“You need a cat,” she said.
I was sitting in my apartment in OU, talking to Ingrid, my Mennonite hippie friend from Durant. We were splitting dinner, which, given my negative bank account balance, consisted entirely of the pepperoni pizza somebody called in and never picked up from my night job at Pizza Shuttle.
I was taking 12 hours, working full time at night, and considering dropping out and walking Route 66 to the Pacific Ocean.
She looked around my apartment. We were sitting in the two plastic Wal-Mart patio chairs, with the pizza box resting on my coffee table, my only other piece of furniture, besides the foam pad I slept on.
“You need a cat,” she repeated.
I thought about it. Can a cat subsist entirely on day-old pizza? Did my apartment even allow it? How could I care for another living creature.
“No, I don't think I do,” I said.
She weighed that as she peeled a slice of pepperoni off.
“Yeah, you do.”
That was the end of that discussion. My friend Ingrid was born and raised on a farm, and like all farms, colonies of farm cats roamed about freely. The half-feral critters earned their place by catching rats, and she knew of a litter of kittens that had just been born. Coyotes or stray dogs had already picked off a couple, and she didn't give the remaining kittens much of a chance to survive to adulthood.
Ingrid also saw that I was living a lonely life, headed for the worst kind of long-term bachelorhood. She didn't give me much chance of ever finishing school, finishing my novel, or quitting my job delivering pizzas. I would be in the same routine when I was 40, in her eyes.
“Don't worry. I'll pick out the perfect one. She'll suit you,” she said.
Some men are born into cat ownership, and some have cats thrust upon them. I had my cat thrust upon me. And so it was decided: I would be a cat owner.
The other day, one of my writers accused me of being a fatalist. I have to admit, she was right. When you've had as many life-altering decisions made for you by a hippie Mennonite woman from Durant as I have, you would be too.
The next weekend, Ingrid returned from her farm with a tiny little ball of puff with a distended belly. She handed her off to me, and despite my better judgment, I took it and cradled it in my hands.
The thing didn't have a name. She'd need one. I picked “Bobbie Sue,” after the country song by the same name. Also, I liked the name Sue because Johnny Cash had died not long before, and I wanted to remember him some way. Sue would fit.
That was in 2003. I have had the cat for almost four years now.
If this were fiction, this story would be about redemption, and how the power of love and responsibility for another living creature changed me, and gave the cat a chance at a second life.
This is not fiction. This is my life. The cat, though cute, has the dark soul of something from a Stephen King novel.
She either loves me, or loves the taste of my blood and the sounds of my shrieks of pain.
There's nothing like the feeling of coming home at night after a long day at the office to know that there's a stealthy hunger out there waiting to try to kill you. She goes for the feet and ankles, and when that doesn't work, uses her tawny brown coat as camouflage to hide on the stair steps leading up to my bedroom. Once I get close, she darts under my foot, engaging in an occasionally successful campaign to trip me and roll me down the stairs.
When I'm gone, and not there for her to shred, she turns her attention to the furniture and carpet instead, and has recently learned to climb the drapes and hang there like a Garfield car ornament.
Yet I love her. Why? Familiarity, I guess. Obligation, maybe. Maybe just because she doesn't judge me – only abuses me.
I wouldn't dream of living without her – she's among the best things to happen to my life.
And she's the worst cat in the world.