Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Grey Stripes

I am house sitting for some folks right now: one Victorian home, five chickens, and six cats. Yes, six. Diesel, Pepper, Annie, Gracie, Jackson, and Grey Stripes.

I want to tell you about these cats. You see, these cats and I, we have much in common. Take some allergy medicine if you must, swallow your aversion to felines, and press on; they are worth getting to know.

Let’s start with Diesel. Diesel is big; not fat, but big. Kind of like me. We are different in that he (is a he) begs for attention and is rather passive-aggressive. He likes to move from sitting innocently to pouncing on/attacking his sister—Pepper—back to sitting innocently.

Pepper is a sweetheart. She braves human touch, particularly if it is gentle: she reclines on my arm as I read and write. She is untrusting of other cats, especially her brother. (I don’t blame her!) And that’s where we’re most similar. I distrust other humans—cats aren’t bad, though. Hell, I’ll even let them touch me.

There’s Annie Oatly. And we have much in common outside of our name. She is serious, stoic even, quiet, finds touch to be thoroughly unnecessary, and is often out of sight. Despite her low likelihood of initiating touch, she can and does . . . occasionally.

Gracie, well, Gracie is my furry partner in crime. Looks, that is. We have simultaneously curly, matted, and dreadlocked hair. Fur. Whatever. Yet somehow it is soft. Perhaps it would be healthy for me to find it embarrassing that she cleans herself more often than I. Oh well.

Jackson. Oh Jackson. A long-haired, skittish feline. He craves human contact, but, like me, is awkward in initiating it and flinches away as he is easily frightened. Poor guy. At least he finds comfort in food and the outdoors.

And finally, my real reason for asking you to suffer my feline friends: Grey Stripes. I understand that you may be “catted-out,” but please, press on a little, she needs your love and patience, and gentle attention. Softly now, let us visit her:

Grey Stripes is special needs, I guess one might say. Her owners affectionately call her their bipolar-schizophrenic cat.

She writhes with anxiety, so she takes anti-anxiety drops in her food. Like me. Except mine are “as needed,” not preventative; they are for once I’m writhing. She twists and walks crooked, pigeon toed, almost as though she is drunk. And she shakes. Just like me. She has wild eyes. She goes from purring to hissing on a dime. Sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, she is mostly still. I guess we would call that “stable.”

Somehow, she reminds me of myself: my internal symptoms are externalized and made manifest in this poor, tortured animal.

The other cats leave her alone. And she is scared of them. Is she like me, with sign I’m blind to on her forehead, a glowing neon fuck-off sign?

Grey Stripes lives alone. It sounds cruel, but I promise, it isn’t: she has a hutch tall enough for me to stand in, long enough to stretch out in (and then some), with a play structure, a shaded, carpeted bed, wet and dry food, water, two litter boxes . . . on nice days, she sometimes even gets to come out—she lays in the greenery just beyond the wooden doors. There is nothing inhumane about her treatment. She lives in peace.

Her hutch is like my ritual of medicating, attending therapy, and seeing a psychiatrist. It can seem cruel, even to me, but it is for good. The difference? I don’t get out. To leave the structure is to risk injury to everyone.

Grey Stripes and I have perhaps too much in common. She fears other cats; I fear other humans. We shake. We are anxious. She moves almost drunkenly and trips often; my mind moves similarly: trying to step, twisting, stumbling, tripping.

One can see the “crazy” in her wild eyes. I can only pray the world doesn’t see through mine.

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