Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Don't judge me by how I treated my cats

My childhood cats were nuts, and I think I have an idea why.


It’s because my twin sister, Joy, and I didn’t play nice with them.

When we were seven years old, we thought it would be funny to put our cat, Elizabeth, in the refrigerator. (JUST FOR A SECOND, Y’ALL).

The point was to play a joke on our mom. We sat at the kitchen table, muffling our laugher as we called our mom into the room.

“Mom…(bahahhaa)…could you (bahahahha) get us something to drink?” we asked.

“What?”

“We'd like some…(bahahahhaha) MILK.”

Our mom opened the fridge and screamed, “OH JESUS CHRIST!” when she saw the black cat on the top shelf, meowing.
Maybe she even slammed the fridge door in Elizabeth’s face out of instinct.

“WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU GIRLS??” our mom demanded, once she shooed Elizabeth out of the icebox.

“Bahahahahahahaha!” we howled.

Elizabeth hid for a week in the laundry room after that.

Maybe it’s not surprising, then, that our other cat -- and Elizabeth’s brother, Hobbes -- went missing for three months and then came wandering back one day like nothing had happened. I don't think he missed us.

He was hungry when he returned, but he looked the same – no scratches or massive weight loss or anything.

He was never one to sit on laps or enjoy being pet for extended periods of time.

That is, until he went missing for the second time following Hurricane Katrina. My parents found him dehydrated and nursed him back to life and after that he was super grateful, and started sitting on their laps.

My dad said he must have eaten some humble pie.

But, I wasn’t very nice to Hobbes, either. I remember in elementary school my friend and I used him in a fake “commercial” we had to perform in front of the class.

We were told we could bring props and somehow we thought it was a great idea to bring Hobbes to class and perform a commercial for cat food.

I can’t remember if it was my mom or the babysitter who brought Hobbes TO THE SCHOOL at noon on a weekday in a cat carrier.

And if that wasn't traumatizing enough for a cat, I deliberately starved him for a day, just to make sure he would go crazy for the Fancy Fest food like our commercial said he would.

It was the only way to ensure we got an A.

Both Hobbes and Elizabeth ate nothing but dry Science Diet food (which I'm sure is why they both lived well past age 17), so wet canned food of any kind was a treat in itself.

Factor in FANCY FEST wet canned food and a day-long (unwanted) hunger strike, and Hobbes went to town on the bowl of food once he was released from the carrier.

He didn’t even glance at the 30 kids and teacher staring at him, he went straight for the food. It was probably the best meal of his life.

The Science Diet worked wonders. It even turned the backyard raccoon’s fur coat shiny and nails long.

Joy and I would deliberately leave the food out on the back porch so we could watch the raccoons eat it through the window, fascinated with nature.

(We never considered that the raccoons could have eaten Hobbes or Elizabeth, or at the very least scrached their eyes out.)

Elizabeth was always my favorite, even though Hobbes was supposed to be my cat that I chose out of the litter of kittens that were in a box behind our gymnastics class building.

It turns out Hobbes had other interests, like playing outside in the grass instead of inside (the refrigerator). He ended up taking a liking to our brother over us.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, our parents left Hobbes and Elizabeth (age 16) in our house, because no one knew the city would flood and no one expected to be away for more than a week.

In an involved process, in which my parents POSED AS ELECTRICIANS to sneak back into the city early to rescue the cats, they found Elizabeth dehydrated and scared under their bed.

Once Elizabeth was revived, I was charged with taking care of her in South Carolina, where I had been living since high school, because my parents were renting an apartment in Baton Rouge that didn’t allow cats.

(Joy, who was also in Baton Rouge at the time, already lived with a cat, and that cat didn’t want company.)

I remember it was odd having my childhood pet in my adult world halfway across the country. She stared at me a lot.
What was I supposed to do with her? What if she didn’t like me?

My friend pointed out that Elizabeth was almost like my sister, since I had first gotten her when I was seven, and was 22 at the time.

Elizabeth and I quickly rekindled our friendship so much that when my parents moved back to New Orleans six months later and offered to take her back, I said no.

I figured she'd be miserable because my parents wouldn’t let her sleep in their bed. And they wouldn’t have bought her a pink collar with diamonds (which she LOVED) or switched her diet to wet food because it tastes better.

And I figured I owed her one.

Joy took care of Elizabeth with me when she moved to South Carolina a year later. We fully involved her in our lives, even bringing her out as a special guest during house parties.

When Elizabeth got dementia at age 20 and started howling at the wall, we got her a prescription for liquid valium and mixed it in her wet food daily. (And we forbid our friends from trying it themselves. No, Elizabeth needs it, we said.)

We ended up having to put Elizabeth down almost two years ago at age 20, which is the oldest cat I know of in real life. I considered storing her body in the fridge.
Just kidding.

-Jenny

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