Confession, and one that I think makes me less of a rocking good human: I'm not an animal person. I mean, I am an animal, so in that sense I'm either in denial or I'm the most reprehensible kind of social climber, denying my own people/fellow animals like that, but it's true. Taken as a whole, animals weird me out. If they spoke, that would help. And English, while we're at it, would be good. But I'd be down with Portuguese or Arabic or Swahili or French or whatever, because it would tell me we're sort of working in the same cognitive realm, and that would be comforting. If somebody's talking, then they're probably thinking, and I like that. Also, as a habitual people-pleaser, I can't please you if I can't figure out what you want, and if you're an animal and I don't anticipate your needs, I don't know how reasonable you're going to be about that. Like, what's the penalty? A pecking? Execution?
I'm not totally solidly in the realm of the rational here. I know. Don't come at me with your logic, either. I don't take that kind of currency on this topic.
See, so I think I'm a little not-quite-cooked as a human being. I admire the animal lovers and cuddlers, the rescuers of strays, the horse whisperers, the cat ladies, the falconers (somebody's doing it), all you Saint-Francis-of-Assisi types. You are better people than I am. You are more evolved. I mean it. Hats off. You've got it going on. I want to be more like you, so I'm here breaking it down today. I'm snuggling up to the concept of animals in my mind, and this is a start.
It's equal parts attraction and repulsion for me with animals. Let me say right away that I have a good partial excuse on the repulsion front, which is allergies. I'm wicked allergic to dander and fur and animal saliva. I get hives and my chest tightens and it's painful to breathe. Also, the back of my throat is a fur magnet. If a room has fur debris around, it will shoot into my mouth and I will gack and hack until my eyes water. It's pretty to look at, and it feels good.
But also, l'm a little stressed-out by how uncool animals are. I don't mean uncool like "they're assholes". I mean that they're not known for their restraint. They go for what they want. They're impulsive. Dolphins sexually assault people. Dolphins! If you can't trust a fucking dolphin, the whole game is lost.
I'm investigating this because we're considering getting a pet. My sons are huge animal lovers, and they're dying to get somebody furry into our family. Allergies are a concern, but I know there are dogs that are easier on allergy-havers than others, and I've successfully lived with some cats in my life. And I'm not made of stone. I'm susceptible to adorableness like normal people. Finn and Fred and I google-image Labradoodles and my heart skips a beat like a real human lady's.
Question number one always seems to be, "Are you a cat person or a dog person?" Everybody is ostensibly one of these people, and I suppose I better work out which I am, especially if we're going to pick one. Because we're not picking both, as God is my witness.
Dog people seem like they're part of some elite, windblown, outdoorsy club. Dog people probably ski, or play tennis, or touch football, or they surf. They're leap-y and athletic and healthy and well-adjusted. I picture myself at the dog park with a dog, and other dog owners looking at me like, "Who lent you the dog? That's not your dog. Go get that poor guy back to his owner. You're traumatizing him."
So you'd think this would indicate that I'm not a dog person, ergo I'm a cat person. You'd think too soon!
I've lived with cats, yes. I've lived with Patches, Veronica, Lela, Desperado, Toonces and Gilbert. (In case you know them.) Just because I lived with cats doesn't mean I ever instigated it, though. I never instigated it. I was just along for the ride. The first three cats on the list were our family's cats when we were growing up, one after the other. Patches was the first, when we lived in New York. Patches was whatever. Patches was fine. My brother was the cat guy, see? If you ask David about Patches, or Veronica, or Lela, you better buckle in because rhapsody is going to get waxed. There will be talk of the ancient Egyptians and cat worship. There will be ooh-ing, cooing noises—just noises, noises of love, exclamations. It's a scene, man. I did not inherit this gene.
Cats love me, though, because I can take them or leave them. I give them space, and they're all, "Who IS she? She's fascinating! She's irresistible. I must know her better. I love her. She has a je ne sais quoi." And then they're all chasing me around the revolving chair while I spin to avoid getting jumped on, and they're bumping their heads against my leg all luxurious-like, and purring their little faces off. It's sad! Cats! Come on! Have some self-esteem! Didn't you ever read He's Just Not That Into You? You'll feel weird when you do, cats, I'm telling you. Pang of recognition.
