My sister begged for a cat for years—and let me tell all the kids out there within view of my font- it is an effective method for getting what you want. When she was nine years old, our parents took us to the cat store. (You’ll recognize the exact same one playing “The Pound” in those Sarah Mclachlan commercials). Katie climbed into the kitten pen and picked out her dream kitty, a smoke colored little cuddler that she named Rudolph Valentino for his affectionate nature. She adored that kitten. And if it’s true what they say about babies growing from love, then this would have become one enormous cat. I can tell you definitively that this wisdom does not apply to felines. This cat was loved to max capacity and at that point a switch was flipped, it was like his reservoir for affection tipped out all over the floor till he was bone dry. He became that member of the family that you were glad couldn’t reach the knife drawer and that you didn’t mention to your friends, but was also scary enough to grab that he wasn’t easy to keep hidden and they had to be pretty good friends for you to risk your own hide for their comfort and if they were that good of friends, shouldn’t they accept you for your man-eating cat?
As frequently as Rudy bit us, I’d be prouder to say that it only took me a few weeks before I learned to give him a wide berth. But nope. It was a rare blood-letting that I would have the thought of, “Duh, should have seen that one coming.” I always remember being taken by total surprise that this creature the color of a dust bunny could be so full of teeth. By the time Rudy was full-grown, and knew our routines, he’d become the feline version of the cranky old lady at the end of the street. The one you knew was a witch that lived on human suffering. Just imagine that lady with pinty teeth, and she lurked in the shadows beneath your couch, enjoyed the flavor of kid flesh and the law couldn’t touch her.
Rudy was actually my cure for fearing any kind of monster under the bed. As tough as I must appear to you nowadays, that was actually my “thing”. I couldn’t watch Jaws without leaping the entire carpeted expanse of my bedroom because of the absolute surety that I was in some shark’s crosshairs. Once we adopted Rudy, I didn’t have to wonder what kind of monster was going to chew on me, it was only a question of when. Putting a face to the beast, parents, works better than any hug. This motherly wisdom came later, though. As a ten year old, I trusted in evolution. Monsters had avoided detection for years because they were efficient and logical creatures (who hadn’t been tragically over-loved past the tipping point to evil like my cat). These noble beasts wouldn’t waste energy losing a turf war to my kitty amid the lost socks and board game pieces of my under-bed when there were way easier pickings at any other house.
Do you know those nature shows where the lions lurk in the grass near the watering hole because they know the antelope will come? The family room sofa divided the kitchen from the TV room and you had to pass it to get to the front door. It was smack dab in the trifecta of places that kids needed to get. So that’s where Rudy would wait.
Rudy had a few different methods for being a bad pet. Number 1: He would bite us. Number 2: He would chase us down the hall and spring onto the back of our legs, wrapping his sinewy kitty arms around a calf like he was climbing a palm tree, ten nasty claws would secure his hold and then he would kick with his back legs in a furious race against time and epidermis. You know how for some people, the smell of freshly cut grass or barbecue brings them back to their childhood? Blood-curdling screams of surprise do it for me. Number 3: He would lure us in and then do both. Now you can dismiss the next lines of my story as the confused ramblings of an old man, because if I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t believe a kitty could be so conniving. Now, cats are fast, much faster than pudgy little girls, so he could have chased me down and chewed on me anytime he wished, but when Rudy was feeling especially cruel he would purr and be cute. He’d trick us into coming to him. Lucky for us, Rudy was a poor actor. When he was faking, his purr was too high-pitched and his nostrils would flare and his eyes turned blacker.
As rotten as he was, he was also endlessly entertaining. Katie and I would dare each other to dash past him. We’d risk his lashings and dress him up in cabbage patch clothes and we had an entire ranking system for his attacks like, from under the couch hurt less than from the back of it and--especially on days when your hemoglobin was low—being bit was better than being clawed.
One day, my mom had decided it was high time that we got family portraits taken. She dressed up my sister and I to look alike and then set to work making our hair look absolutely like it never looked in real life. When she finished her work on us, she started in on herself and Katie and I were commanded to, “Sit still! Don’t get wrinkled! And don’t even think of touching that perm that I just molded into the perfect triangle!”
Katie and I plunked down on the sofa to wait. Rudy was there and he began to purr. One glance told me it was no good. But Katie was distracted, maybe telling me about her day or something, and sort of nonchalantly like she petted cats everyday (which she didn’t! because I’d have noticed the bloody stumps that suddenly replaced her hands). Maybe she saw my face, or the way I instinctively tensed up when she began stroking him, or maybe she too heard that moment that Rudy stopped purring and that cat version of a villain’s hehehe began.
Katie let out this little, “Oh…” and pulled back her arm slowly, like maybe he wouldn’t notice.
There was a split second of eerie stillness where Rudy’s eyes, black and shiny like a doll’s eyes, rolled white and in that next moment, he went Old-Yeller-in-the-corn-crib crazy. He rose up on his hind legs like a bear, sort of slow like and launched himself at her head –sprang onto her hair and clung like some sort of hideous cat-hide hat. She screamed and Rudy yowled. Katie started running—for what, I’ll never know—but she ran like her head was on fire, and that cat, with his hackles up and tail exploded and gripping her scalp like he was taking down a grizzly bear—well, he looked like a grey flame.
She disengaged him from her hair, but he wasn’t ready to give up and slid his way, spitting and clawing all the way down her back. Their gruesome dance ended when Katie finally managed to pry him off the rear of her skirt.
Katie straightened up, breathing like a runner after a hill and her hands went to her mangled hair. Lots of it came out in her fingers and she sort of just patted it back into place. She looked like she’d just crawled through the paper shredder. Her little hands, crisscrossed in angry pink welts went to the tattered remains of her dress. She let out the kid version of a string of blue curse words where the swearing is done all with the eyes and in the tone: “Oh, no. Do you think Mom’ll be mad?”
To my mother’s credit, she wasn’t mad. She dabbed up the blood, fixed up Katie to look fine from the front and we went and took those pictures. To this day they’re some of my favorites because I know why my sister’s hair looks lopsided and I know why she’s sitting in every photo.
More house stories coming soon. I just entered a few essay contests and some of them won't let me post my entries, so cross your fingers for me! Or, if you're feeling selfish, don't cross your fingers and then I won't win and then I'll be able to put every story up here all the sooner.