I mentioned to my completely fabulous new agent, Molly Friedrich, that I was surprised to have gotten no cat posts. Dog posts arriving at a fair clip, but nothing about cats at all. Within hours, she sent me the following. Talk about a full service agency! And she can write, as this lovely entry demonstrates:
Something that has always interested me is watching the ways in which we divide and sub-divide our worlds. Those who are pregnant and those who aren’t. Those country mice as opposed to the city slickers. Those who have cancer and those who don’t. The girls who grow up riding horses as opposed to those who are obsessed with ballet. But the greatest divide of all seems to be the dog people versus the cat people. I’ve always been a dog person, inarguably. But once our cat Sammy arrived, I certainly didn’t switch my allegiances, I just watched over the course of years as he managed to completely blur the lines of my dog-centric world. Let me explain how this treacherous behavior evolved: first, his arrival. When 9/11 happened, bringing Manhattan to its knees, my writer Sheri Holman was nine months pregnant. She crept out into her Brooklyn, postage-stamped sized backyard on that devastatingly beautiful late summer afternoon, wondering how she was ever going to manage to raise her baby into a world that had tipped over onto itself. When Sheri heard a feral cry, she spotted Sammy and caught him just before he could scramble away into the hedges. She brought him to a vet for shots and kept him for another week or so. Finally, sensing the pending arrival of the baby, her husband insisted that Sheri give the kitten away. “We already have four cats and a baby on the way! That’s not counting Ibrahim!—(their parrot of a decade, who calmly ate dinner from their plates)—You have to find a home for this kitten. Call Molly.”
I’d always heard that cats were notoriously independent and stand-offish; Sammy was different. He communicated with all of us, not plaintively meowing into the winds, but guiding us to learn his feline calls for food, water, whole fat milk, NOT two percent, sardines, the back door open, please, etc. He jumped on the trampoline with the little kids and insinuated himself into our hearts and daily lives. He tolerated the two undisciplined pound dogs who seemed sloppy and imbecilic in contrast to his sleek, athletic elegance. He quickly identified himself as my daughter, Lucy’s cat, sleeping on her chest when she was home, waiting for her to arrive, when she was not. They developed a distinctly secret language; certainly, I’ve never known any cat to come when he is called! Sammy seemed to know how to flourish in a large, distracted and noisy household. All was well until two Springs ago, when he first encountered what I can only call THE NEST.
Cats and birds, well, yes, it was inevitable, I suppose! But nothing prepared me for the viciousness and violence that marked that Spring. A couple of sparrows began building their nest right in the upper corner of our front porch. We all tried to discourage them but they persisted. Mud crud was removed, only to be re-attached to the porch corner the next day. Lots of daily bird shit, lots of territorial scrambling. THE NEST got built in spite of our efforts and one sad afternoon, I came home to what I’ve come to call The Great Homicide: Sammy had crept up a gutter spout and tipped over the nest, toppling the five baby birds onto the porch floor. None survived the fall and I’m afraid a couple of them were calmly decapitated by Sammy. That’s horrid, of course, but here’s what struck me as so weird: the sparrows never forgave him. For the rest of that Spring, and right through Summer, Sammy was tortured. When he went outside, the sparrows in the Hemlocks would somehow signal to one another that The Enemy had arrived. They would gather as a vast army and rush to attack him from all angles. Scores and scores of them. When he went outside, he could barely make it to the car, where he’d spend most of the afternoon, peering nervously to see if the coast was free. It never was; he’d have to wait until a person arrived to guard him back to the front door. It was like Alfred Hitchcock in Technicolor. Sammy went slightly mad during that season, we actually got him some tranquilizers; he’d wake up startled and hysterical, unrested and jittery. He’d hear the cries of the Sparrows and whirl about in tortured circles.
The following Spring, the Sparrows reappeared but this time, we blanketed the porch ceiling in chicken wire, we over-populated the porch with fake owls, we played calming videos for Sammy, hoping the birds would find a new home. Anywhere but here, indeed! These days, Sammy still goes outside, but he lurches for the odd field mouse, he keeps to himself when it comes to birds. Chasing dental floss along a rug is just about his speed, he’s finally mellowing into a new normal and that’s just fine with all of us!