Veronica and Lela were also fine, whatever. Desperado and Toonces and Gilbert were cats I lived with in college with my housemates. Desperado wandered on to our porch one night and threw himself on my friend Jen's lap, and that was that. He was dark brown, fat, and he only had one gigantic ball. He could walk, but he couldn't stand still without tipping over on his side; I imagine he was thrown off-balance by his ball issue. Toonces was orange and stinky. She had one spot on her back that she could never get clean, just one little sticky bit. They were depressing, frankly.
But then there was Gilbert, who was the only pet I've really been mad for. Gilbert was a slick little black-and-white kitty, all tuxedo'd-out, and he had grace and style and what even appeared to be compassion. I remember weeping on my pillow one night about an ex-boyfriend, and Gilbert curled himself around my head and wiped my tears away as they fell. I mean, really. In retrospect, I think he was probably like "Face game! Water on face. Move slowly so as not to scare the small waters, but then get them," which I interpreted as, "There, there. He wasn't good enough for you. Forget him. You have me."
One night in college when I was walking home from the theater, I saw Gilbert blocks and blocks away from home. I didn't pick him up because I don't pick animals up because of fur and claws and bones and oh my god. Shiver. No. I cannot. But I loved him still, in my way, and wanted him home safe, so I lured him home walking backwards/bent over, beckoning him and making seductive baby talk. Jesus God, it was a task. A walk that should have taken ten minutes took an hour. Giiiiil-berrrrrt. C'mon, baby. C'mon, kitty. Smooch smooch smooch. C'mon, kitty-baby. Come on. Come on. That's it. Over here. Hey baby. Baby. Over here. Yeah. That's it.
I got in the door and there were all my housemates in the living room, and I was like, "You guys! I found Gilbert!" They looked at me blankly, and I looked at the couch, where Gilbert was already sitting. Oh. Well, who the fuck was this I'd just seduced home so hard? Uh-oh. And then I had to give Not-Gilbert the boot. Super. "Say, listen, thanks for walking home with me and everything. I had a nice time. Hope you did, too. Welp. Go away now. Go be outside now. Go. Bye." I shut the front door, and Not-Gilbert hung from the screen door with his claws, wailing. Oh, man, that was one for his journal, whoever that was. ONCE I MET A TROLLOP AND SHE FUCKED ME OVER AND LEFT ME FOR DEAD. NEVER TRUST A WOMAN. I'M OUT OF WHISKEY.
On the strength of Gilbert alone, I'd say I'd teeter in the direction of cats, but they have those claws, and those teeth. I know dogs do, too, but with cats they seem pierce-ier and knife-ier, and I feel like cats indulge themselves with that shit more often, and more unpredictably. I don't like that you could have a cat snuggling on your lap and you can suddenly get shanked in the leg for no reason. WTF? Don't stab me, fuckers. I don't care if it's a love stab. I don't care if you're playing. That is a fucked-up game, "Stab the Lady". If a person suddenly stabbed me—even just in fun, whee!—I would dial 911 immediately.
Why do the most adorable pets have to be so potentially sharp? I'm against it.
And do not speak to me about turtles or lizards or snakes or rodents, all the potential pets from the "other" category. Weasels and ferrets and whoever. (Hamsters are no go. Too vulnerable/inscrutable/high octane.) And if I can barely handle the otherness of a dog or a cat, who are respectively the vanilla and chocolate of Animal Flavor Metaphor Town, there isn't the first chance I'd be down with some wasabi motherfucker like an iguana.
But Tina, what about-
NO. You were going to say birds. Birds are the worst. I am an almost-complete ornithophobe. Once I was forced by fate to walk through a parking lot that was carpeted, carpeted in pigeons. I prayed please don't take off please don't take off please don't take off and when I was halfway to my car THEY ALL FUCKING TOOK OFF. I froze and covered my head and screamed and there was flapping flapping flapping everywhere and they touched me with their wings and it probably only went on for five or ten seconds but I died, came back to life and was re-killed again once every second. So that's long. That's five to ten lifetimes.
