My friend has a basket of kittens she rescued from a dumpster. I haven’t held one, but I know that they smell like dusty corn chips, and that their soft weightless bodies make the dopamine surge. I know that they grow to be heavy-bodied things that drape across your chest while you’re reading in bed, like a warm, calming rice pack. I know what their pink, dry noses sound like when they’re sniffing your neck and how their lips feel delicious nuzzling and purring urgently against your skin.
I already know that if I broached the subject, the answer would be no. I was forming arguments, but really I didn’t have any.
Nobody has cleaned the straw in the chicken coop for months, and we don’t even remember to gather the eggs, which crack and turn sticky in the filthy nesting boxes. We forget to fill the dog’s water bowl or keep track of his flea medicine. Never mind the piles of mail we can never manage to work our way through, and I can’t remember the last time our youngest child had a bath that involved actual shampoo.
Still, I want to shove one of those kittens under my shirt and run home with it because these are decisions of the heart, not the head, and my heart could use some soft, fuzzy things to crack the tired ice forming around it.
But then I was lying in bed last night, whirling through dental, financial, and other miscellaneous worry when this thought bulldozed through all the mental chattering. If I average the life spans of my previous cats (who have lived well into their bony, shaky, pee-on-the-couch years) to estimate the potential life span of one of those kittens in the basket, it could realistically be around for the next twenty years. That means I would be sixty before I would be burying that kitten.
Oh my God. I am only one cat away from being sixty.
My parents are only one cat away from being in their nineties, or dead.
In twenty years, my daughter will be pushing 30. A woman who goes to work every day and uses an ATM machine.
My son, who still sleeps in a pull-up, will be some young man with stubble, rent due at the end of the month, and a date on Friday night.
We are all only one cat away from being unimaginably different people with an unimaginably shorter amount of time left to tumble towards the finish line.
I understand that it is not the kitten itself that will bring about these inevitable evolutions, but I certainly don’t need her lounging around in that sunny patch on the carpet, virtually rubbing our faces in it.