At some point during my 3rd grade, my Mother adopted a stray gray tabby and immediately took to calling it “ThatF/ckingCat.”
I do not remember if my first pet had a traditional Christian name. Nor do I remember its gender.
I do remember deep and painful scratches on my arms and legs, and the gnarled plastic of my Barbie’s toes.
Peaches n’ Cream Barbie had been a gift from my Father whom I saw only occasionally in those days. She was my most prized possession during a time I mostly read Batman comics and had already chosen the transformer Optimus Prime as my future husband. A tomboy at heart, I still tried my best to keep my Barbie safe from our new pet, but her feet eventually became so deformed I was forced to amputate. The surgery was deemed unsuccessful when the glittery peach heels I forced her ragged stumps into repeatedly popped off with a violent determination and without warning, but always when an eyeball was within close range.
My Mother told me to make my peace with Barbie when she started resembling a zombie prom queen worthy of a George Romero sequel. Her matching peach dress and boa were shredded in various important places making it impossible to keep her decent. Half of her hair had been ripped out revealing a deformed, needle punched skull. An empty eye socket revealed a secret I would later learn about most provocatively dressed women. One of her hands had been eaten clean off.
“ThatF/ckingCat ate your Barbie’s face!“ my Mother said as she shoved the plastic corpse into the trash.
I noticed my Mother’s arms were covered with scratches in assorted stages of healing. Each tear in the flesh stamped like a hieroglyphic describing one of many feline vs. family battles. The whiter lines spoke of unwelcome petting endeavors – an act the cat despised. The light pink lines told the story of the time my Mother dared to reach under the sink for soap and disturbed the cat’s favorite hiding place. The spiral pattern of darker red welts revealed a failed bathing attempt that was, more likely than not, punishment for the soap episode.
As I watched Barbie slide into a puddle of yogurt, I wondered if she would later rise from her creamy grave and seek revenge upon us for failing to properly protect her and her Ken fetching wardrobe. As my Mother’s favorite literary genre was horror and the first book I ever read on my own was Dracula, Barbie coming back from the dead seemed more than reasonable to a 3rd grader. The previous Christmas I asked how Santa could get into our apartment when we had no fireplace. My Mother replied that Santa could vaporize into smoke like a vampire and slip silently under any door or through the crack of an open window.
While other children tossed and turned themselves to sleep on Christmas Eve, their eager brains buzzing with expectant bliss, I lay shivering under a wool blanket pulled up to my eyes, the stench of garlic wafting up from my socks.
“Why do you smell like Pizza?” my Mother would ask as I tore through wrapping paper and ribbon with red and weary eyes, less grateful for the gifts than for surviving another visit from the undead fat man.
During the sleepless night of the doll funeral, I cried for the loss of the gift from my Father while simultaneously wondering if garlic worked on zombie Barbies. I imagined Barbie struggling to limp along the kitchen floor on shoeless stumps, her shredded dress whispering deadly promises along the tile, her tiny, indecent frame passing unnoticed under my Mother’s busy footsteps. In Barbie’s remaining hand, she held one of her glittering peach pumps, its heel jutting out menacingly while a permanent smile spread across what was left of her once beautiful face.
I eventually fell asleep, sure that I would be roused later by a dainty yet determined attempt to blind me. Instead, I awoke to my Mother screaming.
“Jesus Christ! ThatF/ckingCat is trying to kill you!”
I felt a rush of air and the tickle of fur move over my face. As I wheezed myself into a sitting position, I saw my Mother swatting at the cat as it pounced around on the bed, hissing and swatting back at her. It leapt into the hallway and my Mother stumbled after, both seeming to fly into the living room on a magic carpet made of swears and cat screams.
Our relationship with the cat followed this pattern until my Mother threatened to drop it off in a field near our apartment. Of course, the tears of a small child are powerful, tiny charms, and I worked their magic like a mini-voodoo priestess. While I do not remember actually loving ThatF/ckingCat, I do remember feeling terrible about it being alone and hungry in an open field, with no family trying to force unwanted affection on it.
My Mother eventually succumbed to my witchcraft and resolved her dislike of the animal in three ways.
First, she completely ignored it, an act the cat seemed to greatly appreciate. Second, she banished it nightly from my bedroom where it would pass sounds of feigned loneliness under the door only to claw at my ankles and run as soon as I dared to comfort it.
And third, my Mother smoked more Mary Jane.
Around the same time as this great compromise, my Mother began to notice little yellow mushrooms poking out from the dirt in all of her plants. My Mother’s plants came a disturbingly close second to me on the list of things she loved deeply. She spoke to them on the way to the kitchen or bathroom, often referred to them as her only real friends, and she stroked them the same way you stroke a cat that doesn’t repeatedly scratch and bite you. That passion in combination with a recent reading of The Findhorn Garden, and a substantial increase in cannabis use, led to the confused conclusion the mushrooms were a saintly salute from the pagan god Pan.
