Allow me to interrupt our regularly scheduled program of doom, gloom, and apocalyptic hysteria to tell y’all about my new kitten.
Last week, our family took advantage of Palmetto Animal League’s ‘Pick Me, SC’ free adoption week and brought home the cutest little gray-and-white ball of fluff you’ve ever laid eyes on.
We’d recently lost our elderly cat Frodo, who departed this world after 17-plus years of gentle, dignified companionship. Frodo left behind a spirited four-year-old adopted sibling, Gilbert, who seemed bereft and lonely in his absence. This new kitten was for Gilbert.
Of course we named him Sullivan.
“Sully” immediately captured the hearts of everybody in the house – except Gilbert. There’ve been growls, hisses and even a few snarly tussles. But we expected as much. Gilbert may be Top Dog now – so to speak – but he was once the annoying little brother, nipping at Frodo’s heels and taunting him into tantrums. Soon the obligatory hissy fits will subside, and Gilbert will come around.
Because Sully is irresistible.
“He’s kind of the thing that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning,” says our daughter Amelia, recently home from two months in Europe, deeply bored, and basically killing time ‘til she can go back to Clemson. Thanks to Sully, I’m seeing her face well before noon every day. It’s a minor miracle.
Even my big strong husband is kitten smitten. Is there any more winsome sight than a manly man with a wee, fluffy feline on his shoulder?
Jeff loves cats of all ages, shapes, and sizes. He insists that we always have one in the house, and preferably two.
“I like having two cats because it makes both cats more companionable,” he says. “And the reason I like cats in general – besides the fact that they’re low maintenance – is that they’re completely in the moment. Everything is brand new to a cat, all the time. They’re very Zen.”
Though I always need more Zen in my life, I’m a little less philosophical about this kitten, and a little more practical. For me, he’s a desperately needed distraction. A delightful diversion. A light-hearted creature to cuddle and care for in a darkening world spinning out of control.
I remember feeling roughly the same way about my daughter, who made her debut almost 21 years ago, six weeks before 9/11. After the Twin Towers fell, I remember thanking God for this utterly dependent little being who kept me from despair by the sheer force of her neediness and adorability.
But the despair that threatened to engulf me then was nothing like the menacing cloud hanging over me now, whenever I read, write, or even think about our country. Back then, after all, we still felt like a country – even more than usual, perhaps, as we all pulled together against a common threat. Now, from where I sit – and that’s usually at a computer – it seems our only common threat is our mutual hatred.
And I’m just a mess about it. Last night, sitting on our office porch with friends, watching the opening ceremony of Water Festival, I found myself weeping during the singing of the National Anthem. And not in a good way.
The phrase that sent me over the edge? “At the twilight’s last gleaming.” Make of that what you will.
(And no, I had not had that much wine.)
Easing an existential burden of such magnitude is a lot to ask of a kitten, isn’t it? But I’ll be damned if Sully isn’t rising to the task.
I’ll be sitting at my computer, for instance, fretting over a Facebook discussion thread in which the commenters, all claiming to be “Americans,” clearly exist in two distinct – and very different – universes. I gnash my teeth and scratch my head and fumble to respond – which I ultimately don’t, because there’s no use – and wonder what, oh what, will become of us.
Then suddenly – Sully. Out of nowhere, he’s shimmied up my sweat pant leg, scampered up my tee-shirt, and is pushing his fuzzy head into my neck, purring. And I’m undone. Happy, in spite of myself.
Or I’m on the sofa, watching cable news, cursing at the TV screen . . . when suddenly, Sully. He’s snuck up behind me on the back of the couch, his paws are in my hair, and he’s trying to climb my head. Trust me, it’s funnier than it sounds.
Or it’s 3 am and I’m jolted awake by a growly, hissy turf war over slumber space on my chest. Frankly, I prefer Sully’s 1-2 pound presence over Gilbert’s full-grown tonnage, but I’m like a young mother just home from the hospital with a new baby, trying to reassure her first-born that Mommy Still Loves You. It’s delicate.
Perhaps this is not the most pleasant illustration of my point, and yet, again, I’m blessedly distracted. And too exhausted in the morning to pay much attention to whatever the news cycle’s throwing my way.
I’ve been comparing Sully to a newborn baby, but at 3.5 months, he’s more like a toddler. Remember what it’s like to have a toddler around? There’s a reason you “child-proof” your house, and it’s not just about the child.
If Sully’s not swinging from the shower curtain, he’s traipsing across the kitchen table, or scattering the papers on my desk, or pillaging the nearest pile of laundry, or chewing on some dubious object he found under the sofa, or chasing his own tail in rapturous circles.
When not making his chaotic presence thus known, he’s often curled up somewhere I can’t find him. In the recycling box or under a shawl or in a shopping bag.
Even this is a welcome distraction. I love a good game of hide-and-seek.
In search of a quote with which to end this profoundly unserious but entirely sincere column, I was reminded that lots of people dislike cats. Unlike dogs, who seem universally adored, cats inspire a gamut of opinion. Much has been written about the species – not all of it very nice.
(If you’re a cat person like me, you know that a cat couldn’t care less what some “writer” thinks of him.)
Kittens, on the other hand, have inspired very little commentary. Perhaps writing about a kitten is a little like writing about a flower: its charms are so obvious, they almost go without saying.
But the 19th Century French art critic Champfleury said something anyway:
“A kitten is the delight of a household. All day long a comedy is played out by an incomparable actor.”
And sometimes, that incomparable actor will take a break from making you laugh, snuggle up in your lap while you’re writing your column, and purr.
What more is there to say?