(Because I am both a blogger and an academic, it is incumbent upon me to write a cat post. This will be that post.)
In the Spring of 1996, I moved out of my parents' house and into an apartment closer to campus. My apartment, unlike my bedroom, had many rooms: a living room, a bathroom, a kitchen and a bedroom. They were all mine and empty and quiet. The emptiness I could fight: I quickly populated every available surface with books. The quiet was another story. I could make noise, but the noise would be either too meaningful (music) or not meaningful enough (automated pot-banging). What I needed was the pleasant hum of another consciousness, the uncertainty provided by something acting on its own accord. I had never owned a cat before and decided I needed one.
I drove to the East Baton Rouge Parish Animal Control Center and looked at the kittens. Most played in cages under their mother's watchful eye. One litter, exceptionally small and shockingly pink, slept unsupervised. They had been orphaned, the caretaker told me, and were only two weeks old. They would require more care than a normal kitten.
I had told myself on the drive over, "I will not choose the kitten: I will let the kitten choose me." I didn't know quite what that meant until one of the orphaned kittens stumbled toward me, eyes half-open, and mewed.
I had been chosen.
The caretaker asked whether I had ever cared for a kitten before. I told her I had not. She struggled to convince me to adopt a more conventional kitten. I wouldn't budge. I had been chosen, I told her. I had no choice. She went to fetch the paperwork while I played with my new kitten. When she returned she asked me for the kitten's name. I told her I didn't know it.
"What I meant was, what are you going to name her?"
I told her I didn't know.
"Well, I have to write something down."
I thought about it. I was filling out a form, not performing a christening, so the name would only be a placeholder. I had been reading Thomas Pynchon's V. and so I said, "Her name is Rachel."
"You're naming your cat 'Rachel'?"
"For now," I said and thought I meant.
The name stuck.
The kitten was Rachel.
But the caretaker had been right about how difficult it would be to raise a two-week old kitten: nipples were sterilized with great patience; backsides were massaged with warm rags; tongues were impersonated with aplomb. Rachel formed an unnatural (but expected) attachment to me and only me. Kittens separated from their mothers this early form unusually strong attachments to their surrogate mothers. They are needy and possessive. Rachel is needy and possessive. My lap is a Rachel-perch. My feet are Rachel-warmers.
My wife is an interloper.
She must be eliminated. She must be pounced upon from shelves unseen and cornered in the bedroom. She must be scratched until she freely bleeds and howled at in the kitchen.
Rachel is a mean cat. She is so mean that when she's nice we take a picture. But she is my mean cat and I shudder at the thought that I might spend a day writing or a night reading without a Rachel-ball threatening to suffocate me.
So the past two days have been difficult.
She stopped eating.
She stopped stalking.
She stopped demanding my lap.
My wife could touch her.
Something was wrong.
Two trips to the vet and untold sums of money-I-don't-have later and we still don't know what was wrong. The past tense is important. The blood work was negative. The X-rays revealed nothing more than an overfull bladder.
But the pain medication and appetite stimulant worked. Rachel is ravenous. She wants food and food and more food. She is no longer quiescent. She wants to attack my wife. She is mean again and that means she feels better.
And I'm more certain than ever that I can never be a parent. I'm not the Vulcan I was once declared to be. I'm an emotional disasterpiece when those I love suffer. (Inveterate pessimism does not play well with circumstance.)
But my mean cat is hungry and I am happy and this has been The Cat Post.