Our next-door neighbors have chickens, whose pen they thoughtfully keep far away from their house/snuggled right next to ours. Every morning there's a farm-fresh cacophony right beneath our bedroom window. And until the fence was reinforced, they kept muscling into our yard. You'd see a little horrible chicken head trying to work its way under the fence, all I AM COMING FOR YOU.
When something has fur, you can maybe reason with it, mammal-to-mammal, or soothe it with a violin. If it has feathers, especially fluffy fucked-up fowl feathers, it cannot understand you. It is bent on its own aims.
Another time I was chased by turkeys. I don't want to talk about it. And once a housemate went outside and threw a rock at some loud crows early one morning, and you had best believe we were fucked from then on. I came home one afternoon and found the way to the door blocked by a squawking, menacing group of maybe a dozen crows. I sat in my car for 45 minutes and then called an ex-boyfriend, crying, to come over and help me get inside, which he very kindly did. (I bet he misses me.)
I've done work on my crow phobia, though, with huge success. For the last sixteen years, to make up for fraternizing with the rock-thrower, I've waged an intense psychic Good Vibes Shock and Awe campaign toward crows. I know they can remember specific people for something like twenty years, and they pass the news on to all their friends and relatives and everything, so you have got to step right with them. So I'm on top of that beeswax every which way. Whenever I'm outside and I see a crow, I beam every last variation of "I come in peace" and "Blessings upon your young" and "May your endeavors succeed" and "May your food be plentiful" and "May your people triumph" their way and a miracle has occurred, I shit you not. I like them now. I like crows. I almost love them. It's spontaneous and genuine. When I see a crow hop by, or I see one on my fence, I say "Hello, sir" like it's my beloved village elder, and I feel a little bubble of warmth around my heart. I would nearly hug a crow. (I practice this in my mind sometimes and it doesn't make me cringe.) They register to me as these sweet, smart, appealing fellows now, which gives me hope for my relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom.
We have pets already, technically. We have eight fish: a goldfish named Sheepie, a Black Moor named Blackie, a freakily energetic koi named Sheepiedoggiekittycat, and five cloudfish named Finn, Fred and The Three Peaches. I'm not in love, really, but I have amicable feelings for them, although I'd say Blackie has grounds for a sexual harassment suit against Sheepiedoggiekittycat.
But something happened recently—just inside me, no incident—where a little door opened up and the idea of a furry being padding around the house all winsome started tugging at me, like a kind of baby fever. I'd look at the empty spot on the floor next to me and imagine some little pooch wandering up and making eyes at me, and I felt love already in advance for this nobody-somebody. That's faded a bit, but it's still kind of amazing to me that it opened at all. And if crows are my buddies now, all bets may be off.
I have to say I get nervous at the idea of really opening up to an animal. I'm nervous about being needed. I'm nervous about letting somebody down. I'm even nervous about letting love flow between us—particularly being on the receiving end of that pure, crazy, innocent animal love. It's coming close to nature and god and wildness in an unnerving way.
But I think of a moment soon after Finn was born, and it feels like it relates. We'd been home from the hospital for about a week. I'd had a c-section, and my recovery was tough. I couldn't lift Finn yet, so Dave was taking care of him in a lot of the real physical ways. I handled feedings, but Dave changed him and burped him and walked him around, comforting him. So Finn connected with Dave first, making and holding eye contact, while he still looked right past me. I was exhausted and jealous and suffering intensely about it. But one night, when he was all swaddled up like a samurai in my arms, it happened. He looked at me, and held my gaze.
Here was this tiny being, alive, all mystery, no words, and we fell into a hole together, looking and looking. My mind stopped making words, too. There weren't any for this. We were there together, and I can't say more about what transpired, exactly, but it was fearsome and majestic and all I could ever ask for.
I don't want to connect this in any more words. I don't want to make my point. You make it, quietly. The animals are on to something. We don't need all these words.