For her first birthday, Ruby's aunties gave her a fish tank, effectively subverting one of the Belfer bylaws: There will be no pets that shit in the house. Of course, once Ruby saw the fish, they were here to stay. When her aunties suggested that birthday No. 1 could be topped only with a kitten on birthday No. 2, I laid down the law. Per Article 7, Section 3, there will be no birds, gerbils, hamsters, snakes, rats, ferrets or cats. And believe me when I say there will never be cats, plural or singular, in my house.
I hate cats. I hate the musical about them, I hate scratch towers built for them and I hate the sound of the mini collar bell that lets me know one is near. I also admit to experiencing a tiny earthquake of disappointment when I learn that someone I like is a cat lover. Sam calls cat-preference a character flaw. I just call it wack.
I'm allergic to cats, which might be the reason for my intense aversion. But maybe I hated them first and the allergies followed. Or maybe I'm just projecting some deep-seated self-loathing onto an innocent animal. I am, after all, a Leo. Perhaps I'm allergic to myself.
I had a friend in college who got a cat shortly after she got the keys to her first apartment, where we used to smoke weed and watch old John Hughes films. She called the cat Jake, though he was cute enough to have been named Snowball or Snowflake or some other foofy cat name. Jake was skinny with short, white fur and light blue eyes. But his fur was prickly and his demon eyes burned mine when I looked directly into them, the same as if I'd sneaked a too-long glance at the sun.
Turns out, Jake was a mean son of a bitch who became notorious for his bad attitude and nasty interpersonal skills. He should have been called Avalanche. Or Asscat. He was so toxic that he once sent me to the emergency room. I had to stop hanging out at Mariah's place after that and never understood why she loved him so. To this day, I can't even type “Jake” without wheezing.
I've successfully managed to live my life with limited exposure to cats—until recently. It seems everywhere I go these days, there is a scheming, detached, self-serving meower trying to knead its paws on my legs or slink its way around my ankles. It's like they know I hate them, like they have a special sensor for it, and they make it their purpose to torment me. Meanwhile, I have to stay cool in front of the oblivious owners and try, despite my strongest urges, not to launch the animal into the wall as I kick myself free.
I'm so convinced of some recent planetary shift in favor of the feline that I double-checked the Chinese calendar just to confirm it is not the Year of the Cat. In fact, the cat doesn't get its own year on the Chinese calendar, something that makes me happy in a superior, dog-loving kind of way. Still, I sense there's something I'm supposed to be learning from this increased exposure.
Back in the day, everyone I knew had a dog, until, suddenly, everyone had a cat. Several women in my book club have cats, and I arm myself with inhalers, Benadryl, clenched teeth and very pointy shoes when our meetings take place in their homes. My fellow columnist over there to the left has a cat, but even a regal name like Simba can't compensate for the fact that Decker's a cat person.
One of my editors has a cat, too, and if you're reading this now, it means she wasn't completely off-put when I insisted after several bottles of wine a few weeks back that I despised her fat cat. “But how can you hate her?” She begged. “She's so adorable!” Cats leave their poop in your house and are nice only when they want something. That's not adorable. That's an ex-boyfriend.
And dammit all to hell if “Santa” left not one, but two! cats for my best friend's daughter last year. My heart exploded into a million tiny hairballs when I heard. My friend might as well have given me a lump of coal. Despite appearances, it wasn't a passive-aggressive attempt to break up with me. She's more direct than that. She would do it on Facebook.
While all these cats circle in on me, they're also in vogue when it comes to defining me. Apparently, my puma days are behind me and I'm fast approaching the cougar years. Life isn't over after that, though. I still have my jaguar years on the horizon and the lynx years beyond that. I would prefer a peacock analogy. Even a dolphin euphemism, fish jokes and all, would be fine with me because dolphins? Now they're adorable.
None of these pejorative terms includes direct reference to my vagina, but I'll give pussy an honorable mention for grating on my last nerve. And I'm embarrassed to admit that I have my bikini waxing done at a place called The Pretty Kitty. While they do a great job, that name is disturbingly childish. I can't bear to say it out loud or program it into my cell phone, and I'm certainly not jotting down the number: 858-483-PURR. I am a grown woman, not an SDSU coed with velour sweat pants stuffed into Ugg boots, the word “PINK” scrawled across the ass. Personally, I'd be more impressed if Victoria's Secret skipped the thinly masked allusion and just wrote “VULVA” there instead. Or “PUSSY.” But then, I'm right back where I started.