52: The Marks of a Lasting Love

52: The Marks of a Lasting Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

The Marks of a Lasting Love

To bathe a cat takes brute force, perseverance, courage of conviction — and a cat. The last ingredient is usually hardest to come by.

~Stephen Baker

It was Mom’s fault. She got the ball rolling with one simple, crazy declaration: “WT needs a bath.”

Imagine my surprise. WT had been with us for a full year and had shown no symptoms of being especially grimy. I tried to put up a good fight, for her sake and mine.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “Cats clean themselves. Constantly. WT doesn’t need a bath.”

Mom was insistent. “It’s been a year. She needs a bath.”

It’s not that I had any objection to having a clean cat; it was just that I was perfectly happy with WT the way she was. Once more I tried to avert an obvious mistake. “Have you ever tried to give a cat a bath? You know how cats feel about getting wet.”

I thought this salvo of good sense would move Mom away from her madness, but she remained adamant. “It’s been a year. She needs a bath.”

Against such obstinacy the gods themselves strive in vain. Mom’s mind was made up: WT had a date with the kitchen sink.

WT had arrived in our lives exactly one year before — on my twenty-first birthday, no less, which made her arrival extra special for me. And over the ensuing twelve months, WT revolutionized our lives.

You see, we had never had a cat before. It had been a long time since we had had any pets. Our most recent pet had been one lonely goldfish with a penchant for jumping out of his bowl; he had made his final flop a couple of years before, and our home had been pet free ever since.

Then our landlord finally relented and gave us the okay to get a cat. So, while I stayed on the couch and celebrated my birthday by watching playoff baseball, Mom and my sister Paula went to the shelter and picked out our new kitty.

Very quickly, our new friend earned the name “Wild Thing,” a moniker that was inevitably shortened to her more dignified initials, WT.

WT instantly became the joy of our lives. Everyone doted on her, all day every day: constant petting sessions, countless snapshots to capture her every mood and move, hours of playtime with balls, string, and dozens of toys. Each day of that first year seemed to bring some new delight. A first cat is always a source of endless surprises. You never know what crazy thing kitty will do next — or, as it turned out, what crazy ideas she’ll inspire in her human companions.

Like, for instance, the idea that a cat needs a bath.

Crazy or not, that afternoon the three of us herded WT into the kitchen. Before she knew what was happening, we were able to grab WT and get her into the kitchen sink, where Operation Clean Kitty commenced.

The first part of the job went smoothly enough. WT, though profoundly unhappy, favored us with quiet, begrudging, squirmy cooperation. The trouble only truly began when we got the reluctant target of Mom’s enforced hygiene routine out of the water.

Paula and I made every effort to dry her off, but — as you can imagine — WT was most interested in beating a hasty retreat. Our hit-and-run attempts with the towels left WT dry enough that I was ready to call it a day.

Again, Mom had other plans. “She’s still wet,” Mom said, declaring her dissatisfaction. “She needs to be dry.”

“She’s as dry as she’s going to get,” I said.

“She’s unhappy enough as it is,” Paula noted.

“She’ll get sick if she’s not dry,” said Mom.

This, of course, was absurd. “It’s almost 90 degrees outside,” I said, in mounting exasperation. “She’s not going to get sick. The heat will dry her off soon enough.”

“She will get sick,” Mom insisted. “She needs to be dry.”

Again: obstinacy… gods… striving in vain…

And then came the fateful moment. I honestly don’t remember who suggested using the hair dryer. In hindsight, an obviously crazy idea. But — as is always the case whenever things really go off the rails — it seemed like a good idea at the time.

So, while my sister got the hair dryer from the bathroom, I kept WT corralled within the kitchen. Soon enough Paula was ready, standing by the kitchen table with the hair dryer plugged in and ready to go. Then I made my move: I grabbed WT and hastened into position, a few feet in front of my sister. I held WT out in front of me, the same way a person holds a baby who has done terrible things in her diaper.

“Hurry,” I advised. “I won’t be able to hold her like this very long.” Truer words were never spoken.

Paula held up the hair dryer, pointed it at WT, and flipped the power switch.

The results of that fateful action were, literally and figuratively, electric.

The instant the hair dryer roared to life I found myself holding a furry tornado. WT spun around in my hands, like a cartoon Tasmanian devil, in a frenzied and ultimately successful attempt to escape the hair dryer’s fury. In the process, her rear claws raked my left forearm, slashing a series of angry-looking gashes from the base of my thumb to halfway down to my elbow. As I howled in shock and pain, WT leapt down to the floor and scrambled away, her revenge already turning bright red along my forearm.

And with that, our “bathe the cat” project came to an abrupt end.

Having done her damage, WT vanished into some faraway hiding place. She got away clean, you might say.

I was not so lucky. Again I spent part of my birthday watching playoff baseball — this time sitting in a chair in the local emergency room.

My wounds, as it turned out, looked impressive but were not particularly dangerous. A bit of professional cleaning, some sterile coating, and a tetanus shot covered my medical needs. All in all, not much damage despite those few seconds of high drama. I would make it home again alive and in one piece.

The funny thing is, I never really blamed WT for the damage she did to me. After all, she had not meant to hurt me; she just wanted to get away from our clumsy attempts at cat grooming. Even if she had scratched me on purpose, she was probably justified. No court in the land would have convicted her.

But something deeper was at work. Later that night, as I sat on the couch holding up my arm, studying the red streaks that traced the paths of WT’s claws, feeling the throbbing ache within those scratches, I knew that I loved WT too much to ever hold such a trivial thing against her. In fact, that incident sealed the deal for me: I was “all in” on being a cat person. A year with WT had shown me the delights that come from letting a cat into your life; a few flesh wounds were a small price to pay for such a blessing.

It has now been ten years since WT passed away. Gus, our family’s equally beloved second cat, is also gone and sorely missed. Today, our Maxi holds the office of beloved family cat. These days, I also get to enjoy an extended feline family: a stable of wonderful kitties I know through my cat-sitting clients, plus the numerous cats I’ve helped prepare for adoption through volunteer work at a local animal shelter — many of whom have gone on to join families and change others’ lives in the same way that WT changed my life.

All of the joys that cats have brought to my life began with WT. And those scratches on my arm turned into a set of scars that I have come to cherish. They are not just the physical evidence of a moment when WT literally touched my life; they are also a permanent reminder of WT’s legacy, of how she changed my life in so many ways. The scars on my left arm are truly the marks of a lasting love, and I will treasure them until the day I die.

~Stephen Taylor

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