I was never the kid who said, “Ooh, look at the pretty kitty.” I'm sure the stray cat tripping my mom and sending her to the ground as she threw food scraps in the woods had something to do with it. The cat may as well have hissed and scratched me on the cheek because I still tossed him and all his relatives into the scary, sneaky, and evil categories.
And I maintained a safe distance. Until I made friends with cat lovers.
Years ago, my coworker invited me to her daughter's first birthday party. Her family was vegan, and she had introduced me –- the habitual medium steak-eater –- to an awesome vegan restaurant near our job. That restaurant was catering the party, so I looked forward to my new-found favorite salad, the entrees, and desserts.
As I sat on the couch eating my fake General Tso's chicken, I felt something move along my calf. I looked further down to find what I can only describe as a juvenile mountain lion at my foot. A second one was chilling on the dining room table. With the food!
I gasped. Doesn't he walk around outside? And even if someone had tried to calm me down with that cats-are-clean nonsense, I still didn't want his DNA on my vegetables, spelt, and seitan. What if I mistook cat hair for baby corn silk or something?
I remained in awe as he zigzagged between those platters like he was walking around a maze searching for deer meat (and whatever else mountain lions dine on) at the end.
I looked at my coworker, who was standing adjacent to the table, but she was laughing with her other guests. So I looked at another colleague with my do-you-see-this-shit face, but either she was afraid to make eye contact or she was fine with Snagglepuss making his way through all those tasty dishes.
I watched Snagglepuss as he paused and looked around. I peeked back down at the second lion nearby. I needed to ensure it was safe for me to get up because I be damned if I suffered my mother's fate. Then I turned my eyes back to my plate. It sure was good, but I was instantly full.
I wish I knew if the sweet potato cheesecake was just as delectable.
I never returned to the mountain lions' condo where my coworker and her family were merely tenants. And when I saw my colleague pull a random strand out of a salad at work weeks later and exclaim, “Oh, cat hair,” I figured she really doesn't want any more visitors. But she didn't have to worry about sending me any hints.
I later learned that cat-lovers are oblivious to certain things, though.
I met my cousin, who was visiting from California, at another relative's home in Maryland one evening after work. Since it was a Friday, our Maryland family member didn't cook dinner; instead she laid out a spread of dishes from a local Chinese restaurant.
Unfortunately for me, I got stuck in DC rush hour traffic, and by the time I arrived the food was already on the table. The next 30 minutes are so familiar. I remember returning to the living room sofa with my plate of beef and broccoli, and perhaps shrimp and vegetables. I see movement out my left eye and a damn cat on the table.
At that point, I was probably less surprised about the cat playing around the food and no one batting an eye and more shocked the relative actually owned a cat. When did this happen? Aren't you related to us? We don't do cats! Wait, is an urban cat different from a rural one or something? Or, are urban parents different from rural parents?
Where I'm from, and what I was taught was, animals with four legs didn't belong in the house. The elders always associated dogs and cats with ticks and fleas. And subconsciously, I do, too. I once left a cat-owner's home and swore my skin was itchy for two days because of her damn pet. I also spent those two days checking my skin for crawlers because what else could've been the culprit?
Probably my imagination.
But cats were especially forbidden from the home because they always look like they're ready to attack. And they jump in spots where they shouldn't. Like counter tops, sinks, and tables. Like the mountain lion. And this cat, too.
But instead of outwardly freaking out and running out, I managed to appear calm. The cat pawed the plate? No problem. He licked his paw right before? Cool. All's normal.
Just like the man I saw outside my apartment complex who carried his yellow feline over his shoulder the way a parent would burp a newborn. Okay, actually, that was some strange shit. I'd never seen anything like it. And he walked in slow motion at that. I wanted to scream, “Man it's a cat!”
I just don't get the fascination with the little creatures. First I read about a freakin' app to stalk them. Then I found out Friday, August 8, was World Cat Day. A holiday, too? Y'all doing too much, Cat Lovers.
And now, suddenly, my four-year-old cousin is breaking the cycle by wanting a pet kitty cat. For several weeks, she's spotted this stray black-and-white kitten darting across the back yard. Admittedly, he's cute. But he's too swift to catch, thank goodness. We've gifted her with an aquarium full of guppies because, well, they don't have any legs.
We hope that will distract her in the meantime, but as much as her elders may not be too fond of cats, we don't want to instil the same dislike and fear in her. Still, I have a feeling she may have to learn that the only cat welcomed in the house is Hello Kitty.
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