Several Novembers ago my mother discovered a kitten sitting on their deck. Then another. And another. There were four in total. She went outside to look under the deck to see if there were more and came face to face with the mother cat. She froze, thinking the mother would attack her. But she didn’t. She came out, meowed and rubbed up against my mother. My Mom called for my Dad to come see. My father hates cats. Likes dogs, but hates cats. He grumbled and huffed at them and went back into the house. My Mom eventually followed.
The Man-Who-Hates-Most-Living-Things tried to go back to watching TV. But he secretly worried for the kittens. He kept checking on them all day. The next day there was a cold snap and the temperature dropped drastically. He ran to the door to see if they were ok. They were shivering. He felt bad. He got a box, gathered them up and put them in our basement.
I was was living in Chicago and at work when I got the first email. “Jill, I found a bunch of kittens. I feel bad for them. What do I do? Do you know anyone who wants them?” At this point, living in Paraguay for two and a half years had killed my heart to stray animals.
“No,” I said. “Take them to Anti-Cruelty.”
Another email followed, “I looked it up and X% of animals are actually put down at Anti-Cruelty if they test for A, B, C. I don’t want them to be put down.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Dad.” I wrote back, unmoved. “Then keep them. Keep all those cats.”
“Hell no I’m not keeping the cats. I don’t want the damn cats. I just don’t want them to die.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Dad.”
An hour went by. Another email. “Can you come home this weekend and help me deal with these damn cats?”
So I went home. My Mom was all shmoopy-eyed over the kittens. And I’ll admit, they were super cute. The Mother cat was super cuddly and affectionate. We (I) did some research. We found out that if the cats tested negative for Feline Leukemia, they wouldn’t be put down. So my Dad decided to take them to the vet and pay for them to get tested. We put them in a box, loaded them in the car and left for the vet’s office.
All the cats tested negative. The vet said, “You know, I have a big crate I keep up front and sometimes if people’s cats have kittens I leave them there and they get adopted up in a week or so. I offer a package deal, they get fixed, shots, etc.” Perfect! This vet’s business model was the salvation we had been looking for. My Dad was thrilled.
“But we can’t take the Mother,” the vet continued, “No one will want to adopt an adult.” Even though they determined the mother was only a year and a half old, she was still considered too old to adopt. And you thought women in Hollywood had it bad.
“Aw, well that’s a shame,” I said, semi-dramatically. “I guess they’re gonna just have to kill her. Poor kitty. Unless… unless someone, someone with time on his hands, say, a retired man who spends a lot of time at home watching bad TV and arguing with Youtube commentors online, finds it in his heart to take pity on such a creature.”
At this point the vet looks back and forth between us and says “Excuse me, but what’s… what’s your relationship?”
I looked at him hard. “This is my father,” I said. Dude.
Dad was looking hard and straight ahead. The vet addressed us, “Well, if you’re gonna keep her, she should be fixed. Do you want me to fix her?”
My father was silent.
“Well Dad? Do you want him to fix her?” A thick silence hung in the air. It was an epic mind battle with him that went on forever. I saw a tiny crack behind the eyes. A fleeting waver. I pounced.
“You love this cat, don’t you? You do. You LOOOOooovve her.”
“NO!” my Dad says. “I… I…”
“That’s it… that’s it. Admit it. Give in. You love this cat. And she loves you. She needs you. Listen. You can hear her begging. Begging for her life. Meow. Meeeeow.”
“Fix the goddamn cat,” he said to the vet. I was victorious.
We came home and I told my Mom that she got her cat. She was so happy that she cried. She named her Molly.
A few weeks later I returned to my parents’ house for another visit. My Dad had said that he bought the cat a couple things since my last visit. I walked into the house and my jaw dropped. It looked like a goddamn pet store. There was this ridiculously huge, fancy litter box. Next to it sat what was basically a diaper genie for the used cat litter. There was this huge tower thing with different levels for the cat to sit on and scratch up in the kitchen by the window. Right next to what was always traditionally my chair at the dinner table. Interesting. There were little cat toys all over the place. Balls and bells and sticks with yarn and feathers and wind up fuzzy mice and catnip-laced scratchy things. My father had lost his mind.
“What?” he said defensively when I couldn’t stop laughing. This cat had melted his little black icy heart.
He then started googling cat info and spouting cat factoids.
“Did you know that cats purr at the same frequency as an idling diesel engine, about 26 cycles per second?”
No. No I didn’t.
“The history of the cat family can be traced through the fossil record to the Late Eocene Epoch.”
It was cute at first. But then it got annoying.
“When Molly puts her ears back like that, it means she’s annoyed.”
“Really, Dad? Hey, remember that time that I owned cats and you told me all of the time that ‘cats suck?'”
“I never said that,” Dad said.
And my Mom. Oh mercy. I truly believe that Molly was the grandchild that she never had up to that point. She talked to her like a baby. Drove my Dad and I crazy. My Mom believed that Molly understood everything that she says to her, which I can assure you, she did not.
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” my Dad would say, “She doesn’t know what you mean when you say ‘Go look out the window at the bird.'”
“Yes she does!! Watch!!” she said emphatically, turning to yell to the cat in the other room. “Molly, go look out the window, Molly, go look out the window, Molly. Molly? Molly go look out the window, Mollygolookoutthewindow.” She would keep this up for the next 3.5 hours until finally, eventually Molly would saunter over to the window and look outside and my Mom will yell “SEE!?!?!??!?!?!??!????” It’s maddening. But also kind cute. Kinda.
When Mother Molly was with her kittens, she was always very affectionate. She rubbed against our legs and jumped on our laps to cuddle. Until, that is, she got fixed. Something changed. When her milk dried up she became a raging bitch cat. Not loving nor affectionate at all anymore. Well, I shouldn’t say that. She LOVES my parents. Cuddles them, super sweet, all that. She just hates everyone else. And I felt kind of betrayed by that because A) I’m the one that mind-battled my father to trick him into keeping her. And B) I am the one who has historically loved cats while my Dad’s always been the one who has hated them. So to see Molly hate me and love my Dad, well it may be silly but it’s a little hard to swallow.
Molly does not like me. I look her way and say “Hello, Molly,” and she flicks her ears back and narrows her eyes. I reach out to let her sniff my fingers and she scratches the shit out of my hand. My Dad pets her head, she purrs. I pet her head, she makes this high pitch squeal as if I just pinched one of her dried up teats. My Mother comes flying around the corner shrieking “WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY CAT???!?!?!?” Meanwhile I stand clutching my clawed and bleeding hand as she knocks me over to swoop up poor, abused Molly.
For Christmas that year, I got my Dad a shirt with a photo of Molly sitting at the top of our stairs on it as a gag gift. He wore that damn shirt all the time. “I’ve got my favorite shirt on,” he’d say when I’d come to visit. I’d huff and narrow my eyes.
The following Christmas, I decided to make him choose once and for all. I got him the same shirt, this time with a photo of me sitting at the top of the same stairs in the exact same pose as Molly. I narrowed my eyes and asked, “Which shirt do you like better, Dad?”
“Don’t make me choose,” he said.
He still wears the Molly shirt. Says he’s saving the Jill shirt for a special occasion. I tell him he’s going to be buried in it.