Over my nineteen years my mom filled our little house with as many mammals as possible. We’ve collected a buckskin broad named Jewel, another flighty horse named Jack, our “close-talker” dog, Freeway, a deafening sheltie named Stix, my handsome Oakley cat and recently, my mom’s birthday kitten, Dazy. They’ve taught me more than I could teach them: patience, respect and friendship, along with the ability to put up with the mounds of hair that coat my clothes and catch together in corners, under tables and unused spaces on our hardwood floors. We joke that my mother wants to “collect as much hair as she can” and we’ve been exceeding the expectation. I don’t think I would recognize my pants if they didn’t have some hair on them. As I write this, our “close talker” – because he needs to be as close to you as possible and under your chin – is being persistent in occupying the void between my laptop and myself.
I used to be a dog person – and looking back I can’t recall the moment that shifted – but I was a girl who had been surrounded by dogs her whole life; he was a scruffy fur ball that was peeing in his owner’s farmhouse. He spent his first few months of life in transition from the humane society to a farm. The fifty-dollar feline was unwanted and had worms in his belly from living on the Bolingbroke Ranch. My mother couldn’t resist and the owner didn’t want him anyways. Sometimes I almost feel bad about taking the cat from the farmer’s daughter, a three-year-old, who had named him Oakley, but I know that I would love him more. It seems selfish. Probably is. My mom revealed that she had brought home a kitten, I fell in love, and I knew that I had completed my transition into being a cat person after years of asking for a cat (along with many other unacceptable animals).
My father hates cats, probably because his mother, my grandmother, also hates cats so bringing Oakley into our house ricocheted off every wall, creating tension and landing in the center of our home in an explosion of pride, ego and divorce papers. It hasn’t been a year yet and my family has been split in half, leaving me down the middle. I’ve always considered myself as someone who gets along with everyone, so that’s the stance I’ve taken in my family as the go-between and secret keeper with my main duties including: running child support cheques, withholding judgment and keeping my mouth shut about my father’s new girlfriend. For a long time I thought that the less trouble I created, the less would ripple through my family. After that didn’t work, I figured that if I stayed out of trouble, it would be one less thing for my parents to worry about. Looking back, my mother’s placement of the kitten in my hands was her only grace. If Oakley had landed in any other family member’s palms he wouldn’t have been allowed to stay. Perks of being a daddy’s girl, I guess. Now, I have at least four years of partying, recklessness and ripples to make up for with Oakley being my first.
My parent’s divorce has made me appreciate my life and has molded me into a more confident adult. In less than a week, I will celebrate my nineteenth birthday with my friends. Three years ago, I put boys before my friends – and even before myself – while carrying the burdens of a whole family on my shoulders. Bringing Oakley home filled me with unconditional love and fueled me with as much ego and pride as the divorce did for my parents. I’m no longer the shy girl my parents expect me to be so I don’t put up with anything less than great in my life, which means I’ve cut negative energy that has manifested itself as the people previously in my life. Yesterday someone described me as successful, and I don’t think I’ve been more proud of myself. My thoughts are vast and dreamy but I’m not muddled in them anymore. Feeling so many emotions pumping through my body threw me back into context.
While I was in Banff this summer, my dad, his girlfriend, my now ex-boyfriend and I piled into a boat for a tour of Lake Minnewanka. The guide mentioned during the tour that the majority of the park has been set ablaze through controlled burns; The sections that are spared are those too close to settlements. My initial reaction was horror, which it shouldn’t have been because I know the science behind forest fires and their impact on healthy growth. “Only you can prevent wildfires” was the tag line for Smokey Bear but that is far less advertised today. While uncontrolled burns can be cause for harm to areas near cities, fires are natural revitalizers and mine happened to be my flame-colored cat.
I know that Oakley isn’t the reason for the divorce but he may have helped the process along. I’m an advocate for timing. The events in my life surrounding my parents’ divorce are countered by positive events. Bringing home Oakley was God’s way of preventing implosion so instead the energy created from frustration and pain fueled a controlled renewal of my disposition. He is a fire-starter cat, burning between a peaceful flame and a blaze destroying forests. It’s best to think of a forest fire, although they destroy, they allow light to the underbrush, which creates new beginnings and more diversity; my family is more diverse because of Oakley as we’ve added new creatures and friends into both sides of my family. Surprisingly, my languid, orange cat shifted the dimensions of my home and lifestyle. He’s a cat-alyst that has pushed me into a new phase of my life.
Our relationship hasn’t changed. He’s my little handsome kitten and I’m the human who feeds him on a semi-regular schedule. He probably doesn’t know how much I appreciate him despite the excessive affection he suffers. I wouldn’t have given him back if I knew what he could do. When I was little, I never would have thought that I could love a cat so much or that he would mold my world into an unrecognizable place. But I guess that’s how natural disasters work; you don’t recognize the danger until you’re captivated by the rhythmic thrum of their purr.