he pat line is simple: “I’m allergic to cats.” Yes, it’s a lie. I’m not allergic to cats. And, unlike some people who use that excuse to conceal their lack of love for felines, I really do like cats. I use the cat allergy line because house cats don’t like me. Or if they do, they display their affection by practicing scare tactics (hissing, clawing, arching of back) and kung fu.
I can show you the scars. Look, here: right wrist and forearm. In 2002, Baboo, my friend Brian’s 15-kilo cat, attacked and bit me shortly after flirting with me in a routine that involved a sexy body rub and purring. I was shocked. Prior to being a killer kitty, Baboo was my feline mentor, my teacher for potential cat ownership.
I didn’t grow up with cats. I grew up away from them — my parents are both quite allergic (pollen, cats, and most dogs, aside from the hypoallergenic kind, Yorkies). Cats, and kittens were forbidden from coming within a half-mile radius of any of us. If they entered that zone, my father would sneeze non-stop for hours and my mother’s face would swell to exactly three times the size of said cat. All I really knew about “owning” a cat was that they looked cute next to a ball of string and with a unicorn.
Baboo changed all of that. He was my training cat, teaching me everything from kitty litter control to the futility of whistling. Baboo and I were introduced 24 hours before Brian was to depart for Tokyo for two weeks. The Flanigan Twins backed out on their usual cat daycare (boyfriend or car problems) and I, stylishly irresponsible and barely supporting myself, was his last resort. From the start, Baboo and I had that enviable “best buddies” relationship often seen on calendars — June: a girl and a cat sleeping together, tag line, “Taking a cat nap.”
Each morning when I overslept, Baboo would gently bat my face to remind me to wake up. He sat on my shoulder when I read at night. He opened my mind and creativity with his clever hide’n’seek games that initially caused me much stress until Denise taught me the “open a can of cat food, he’ll come out of hiding” technique. During one of his disappearances and between useless “here kitty, kitties” and demonstrative opening of cat food cans, I came up with several excuses to explain why Brian no longer had a cat. The best? The Scientologists took him.
Baboo didn’t just teach me how to take care of a cat, but how to act selflessly. You see, I saved his life. (Well, my then-boyfriend did, but under my instructions.) The very first morning that Baboo slept with us, he died. That morning, I woke, myopic and dreamy, next to a dead weight. Non-breathing, non-moving Baboo was inside the duvet.
“Ed, Baboo is dead! He suffocated himself inside the duvet!” I shouted delicately as I banged on the bathroom door. Sensitive to melodrama, Ed ran out of the bathroom and pulled Baboo from the duvet. Baboo didn’t move.
“Erica, you killed the cat! Brian is going to kill you!”
I remembered my two-hour course in life saving in that instant, “Mouth-to-mouth. Give him mouth-to-mouth!”
“Absolutely not. Do you know where his mouth has been? You do it; you killed him.”
“You have to because I can’t f— ing see!”
Believe it or not, Ed resuscitated the kitty. Baboo awoke as Ed French kissed him (a little too fresh for a first date). The clever cat was just testing my dedication to him by playing dead. I’m convinced my selfless response contributed to our fast friendship. He knew that even though I was a dog person and thought that cats needed to wear cute bells, I truly loved him.
Baboo’s later attack hurt not only my right arm but my heart. Trust gone, my cat-love faded. I never knew if Baboo might pounce again. Sasuke, my cousins’ cat, suddenly looked less innocent as he chased my hair-band across the floor. Then, one day, I started to feel “itchy” when Libby placed her new kitten, Ziggy, a gremlin-looking Siamese, on my lap.
“I’m allergic to cats,” flew out of my mouth and, I swear, he bared his teeth at me.
“Oh no, that’s too bad. He looks like he wants to play with you.”
Right. Just like Baboo just wanted to hold my hand.
Since then, it’s been the allergy clause all the way. I won’t pet your kitty. I freeze when your cat rubs up against my leg. I like cats; I like their independence; I like their take-no-prisoners style. They remind me of me. But now I’m am easy target. Once bitten, I’m now twice shy.
— See Erica Firpo’s guidebook series at readblackbooks.com