Cats · dogs · On Writing

Another Road, Taken

Try another way:

Happy, healthy, loved, loving

The simplest, hard thing

 

I want to be a dog in my next life.

How wonderful to race into ocean, chase the tennis ball again and again, filthy and stinking with sand muck? Delicious food in my bowl, friends to sniff and play, deer to chase?

I came to dogs later in life. My family always had cats when I was growing up, probably because they were self-sufficient, opinionated, lovable and loving companions.

In a single, action-packed month, I turned seven, made my first holy communion (following a first confession of mild, make-believe misdeeds*), celebrated my birthday in a fantastic pink chiffon party dress in a full-on birthday romp with my friends, and was given a kitten. While I was assured that I could choose my own kitten, my parents brought home a different one from the cutie that I’d picked out at the old lady house swarming with dozens of cats.

No matter. This was the way of things with my parents. They explained that the sweet, timid kitten that I chose was a runt and likely to die. Kid swiftly, I zoomed past their betrayal to the cute kitten that I did have. After playing with a tin foil ball, chasing him under the furniture, and showing him off to everyone, I was excited to spend the night with him, tucked in my cozy twin bed in the room that I shared with my sister.

The night started badly. I rubbed his tiny soft head. A death rattle vibrated from deep inside him. My kitten was sick and he was going to die. Tears drenched my pillow. I lay there heartbroken, scratching behind his ears, hoping he wouldn’t die on our first night.

That’s as far as I got. It never occurred to me to get out of my bed and tell my parents about the dying kitten. I couldn’t think past his looming death — to the morning when I’d wake to his dead little kitten body beside my head on my beloved pillow.

He didn’t die. Of course he didn’t. No one told me about cats and happy purring, so I fell asleep sobbing quietly over my dying kitten, the two of us snug and safe in that cozy twin bed in the room that I shared with my sister.

He was the first in a series of family cats — several others followed, one cat at a time, following a suitable period of mourning for the previous, dearly departed cat.

A cat sat on my lap while I worked late into the night in grad school and when I freelanced to pay tuition and bills. One zealous cat appraised my dates, sitting on the ones who didn’t like cats (convincing us that she took pleasure in shooting out cat hair onto the allergic and afraid). Aloof cats baffled my children, so eager to admire, pat, and play with the soft, fluffy animal, not understanding why grandpa’s kitty cat jumped high on the mantle where they couldn’t reach.

I am living with my first dog now. He joined our family twelve years ago in response to a child’s most heartfelt desire. His heart is loyal and strong, his companionship stalwart and warm, our joy in one another total and unshakeable (although severely challenged by night terrors that send him roaming through the house yearning for one of his humans to turn on lights and stay with him until he falls asleep).

I can do loyal heart, warm companionship, and unshakeable joy. What’s more, I am sure that I could go full-on beach romp and splash, ball chasing, and tail wagging.

Living with a dog never crossed my mind until I did live with one. I am head over heels, tongue-dragging, tail-wagging enthusiastic. I will make a terrific dog. And I’ll be very nice to cats, just because it will drive them nuts.

***********

*I still remember hushed, excruciating, wondering conferences with my second-grade friends, calculating the best balance of false crimes and misdemeanors that would yield quick penance so you could run outside, pure, holy, and ready to play ball. You didn’t want to be too blithe about it, nor did you want to go to hell. The story had to hit an elusive sweet spot. Here was the genesis of my career in marketing, new product development, and writing….

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