a cat is hurt and I can’t help it. Late at night, I think about how people used to drown kittens in sacks and get more and more distressed until I wake my boyfriend up to hug me.
When it rains, I think about all the poor homeless kittens and cats stuck in the storm. There are actual human beings starving to death in a boat off the coast of Thailand right now, but my thoughts keep straying to strays.
I’ve made my sister’s cat, Spoons, my phone background, even though she’s arguably not really a cat—more like some kind of scary weasel—and she once pooped right next to my sleeping head. I love that damn catlike creature.
Despite all of this love, I’ve never actually owned a cat of my own. There was the kitten my parents got me when I was a kid, which I named after my American Girl Doll’s horse (I had Felicity), but that hardly counts. I wasn’t exactly buying food for it or paying the vet bills, which became sizable when dumbass Penny ate some beef jerky and had to get her intestines untangled.
Other than the six or so my family had growing up, I’ve always relied on the cats of others. I did have to clean out a horrifying litter box after my deadbeat roommate left it for weeks (it was up the walls!!!), but that hardly conferred ownership of her cat to me, though sometimes I wish I’d catnapped him.
It’s possible that my desire for a pet cat is actually sublimated desire for the comforts of home and my mom, who is currently over 700 miles away. For now, I’ll have to be sated with my illicit cuddles with Seamus and endless streams of Internet cat pictures.
What else do you do to combat the pain of catlessness, fellow toxoplasmosis lonelyhearts? Also, what’s the best cat name you ever heard? Mine is Pancakes.