Dear Me When I Used to Have Seven Cats,
I know you didn’t mean for this to happen. The cats were incremental. First the two kittens you actually meant to adopt. Then a year later, the tiny female kitten you found yowling in the alley on the coldest day of the year, the one you loved the most. Two years after that, three kittens from the pregnant barn cat you fostered, which put you at six. And not long before you moved into your house, the alley cat showed up at your apartment. You didn’t want another cat, but he sheltered on your back porch from time to time, exhausted and dirty. It was a safe spot and his sleep was so deep. He’d start awake when you walked out the door on your way to work, purring audibly, and clenching his paws in pleasure when you stroked him. He wasn’t meant to live on his own. Then you saw the mangled body of a cat that looked just like him smeared into the street. Your heart jumped when he showed up alive; you added him to the last load of stuff you took from that apartment.
Five of them named out of books, because why not be that person?
A salute to the moment when you recognized that you must not adopt another cat. That the ones you had were are all you could care for and even that was a stretch. Maybe you thought about it while you were scooping out one of the seven litter boxes in your basement. Like an automaton, you did it twice a day. At any rate, you realized you were basically a butler for cats. That even though you loved every cat, the interactions had become sharp transactional jabs. There, I pet you for the day, pat-pat. Here’s your food, pour. How long before you would have more cats than you could care for? Did you already have more cats than you could care for?
One day a young and hopeful ginger cat wandered up while you were turning on the water in the side yard and you turned away, walked back inside, and shut the door. That was the moment. A sad one for that cat, but a healthy one for you.
When you were a kid, your mom acquired and discarded pets as if they were furniture. Mostly, she found another place for them, but there was a little streak where three pets were taken off to the vet and killed. It was after your sister was born, after you moved back from your dad’s, after your mom married Earl. In hindsight, you can see that she had taken on so much more than she could handle.
One husband. Two kids. Three cats. Two dogs. A house the size of a postage stamp. Something had to give.
The first time it happened while you were gone. It was somewhere around ninth grade; maybe the summer before? You came home from your yearly visit to your aunt. Your oldest cat, Planet (who was around 6), was put down while you were away. Something was wrong with her. Something that was never explained to you or else you forget the explanation. But you will later suspect the death wasn’t necessary. That it was carried out in your absence so you couldn’t beg a reprieve that would have cost money and time.
When you asked why you didn’t get to say goodbye, your Mom told you she did it to spare you, to make it easier. Maybe. Or maybe she was just trying to shut you up, to stifle that hurt in you that flashed in the back bedroom of the house, in sync with everyone else’s pain in that little family of damaged lightning bugs.
When you got the news, you went to your bed to cry. But your mom had arranged a visit from some girl you didn’t know very well. The stepdaughter of one of your stepfather’s friends. Nothing like that had ever happened before because your mom didn’t make plans to comfort you. Usually she’d just buy you something to make up for things that sucked even though she didn’t have very much money, and so many things sucked.
You were so numb that day. Your mother came in to the bedroom to tell you to get up for your visitor. She stood there next to the bed and said how embarrassing it would be if you didn’t make an effort.
You got up. You rode out to Lake Michigan in the backseat of the car with that girl beside you and both of your stepfathers up front. Past Mount Baldy, out to the National Lakeshore. There was a sign explaining that the sand was moving inland, shifting, destroying trees, engulfing houses. You could see half-buried trees rising up out of the sand. They looked like charcoal, is what you remember. Maybe there had been a fire.
At some point after that (probably within a year?), two more of your pets—a dog and a cat with behavioral problems—were dropped off at the vet together to be killed. Your mom came home fuming because the vet’s office treated her like she was doing something wrong. You probably didn’t say anything in support or denial because by that point, you didn’t feel much of anything except a roaring emptiness. The final cat would be given away because of your sister’s allergies. The only pet that weathered the purge was your stepfather’s German shepherd.
So now you have seven cats. It won’t last forever. You’re going to meet a guy soon and he is going to move in with you. You are going to love him, but the two of you will never really work and he will leave. One of the cats will have died by then and the guy will take his dog and two of the cats. Even though you miss all of them, even though you cry on the drive home from work every day for six months, you still sigh with relief at the extra space in your life. Four cats are left. They’re so much easier to cherish.
Don’t ever have that many cats again, okay? And work on that fucking anger. Work on all that wild space inside you. Something is going to grow there.