(from my working draft of Just Another Crazy Cat Lady Story — look for the shiny new ebook in April on Amazon!)
Growing up in the typical suburban nightmare, a fat orange cat named Morris saved me. He was the keeper of secrets, a harbor in the face of my father’s wrath and constant amusement when he wasn’t scratching my arms in annoyance. Morris was my bud. And yes, he looked just like the cat from the commercial.
It didn’t matter what perfect Christian family we projected to the world. Morris knew the real deal behind closed doors. He was the one place where we could privately rest and open our wounded hearts, so guarded against each other. He was the one we showered our love upon without remorse.
God love those big, orange tabby boys. They just plop around demanding love, attention, combing, feedings and anything else they can manipulate their paws around. I learned from the best: my mother. She constantly coddled Morris, who played her like a smooth-hand Luke. Didn’t like the food? She’d open another. Turn his nose up at bacon grease? She’d crack a can of tuna. There was always fresh water and food every morning and night with a spotless mat under the beige rotary phone hanging from the kitchen wall.
Word must have gotten out because injured birds, starving cats, lost kittens all found their way to our backyard. Mom was constantly on the phone with the local animal shelter as I held up the latest scruffy cat or maggot-filled robin. I wanted to keep every one as Mom tried to explain to my young mind how impractical that would be. From that frustration grew a desire to be a vet and I absorbed every volume of James’ Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small series.
Morris was enough for a family breaking under our perfectly stitched seams. Mom lavished every emotion she couldn’t show her children, every touch she withheld from her angry husband, on Morris. He was her world – and it’s no wonder he stuck around until 17.
Now it seems that another orange kitten – who expands to a floor-scraping whomp – comes into my life after college to do the same. Maybe he will help carry me to a safe place that I can’t see in the devastated landscape of my 20s.
It doesn’t matter what I project out; what strength, anger or arrogance. I’m a walking mess of unfulfilled dreams and a body on constant red alert. I watch with every crumbling relationship my rageful father rise in my mind. I don’t know how to stop it, so I run. And run. And run.
The escape isn’t in drink or drugs. How boring. How weak. My oldest brother, paralyzed by addiction, is my cautionary tale. No one would control me. No substance, no parent, no god, no woman.
It’s the road that beckons. It’s every cheesy Allman Brothers or Eagles song, minus redneck bars and willing one-night stands. Had some of each and more than a few crappy hotel rooms – but what remains is an anxious and persistent hunger, despite all the promises of an endless highway.