by T.J. Pancake
“Any dog under fifty pounds is a cat, and cats are pointless.” – Ron Swanson
It seems that in the world of domesticated animals and owners, there is a hierarchy of sorts. Dogs, clearly, are the—ahem—top dogs, as are their owners who love them and rub their faces, feed them leftovers, and dress them up like Santa around Christmastime. Fish are probably next, mostly for children to win at carnivals, but they can also represent a level of sophistication that comes with top-of-the-line tanks and cleaning mechanisms and precision temperature monitoring and downed pirate ships. Bunnies and the hamster/guinea pig/gerbil family are cute, but more rare, and smell miserable—ask my sister. Anything reptilian is exotic in a way not offered by the mammalian options, although they’re generally for teenage boys who are a little bit strange, and might torture ants in the backyard, and be named Sid.
Cats, perhaps related to their personalities, are an enigma. No other pet causes such extreme polarization. Not even politics divide people the way cats do. I am generally of the persuasion that if God had created animals to be domesticated, he would have made them complete with tiny sweaters and collars, bowls that say Fido or Felix, and their own personal pillow to lie around on all day. But God did not. He created them with claws and teeth and strong hind legs to outrun and pounce on their prey. And if animals were created for the wild, why, in fact, do we not leave them in the wild? We invite these barbaric creatures inside of our homes to bite our children and “do their business” on our floors. What Madness! My wife does not share this persuasion about animals.
We have a cat. His name is Ron Swanson, after the character from the TV show Parks and Recreation. I love Karly, loved her enough to ask her to marry me, and I decided this past September, a month before our wedding, that I would prove this love for her by surprising her with a tiny wedding present that would cuddle up with her and melt her heart, and she would remember me, her hero, and would tell me that she loved me back. Therefore, when a coworker mentioned that his in-laws had a litter of kittens they were giving away, I got the address and told Karly we were going on an adventure. The kittens were so small they could stand on my flattened palm. One started walking toward us, jittery on its feet, like it was still working out how to use its legs. I think Karly cried a little. My plan worked.
When we first got Ron, he was extremely little, and, admittedly, cute. I would dangle an old shoestring in front of him, and he would chase it round in circles, rearing back on his hind legs, front paws up like a center in basketball, ready to swat. He would sprint across the floor with his back arched and his hind legs swung around like they were trying to outrun him. He would attack my hands, biting at my knuckles and my wrist, with his baby teeth. It tickled.
Now, Ron is a teenager, with all the rebellion that comes with it. I have kindly explained to him the value in staying off of the dinner table, as we would appreciate not eating his hair. I have disciplined him by spraying him with a high-powered squirt bottle in a futile Pavlovian attempt to train him. I have asked him to please, get his dirty, litter-encrusted paws off my table before I leave him out in the snow to fend for himself—“You live in my house, you live by my rules!” I have apologized after saying hurtful things to him. And yet, every time I leave the room, I hear him knocking around a cup or a plate, playing with the silverware. He will get up onto the coffee table, look me in the eyes, and slide a cup half-full of water off onto the floor without blinking. I wonder why I ever let this soulless beast into my home.
This is a new scene with Ron: I am leaving for work in the morning after Karly is already gone. I put on my coat and sling my bag over my shoulder. Ron comes up and lies down in the chair near the door. “Watch it,” I tell him, making sure he isn’t going to make a run for it as soon as I crack the door. He just blinks at me lazily. I open the door and slide out, pulling it shut behind me. I hear the blinds shaking as I lock the door and look over to see Ron, who has climbed up onto the windowsill and is watching me. He puts his paw up onto the glass. I walk over and tap the window with my index finger. There’s something about that inane cat that makes me love him despite the table-dirtying, cup-tipping, morning-waking, writing-interrupting madness he brings to my life. It’s something not quite deserved. He spends the majority of his time intentionally annoying me. I have given him clear instructions, which he has actively ignored. But he’s still mine.
I realize now that this is too predictable of an ending, where time and a cute little face melt the icy villain’s heart. But it occurs to me that it was less that I was won over by Ron in time. It’s more that I decided from the beginning that I was going to love him. I loved him before we got in the car to pick him up, before I explored the backseat with him when Karly went in to buy him food and litter, before he slept on my neck for the first two weeks we had him, and, yes, before he shattered three of our nice glasses and gashed my forehead while I was sleeping. I vowed to Karly that I would. So even when he is at his worst, I know that I will give him Grace, because he’s my strange domesticated animal and I love him. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
TJ Pancake went to Cedarville University, where he studied to Preseminary Bible in preparation for becoming a pastor. Through the years, he has continually rediscovered a love for writing. He lives in Dayton, OH where he is helping to plant a church and hoping to improve his writing skills. His essay, “Against Grandiosity,” appeared in issue 9 of Mock Turtle Zine. He also loves food. Especially when it’s fried. Image from pixshark.com