For as long as I can remember, my family has had cats. Mama said she’d had a dog, Wallace, when she was a girl, but other than that, cats.
Theresa was our first cat. I don’t remember much about her, but I do remember that she was gray and white, and had at least one set of kittens. What I remember most about Theresa (and I have no idea why we named her Theresa), was her death. I think I was about eight and my sister Angie maybe six and a half when Theresa died. It was a balmy summer morning when dad went out to cut the grass. I remember him grumbling about someone throwing newspaper in our yard, and then a gasp. “Get back in the house!” he yelled, as we had peeked outside to see what he was fussing about. As it turns out, it wasn’t newspaper at all, but our poor mangled cat.
“Looks like a dog got her.”
My sister and I immediately started to cry and we begged dad to give her a proper funeral. I don’t think we’d actually attended one at this point, but we knew that when someone died, there had to be a funeral. Dad sighed and got the shovel, how could he tell us no?
He dug a hole and buried Theresa in the backyard, and it was years before we got another cat.
Our next cat was a stray, whom we promptly named Kitty. She was white with blue eyes, and showed up in our driveway around the time I was 13 or 14. By this time we had moved from our all-Black neighborhood to a more diverse area not too far away. Kitty was a mess; she was dirty, hungry, and had a bit of a limp. Clearly, it was our job to nurse her back to health, which is exactly what we did. We talked dad into buying her cat food, but he wouldn’t let us bring her in the house. “I don’t know where that cat’s been,” he said. We didn’t either, but we didn’t care. We were just happy to have another cat. We bathed her, fed her, and even got her a collar. But Kitty was disloyal, as soon as she was well, she slunk off into the night, never to be seen again. We were heartbroken, pitiful even. So when two kittens appeared on our doorstep (literally, we left for school one morning and they were out there), dad let us keep them.
We named the kittens Calvin and Hobbes after the cartoon characters. Calvin was mine, she was a gorgeous tortoiseshell, black, orange, and cream. Angie claimed Hobbes, who was gray and white. We lived in feline bliss for several years, and then tragedy struck. Angie and I had taken our first trip away from home alone, a weekender to a conference. The first evening we were away, we got a call at the hotel from my dad (no cell phones back then).
“I’ve got some bad news.”
I immediately think that one of my grandparents had passed away, but no, dad said, Hobbes is dead.
“What?” I screamed, “How did this happen?” Angie’s eyes were already bright with tears, even though she didn’t yet know what had happened.
“She got out,” Dad said calmly. I knew then that mama had let the cat out. We’d given her explicit instructions about keeping Hobbes in the house before we left. You see, Hobbes was a runner. If a door opened, she’d run through it. Calvin would sometimes try to get out, but if you called her name, she’d come right back. Hobbes knew her name, but cared not one whit about Angie’s claim on her life. There was also a small hole in the back door screen. Hobbes was not above squeezing through it if someone opened the interior door. Angie and I had gotten pretty good at making sure she didn’t get out, but mama wasn’t as careful. I sighed and hung up the phone.
“Mama killed Hobbes.”
“What?” Angie was confused.
“Well, she didn’t really kill her, but she let her get out. Dad said a neighbor lady knocked on the door and she said she thought she’d hit our cat. She tried to save her, but it was too late. Dad said she was really upset about it too.”
“We told mama to watch her!”
“Did he bury her?”
“I don’t think so.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that dad had just put her in a bag and put her in the trash. I don’t think we’ve forgiven him for that yet. I’m pretty sure we haven’t forgiven mama either.
Calvin hung in there with us until I moved away, and then she mysteriously disappeared from my parent’s house. I didn’t get another cat for nearly fifteen years.
By the time I got my next cat, I had gotten married, had a kid, gotten divorced, come out as lesbian, and bought a house. My daughter (then around eleven or twelve) decided she wanted a cat. I didn’t, remembering the trauma of cats past, so I held out as long as I could. But how could I continue to deny her the joy of cuddly kitten? Or of an adult cat who would gleefully ignore her on a daily basis? I could not, so I traipsed down to the local humane society and adopted the cutest cat they had. She had been a preemie, they said, so she was a little needy. “No problem,” I declared, fully confident in my abilities to handle whatever this cat threw at me.
A week later, I took her back. We had named her Sugar, because she was so sweet (I know, I know). But Sugar had a problem, and it wasn’t that she was needy, it was that she couldn’t control her bowels. She pooped everywhere. On my new hardwood floors, on the carpet, on my bed. The bed was the last straw. Sugar had to go. My daughter was upset, but I promised her we’d get another cat, someday.
Dusty was next. He had been a “gift” from a trifling girlfriend, who’d thought she could get in good with the kid by getting her a cat. It didn’t work; the kid never warmed to her. The fact that she got the cat without my permission was also a problem, but I let it go, (although I did get rid of the trifling girlfriend, but that’s a story for another day). Dusty was the first male cat we’d had, and for a while, everything was fine. But Dusty had come from one of the ex-girlfriend’s friends, so he hadn’t been neutered or had any shots. We’d taken him to the vet for the shots, but passed on the neutering. Big mistake, since Dusty eventually started to spray. And by spray I mean marking his territory with urine all over the house. Needless to say, Dusty became an outside cat. He eventually wandered off and never came back.
In 2005, I decided that I was ready for a cat. Me and the kid went to the humane society to pick one out, and chose a fuzzy Maine Coon mix. We named her Punkin. She’s been with us for nearly twelve years now, and she lives in Georgia with my daughter and parents.
When I went off to grad school in 2009, my daughter decided that I needed a cat of my own. I was a bit reluctant; I was perfectly fine by myself. My daughter came to visit in 2010 and talked me into going to the PetSmart, where the local humane society had set up an adoption center. “Fine,” I said, “let’s see if we can find a kitten.” They didn’t have any cute kittens, but they did have a very friendly one-year-old orange tabby, who kept pawing at me through her cage. I didn’t choose the cat, she chose me, so we adopted her. I decided to name her Mango, (I know!) and she’s been my road cat for the past six and a half years. If we’re friends on Facebook or you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen her, throwing shade at my writing, or serving face from her perch on the stairs. I’m a better cat parent than I was in years past, and Mango and Punkin are part of the family. Even my parents have gotten in on the cat action, taking photos and claiming that Mango loves them more than she does me. I doubt it.
When I think about it now, it probably took the death of Fluffy, my sister’s cat, to remind me how much I value the company of my feline familiar. I honestly can’t imagine my life without her, and I know that my daughter feels the same way about Punkin.