I was in a PetSmart buying dog food for a friend when I spotted cages full of three and four month old kitties. Kittens this age are the most photogenic they'll ever be. They fall all over each other, because they're still a little bit clumsy. They're bony little things with big eyes and lots of fur, and they're damned cute.
I hate pets, as a rule. Dogs drool on you and piss on everything other dogs piss on, while cats are too aloof. Dogs do not have an independent thought in their minds - nor do they want to - while cats studiously ignore the hired help, which is you. Both require far too much maintenance. As I walked by the little mewling furbags, I hardened my heart and imagined how I'd wind up hating their adult cat versions. This worked as long as I walked at a brisk pace past their cages.
A four week old yellow kitty looked at me. I stopped. I peered at it. It peered back at me. I stuck a finger into the cage. It took one of its soft little paws and touched my finger. I wiggled the finger. It brought its head over, so that it could be scratched behind its ears.
I kneeled down so that my eyes were level with the kitty's. Its eyes tracked mine. Then I stuck two fingers in. It kept touching my fingers. If a kitty could ever be said to be starved for human touch, it was this cat. It kept its paws on my fingers as if to say, please, stay right here. I want to curl up in your hands.
This is not the way a grumpy man who doesn't like pets behaves. My defenses were breaking down.
The kitty was in a cage with two other cats. They were far more rambunctious and meanspirited. This cat, my cat kept to itself alongside one wall. Its aloof spirit appealed to me. It was willing to go its own way. I had to respect that.
I did something I've never done in my life. I asked the pet store owner if I could hold the yellow kitty.
She took it out of the cage with her hands just behind the front legs, so that the kitty looked like a long, limp piece of cartilaginous animal, as if it was being transported by the mother who had grabbed the kitten by the scruff of his neck, and it had gone completely limp during the transport. It was deposited into my arms as if it was a little human baby. It was warm. It looked up calmly at me. I think it liked to be held, to be surrounded by my arms, and to have its head cradled in my hand. It put a paw on my chest.
It had had all of its shots, and it was neutered. Pre-neutered, it was a he. No more. The price: $140.
It seemed to enjoy the quiet of being by itself, without the constant haranguing of the other cats. The only time it was afraid was when it heard the barking of a nearby dog. Then its claws came out and it burrowed into my arms, trying to make itself invisible.
Having a pet is a poor substitute for a child. Nothing beats holding your own daughter in your arms and having her look up at you. You can see your soul in her eyes. My daughters are now grown women, but I remember as if it was yesterday the feeling I had when I first held them in my arms. The first-moment memory of holding your own baby is burned into your soul, seared as if by a branding iron. You remember the sight, you remember the smell, you remember how scared your baby is, and you remember how big your heart is. It swells up to fill your chest. This is your child. You have new responsibilities, but they are nothing compared to the infinite amount of new love you have.
My child-bearing years are behind me. The future is for grandchildren, if I and my daughters are fortunate. In this interim period, I have emotions that I don't know what to do with.
It would have been easy to become attached to the little kitty. It would have been easy to take it home and make it mine.
A little voice said not to.
I handed the cute little kitty back to the store owner and looked at it one more time. I could only hope its eventual owner would love it and treat it kindly.
That's the way these stories end. The ending is not like you think it is. A decent person would have bought the kitty and given it a good life. Perhaps its fate is destined to be a cruel one. Perhaps my fate will be pleasant, or unpleasant. Who knows? One doesn't know these things.
Every day this scene is repeated a hundred different times in a thousand different pet stores throughout the country. Different people. Different kitties. For some, fate decrees a happy intersection.
My fate was this: I paid for the dog food and walked out the store. The kitten is still in its cage. It forgot about me as soon as I walked out the door. I still remember how it looked at me, and the way its paws felt wrapped around my finger.
Sometimes I feel things. Other times, I feel nothing anymore.