ThatF/ckingCat’s still regular and destructive antics quickly faded out of my Mother’s line of sight as she began to busy herself with documenting the sacred mushrooms’ development. There were daily progress notes, sketches and oil paintings, and whenever visitors would stop by, she would host a guided tour of each plant and its holy yellow crop. I remember one of my Mother’s closest friends asking me in a whispered voice whether or not I thought my Mother was feeling okay.
I was too little to know the obvious answer to such a question, so I focused any subconscious concern into open disapproval of the mushrooms. All children come into the world programmed to think anything resembling a vegetable is poisonous. Also, some classroom memory claiming mushrooms came from cow poop kept rolling around my skull like a loose marble. Every time I looked at the mushrooms or one of my Mother’s paintings, my eyes would roll with it.
One day during the phase I now refer to as Mushroom Mania, I sat on the floor watching The Muppet Show and eating a bowl of yogurt while my Mother lazed on the couch, drafting another sketch of God’s great gift. ThatF/ckingCat nuzzled my elbow before it slid along the length of my arm, its tail twitching, aiming to pick a fight. To avoid another unprovoked attack, I froze in place with the yogurt spoon at my lips, then relaxed as the cat moved past me and climbed up into the pot of one of my Mother’s plants. My Mother, concentrating on her current piece of fungal art, failed to notice. I watched unblinking and bug-eyed as the cat first circled, then scratched, then squatted.
“Mom,” I whispered.
“Hmmmm?” she replied without looking up. I still remember the slight smile on her face and the sparkle in her eye as she worked to create another porcini portrait.
“Mom.” This time louder.
My Mother shot me a quick glare then followed my focus to the plant and the cat. ThatF/ckingCat had just finished its fertilization and was now perched proudly on the edge of the pot. Its pendular gaze and tail swayed between my Mother and me. A form of telepathy began to take place as I watched my Mother’s expressions twist and turn like the flames of a rising fire. Confusion flickered as she squinted through smudged lenses to absorb the physical construct of what had just happened. A slow eye roll flared as her brain began to piece together the puzzle of information. By the time her gaze landed on the latest mushroom sketch sitting in her lap, both of us had experienced the same godless and organic enlightenment.
After all the celebration, the drawing, the painting, the journaling, the presentations to friends and neighbors, we both now knew the truth. It was not Pan bestowing bulbous blessings upon our Findhorn home.
It was the cat taking a dump on the plants.
An invisible strangeness appears before every natural disaster. The air is thick and still, the hair on our arms stands at full attention, and almost all sounds fall silent. My Mother and the cat now scowled at each other without blinking, their chins lowered and backs arched. The bowl of yogurt lay balanced in a hammock made by my dress, the spoon silently sneaking along the glass edge as if trying to escape the coming catastrophe. In my mind, Kermit nervously squeaked about The Rainbow Connection while slinking into an off-camera corner of the stage.
The storm erupted when my Mother flung her sketchbook in the direction of the cat and pounced directly after it.
“YOU LITTLE FUCKER!” she thundered as the cat stealthily avoided both her and the sketchbook while raking its claws down my arm to bank left as it flew by.
A tornado of profanity and cat yowls spun around the living room, picking up various objects and hurling them with deadly accuracy at the supersonic furry blur. A book was sucked in and spit out against the wall near the plant. A pillow soared over my head knocking the rabbit ears off of the television. The apartment shook with furious footfalls and claims of dishonor upon the entire Plantae kingdom. I sat in the eye of it all, my neck swiveling side to side, my yogurt bowl trembling but upright, and my eyelids snapping shut when debris from the twister would shoot out in my direction. As the force moved into our tiny kitchen, a sturdy paper bag was pulled into the spin, and I watched as the bag’s shadow chased the feline fugitive into its hiding spot under the sink.
My Mother, breathless, growled as she braced a knee against the cupboard door.
While the cat was normally fond of this special place and would draw blood to hold its position there, it immediately sensed its fatal mistake. The cabinet began to shiver as the cat clawed at wood.
My Mother turned toward me, her body forming an awkward yoga pose as she gripped the sink while keeping the shuddering door secure. In her other hand, the paper bag trembled and made a sound like fading thunder. She narrowed her eyes for a moment then pursed her lips. I could see drops of blood forming on her arms and face where the cat had fought to escape the funnel of fury. The Muppet Show flipped up and down on the TV screen beside me, its distorted picture a wandering victim of the storm. As Animal bounced around maniacally in the periphery, yelling something about hammers, I couldn’t help but notice his resemblance to my Mother. Hair sticking up as if someone had run a balloon over it, skin flushed to an unnatural red, eyes now wide and wild, daring me to argue with what she said next.
“ThatF/ckingCat is going to the pound!”