Some Notes on Cats

Observations from someone who will never be a cat person

Roxane Gay
Nov 27, 2019 · 6 min read

II am not a cat person. I am not an animal person. I have never had a pet, not even a goldfish. A week before we started dating, my fiancée Deborah got two cats, Lew and Theo. On our first date, she told me about her cats and, because several of her exes had given her a hard time about her pets, she had a bit of PTSD around the subject. She tentatively asked if her pets would be a deal breaker. She had no idea about my aversion to animals and my allergy to cats. I told her Benadryl existed for a reason.

I should note that I am the only person allowed to call her Deborah. To everyone else she is Debbie.

The first time I met the cats they were largely indifferent to me and they would continue to be indifferent for quite some time. I know many people who have cats so I understood that this was normal cat behavior and the indifference was quite mutual. My eyes watered. My skin itched. The longer I continued to come around, the more the cats seemed to understand I was not simply passing through. Their indifference diminished only slightly. My watering eyes and itching skin did not.

Because I know nothing about having pets, the entire experience of spending a lot of time around cats has been quite anthropological. I am always observing this or that thing they do and when I share my findings with Debbie, she patiently tells me that yes, this is what cats do or this is how cats are. At times, I am not sure she can believe I really know this little about animals but then I ask something so basic and do so with such sincerity, she understands that I do, indeed, really know this little about animals.

I promised myself to be very patient where the cats were concerned so I could show her I was different. To that end, I had only one rule when we first started dating — the cats could not sleep in bed with us because we are humans and they are animals and though I am not sure where cats sleep, it was not going to be with me, a human. This rule lasted approximately three weeks.

I don’t want to sleep with cats because I have a heightened startle reflex. Nothing I do makes it go away so I have learned to live with it. If the cats jump on the bed in the middle of the night, and they certainly do, I gasp loudly or scream. It is not conducive to good sleep. We tried closing the door just before bed and the cats would whine, loudly, and not stop until we opened the door. One of them, Theo I suspect, will launch himself into the door until we open it. He is absolutely undeterred by obstacles. We bought a can of Sssscat, which is this device that will spray the cats with a quick burst of air to discourage them from persisting. We placed the can near the door and it seemed to work, but the cats tested the perimeter with such frequency that the air ran out and we have yet to get around to buying a replacement. I am certain they were like the velociraptors testing the electrified fences at Jurassic Park. They persisted until they found a weakness.

II am the disciplinarian but this means very little because the cats do not listen to me or consider me any kind of authority. Debbie hired a cat whisperer to give us advice on training the cats to not wake us up at five o’clock every morning. The cat whisperer told us we had to be firm and consistent with them. I am firm and consistent with them and that is all I will say about that.

Cat food smells. It is wet and clumpy and whenever I see or smell it, I gag. The cats seem to eat constantly and they only eat the fancy food. They have no interest in dry food and will leave it, untouched, in perpetuity.

I do not deal with anything related to cat litter so I cannot comment on that. All I know is that the cats handle the business of their excretions on the first floor behind a staircase.

Of the two cats, Theo is the friendly one. He seems more like a dog than a cat. He loves attention and being petted. I do not do petting of any kind but Deborah does. He follows her around, with utter devotion, and when he nestles himself in the crook of her arm while we are watching television, he looks at me, smugly, victoriously.

Lew is something of an asshole. He seems to dislike me and is also afraid of me because once, early on, I hissed at him. Lew believes hair ties are mice. He comes to Deborah every evening and she pulls a hair tie from the night stand and tosses it on the floor and Lew attacks it like the ferocious predator he thinks he is. When we bought a new bed, beneath the mattress were nearly a dozen dead hair ties.

I bought a laser pointer. Well, I bought two laser pointers, one for upstairs and one for downstairs. Lew is not interested in the laser pointer. He stares at the red dot for a few seconds and sniffs before moving on to something else. Theo is very enamored with the laser pointer. He waits, each evening, for his red nemesis to appear, ever vigilant. Then I run him through his paces, watching as he tries to paw the red dot. Sometimes, he nips at it with his mouth. He tries to climb the wall. He runs back and forth. He hunches into an attack pose. When I shine the dot on his paw, he pulls it back, and quickly, as if the dot means him harm. Sometimes, he watches me pressing the laser pointer and seems to be so close to understanding that I am controlling his prey but then I point the laser in another direction and his hunt continues.

I bought a laser pointer. Well, I bought two laser pointers, one for upstairs and one for downstairs.

Theo also enjoys climbing onto the kitchen counters and he is especially fond of drinking water from the sink. When I am standing near the faucet, he will stare at me with very wide eyes until I give in and turn the water on. Then he will lap at the stream until he is satiated. He is a very thirsty cat.

Both cats sit in the front windows staring out at the world. The curtains there are made of paper and they have had their way with the parts of the curtains they can reach. The sill is the perfect size for them and when they curl into themselves on the sill, they seem very satisfied, indeed. Lew is often fixated on the backyard, and will stare outside the back door for quite a long time. We try to see whatever it is he is seeing but nothing is ever there.

Both Theo and Lew are indoor cats because their previous owner had them declawed and though I know very little of cats, I do know it is not right to declaw them. And because they still have their animal instincts it’s very funny to see them attack this or that. They know not of their impotence.

When the cats meow, Deborah can tell the difference. It all just sounds like meowing to me, loud and indistinct. They meow for any number of reasons — hunger, a need for attention, a need to climb all over a human, whatever. Lew also loves to caterwaul. He will sing his lonesome song to an empty room for what feels like hours.

It all just sounds like meowing to me, loud and indistinct.

I now know purring sounds like a tiny engine in a cat’s throat. The first several times I heard their satisfied purrs, I was terrified.

I am not a cat person. The cats are still not a deal breaker.

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most…

Roxane Gay

Written by

I write. I want a tiny baby elephant. If you clap, I clap back. Books.: Ayiti, Untamed State, Bad Feminist. Difficult Women, World of Wakanda 1–5, Hunger.

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

Roxane Gay

Written by

I write. I want a tiny baby elephant. If you clap, I clap back. Books.: Ayiti, Untamed State, Bad Feminist. Difficult Women, World of Wakanda 1–5, Hunger.

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

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