Over the weekend I read a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Black Cat.” The narrator is a man who adores pets and whose grew up solely in the company of his animals. He adopts a black cat, and enigmatically he starts to change. He develops an alcohol problem, beats the other animals and his wife. When the black cat playfully bites him, he stabs out one of the cat’s eyes. One day the cat breaks his sanity, and he ties a little kitty noose around its throat and hangs it. Legend has it that all black cats are witches in disguise; so as punishment, the protagonist goes mad and kills his wife.
In February, I adopted a black cat. His name is Jinx. I was later informed that Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, apparently owns a black (talking?) cat named Jinx.
Ah, and what an accurate appellation bestowed upon him. I believe I have accumulated enough bad luck to plague me for my next nine consecutive lifetimes.
According to his shelter documents, he was “shy and reserved.” I wonder if I got the paperwork for the wrong cat. He dragged down the table cloth. He torpedoes out of his litterbox. He knocked the books off my shelf. He rips apart my stuffed chair. So I siphoned a significant portion of my budget to purchasing mouse toys, a scratching post, a laser-pointer.
His mother, I learned, was feral. All that feral blood, the potential to be a world-class mouser, and instead he winds up in a four-room apartment for the rest of his life. Good thing lacks the cognitive faculties to realize how depraved and ironic the universe can be.
The nights were most excruciating. In the first months, Jinx would prowl around the bed, jump on my body and trample my toes. If he feared the winter cold affected me, he sacrificed his furry belly to warm my face. He crawled inside my bed-shelf, knocked out my retainers, books, and paperwork. He knocked around the loose cords. Crawled behind my computer. Hurled the trash bin. Dragged the broom, my ties, and the Christmas garlands out of the closet.
So I kept him in the bathroom. This only exacerbated his early-morning wakeup calls. I would find him calmly curled up, serenely slumbering, the bathroom around him devastated — toilet paper piled across the floor, contact case steeped inside the litter bag, razor and toothbrush on the floor, bathroom rugs shredded and possibly urinated upon.
One night, when I had been away for a significantly long time, he vomited in every room of the apartment. Perhaps he was that anxious to see me.
We have developed a system. I wake up and shower. I open the bathroom door, and he rubs and licks my legs to help me dry off. Through the day I read or write, and he’s usually within two feet of me. I leave for the library or work, and he’s in charge of fending off the ninjas.
I come home from work at midnight. As soon as the keys are jingling in my hand, I can hear him desperate mewling and pawing from behind the door. I give him pets, a game of laser-pointer, and maybe a treat. One day I’ll teach him to shake my hand.
Recently I collected cardboard and, with duct tape and ingenuity, assembled a wall for my bedroom. It’s a hassle to tape up every night, but it sure beats sleeping in two-hour intervals.
I have strictly set my bedtime recently to 1:30 a.m. Every Tuesday morning, which according to my biological clock is the dead of night, he remembers that I owe him a weekend’s worth of attention and he wakes me up with the song of his people. Not even earplugs stave it.
Last time I’m fairly certain the cardboard wall did not tear itself down. He was in my room, yowling as if he had caught on fire. I was infuriated — I’d had a very pleasant dream — and I threw him in his crate and I set him out in the foyer. Then I worried about pretty silly scenarios, such as his racket waking up the neighbors, they calling the landlord, the landlord calling animal rights activists, animal rights activists calling the police, the police battering down my door and demanding I release the cat and repent to the cat gods or else I’ll go to jail. So I brought him back in.
It is an irresistible temptation to break the greatest rule of feline ownership: when a cat mewls, do not respond. Jinx was happy even if I disciplined him. That cat will keep waking me up, and my only possible reprieve is to bury my head in the pillow and pray to those cat gods for mercy. He might realize that mewling will never get me up. Oh, but that could be years.
(Just chased him away from the toilet. I think he was trying to open the lid and drink it.)
I did not expect a cat to present such a burden. Back home, my cats Esther and Peaches could barely stand it if so much as looked at them. We were also in house. We also had a yard. Yet this little black cat wanders the same four dull rooms day in, day out. I wish I could give him a meadow, a vast feline sanctuary frolicking with mice and laden with catnip.
But at least his food bowl is always full. His water is always to the brim (yet he prefers the bathtub water). Toys litter the apartment. Nonetheless, it is only I who can satisfy his primitive, animalistic loneliness. It is for that same reason I put up with him.
As I laid in bed, trying to fall back to sleep (nearly impossible thanks to delayed sleep syndrome), my dull thoughts made plans to take him back to the shelter. I was finally going to do it. But my mind, once set on a course, tends to continue rolling long after the conclusion. I imagined emptying his litterbox, throwing away the toy mice, dumping out his food and kitty treats — I realized I would be filled with regret, accompanied by the return of a total and depraved loneliness. I would have to tell my parents and my sister, who spent a whole day accompanying me to the shelter to select that cat. Giving him away would cast all that to waste. I could not forgive myself.
Strange, that a creature driven entirely by instinct, incapable of barely the most primitive expression of a thing we could feasibly deem “love,” could generate such pathological and self-sacrificing attachment within me.
There is a moment in the great comic series Y: The Last Man, when Dr. Mann says of the protagonist’s pet monkey (something along the lines of):
“We don’t say an animal loves us because we believe it is like us, we say it loves us because we don’t believe we are like it.”
Jinx and I, I’m loathe to admit, are a spirited pair.
Jinx latches to the window and looks out at the world, and I realize that I do the same thing. I gaze at the world. I wish for better things. Yet I am trapped here, immersed in my own toys and luxuries that are poor substitutes for something else that could be waiting for me somewhere. We are both where we are because of the irony of the universe.
I have instincts to roam. Yet a lifetime of conservative planning has left me like a crab in his shell. Were Jinx a wildcat, I don’t doubt he would quickly be the leader of a feline pack, prowling at the vanguard of every hunt. Yet here he is, stuck with me, the both of us burdened with boundless and useless energy.
Despite the burden he weighs upon me, I keep a cat because nothing else would be left for me out here. I wonder if grown-ups are driven into raising children for the same reason? Would humans rather endure the agony and sacrifice of nurturing grateless, inferior organisms than a placid, self-engrossed existence? When a man decides there is no other reward to be gained from his existence, I suppose that’s when he decides to rear children.
I suppose it’s worth it to have a furry body purring and nuzzling at your side. To care about you in its dim, animal way. Did you know that a cat’s purr resonates at the same frequency at which bones and muscle heal?
Forget children. This cat, this adorable witch’s son, is enough for me already.