Last August, I made a Bold Decision. I bought two kittens; I named the sisters Martha and Dorothy.
Martha has a statement Gorbachev-style mole marked out in glossy black fur and Dot can’t meow –- she squeaks. My friends were unimpressed.
Although a few feigned interest as the tiny idiots gamboled across the lounge and gnawed on the occasional dead bluebottle languishing on the windowsill, their eyes were glazed with a look of skepticism that betrayed their we’re-happy-for-you spiel.
The "look" was one of sympathy, sympathy laced with condescension. Because, in their eyes, behind the furry facade of these cute, Christmas-card-ready bastards lay a deeper issue. Unknown to me, I wasn’t just catching the 6:17pm train to Edmonton Green to pick up two cats that day. Oh, no. My pilgrimage was indicative of something more profound: a symbolic act of loneliness, dissatisfaction and resignation. My friend Sarah hit the normative nail on the head: "Well, you have been single for over a year now."
From the moment I set the travel carrier down back at home, I ceased to be Just Georgie. I was Georgie the Cat Lady.
It’s amazing what a difference a simple synonym can make. While "Catwoman" sums up mental images of a PVC-clad superhero sexpot, switch the latter component for "lady" and you’ve got yourself an entirely different breed of female.
General consensus dictates we are unkempt, unhinged; our hair is matted into a dandruff-flecked thicket, our breasts pendulous and unsupported. We are seldom seen out of ill-fitting leggings and fleece jackets. (Possibly with a cat pattern on it. Definitely covered in cat hair.) We’re empty and depressed; we pop Happy Pills with the same regularity we administer catnip to our furry (read: only) friends. We are physically unappealing and mentally unbalanced.
Naturally, as a single woman in my mid-twenties, the occasional jest is inevitable: early escapes from mid-week pub sessions are often met with a gleeful, "Got to get back to feed the BABIES, eh?" However, I did recently put my foot (and the phone) down during a conversation with my father when he asked how his "grandchildren" were doing. It was a step too far.
Because the perceived role of cats as single-woman-baby-substitutes is a FALLACY.
I’m 26. My cats are not baby substitutes. I haven’t "missed" the maternal boat and chucked a cat into the domestic mix as an afterthought. I’m not lonely, I’m not devoid of sex-having and I’m sure that one day I will have children. What really gets to me is the idea that single women have had to RESORT to cat ownership in order to experience some semblance of maternal adoration. The insinuation is that we’ve displaced our affections because we can’t convince a man to impregnate us.
Or, as a male friend put it recently while we were hanging out at his flat, "Every girl I’ve ever known who has cats has been sexually weird."
In actuality, this sweeping generalization amounts to just two case studies. The first was a reporter who had just broken up with the boyfriend she’d been living with in perfect, cat-owning bliss (until he dumped her, that is).
Wide-eyed from the cheap E she’d necked, she met my friend at a rave and went back to his hotel room. Oversexed and dehydrated, her frequent visits to the kitchen to down pints of water kept scuppering The Act. The mood died once and for all when, bladder full, eyes boggling, she mistook the double doors onto the balcony for the bathroom and ended up peeing off the edge. Embarrassed and envisaging a mighty comedown, she absented herself after a brief sleep, mumbling that she had to get home to feed the cats.
The second case is far more vanilla: a girl with two cats and a penchant for whippet-thin boys wearing obscure band T-shirts slashed to the waist and too much eyeliner. Men who would never treat her right, who would use her, bleed her bank account dry and leave her broken hearted. Feeling betrayed, jaded, she not only rebuffed his advances, but bought two furry companions to distract herself from Men in General.
Although I recognize my friend’s argument forced the point beyond any natural conclusion, his conviction really irritated me.
Throughout my childhood, our family home was a veritable menagerie -– from bunnies to budgies, we had the lot. With the exception of university houses, I’ve never not had a cat prowling the place. For me, they’re part of the background furniture, like having the TV on when you’re flicking through the paper or choosing the warm glow of table lamps over the harsh ceiling strip-light. They add a feeling of "home" that you don’t appreciate until it’s not there.
I do not cry into their fur at night about my single-woman status. I do not dress them up in bonnets.
There is some truth to the joke about me having cats instead of a boyfriend. It’s just now, with a string of shit exes in my wake, I’m far pickier about who I date. I don’t have time for people or relationships I know won’t come to anything. I’m selfish with my time because I just don’t have enough of it.
Must dash now; it’s feeding time.