A twitchy orange tomcat named Jerry doesn’t belong to me, but damn it if I want to bring him inside, give him milk, check him for bugs, groom him however cats tolerate such an ordeal, and just generally domesticate him so that he will turn into a mama cat and have kittens in my room.
This is to say Jerry is not a cat. Jerry doesn’t roam around a farm somewhere in Iowa and feast on field mice and fight with badgers. This is to say Jerry doesn’t come around the house every so many weeks to see what cats are hanging around on the porch. This is to say Jerry doesn’t exist, exactly.
But he does. It does. Jerry is this thing I’m doing. Jerry wanders around, just like my interests. He is old and ratty, much like this writing I do. Inconsistent and underfed, but scrappy. It’s out there, roaming about.
I set it loose when I was in third grade, I’m guessing. This past weekend when we were at my parents’ for Thanksgiving, my mom brought out my contribution to my elementary school’s Invention Convention. My recollection is that this convention was like a science fair, but for elementary school kids’ inventions.
“Hey Erin, what would you like to invent?”
Third grade Erin: “Hm. Let’s see. Oh, I got it. How about a big board that I could wear like a bag? Like, a really big board, but maybe Dad could do all the work and build two boards together, and we could call it a ‘box.’ So it will be a big board-box thing that I could wear with some elastic as a strap or something, and that could carry around all my third grade writing supplies — like this pen I’m using that says PROPERTY OF ERIN on it — and then I could always have a desk with me whenever I want to sit down and write a story.”
“Are you frequently in need of a hard surface? Are you often at a place where there are no tables or desks? Or floors? Do you live on a prairie? In the woods, maybe?”
“No. I don’t see your point.”
The Story Box exists and takes up (a lot of) space, but Jerry doesn’t, really.
But Jerry meanders about. I fed him a lot when I was in elementary school, on through middle school, but then when high school came, Jerry was more often neglected than nurtured. I didn’t know what diseases Jerry carried in his gaunt little frame; maybe he would stay home on the farm when I left for college. Who knows what other things I could do in college? College, where instead of creative writing or journalism, I majored in a much more high-paying field: music.
I left him home to fend for himself or go out in the cold and die. I didn’t know whether he’d make it, and I wasn’t sure if I should care.
And now here I am, deeply embedded in adulthood. I’ve seen glimpses of Jerry in the past few years. He yowls, and his fur is patchy. He hasn’t eaten for long stretches of time. He’s been ignored, but he perseveres. So I’ve been throwing him some scraps and putting out some tepid water when I think of it. He comes around more often now. I even see him sit and attempt to groom himself; he’s trying to get better.
I’m thinking of him again, in a new light. I’m no longer wielding a 10-pound box on my person to use as an oversized cradle for him should I be too far from any hard surface. I am prepared, now, for him to come around more often as I have, well, a real adult desk (or a table, in a pinch) and a few pockets of time in my week. Yes, I have little kids who need constant care. But I kinda wanna take care of Jerry, too. I kinda want him to get healthy and come by every day. Or if he is determined to go on walkabout, at least when he comes back I could collect whatever pieces of the outdoors from his back to meld into some kind of writing. Maybe he could even come indoors with me, lie down on the bed. Snuggle up. And whoops, maybe Jerry isn’t a tomcat, but a lady, pregnant with a bunch of ideas for me to take care of, too.
I think my real, human kids would like a cat hanging around.