My good friend Marc and Kelly and I were on a hike, talking about children. Marc didn’t know Kelly is pregnant. He was going off:
“When I think of children I think of screaming infants, of financial burden, of the rest of your life being dedicated solely to them. How is that appealing? I honestly don’t get it. I had to ask Sabrina why people have children, why she wants to have children. I wanted her to explain to me what I’m missing.”
“What’s she say?”
“That she hates me.”
“But then I think of my cat,” he goes on. “And I love my cat. When Sabrina told me she wanted a cat, I was like, alright, sure, a cat, woo-hoo. But now? Now, I love my cat. I love him. Never knew I’d love something like that. Sometimes I think that he’s gotten outside and I go into fucking palpitations.”
Kelly and I looked at each other and smiled.
We’d just driven to LA from Corvallis—a sixteen hour trip—with our two cats in their kitty-carrier in the backseat. Dengue the Cat was rather upset. When she’s upset she meows. Her meows range from the most heart-wrenchingly lonesome sob you’ve ever heard to merely plaintive to downright leonine angry. She ran the scales for hours, dragging me up my own scales, which ranged from measured breathing to fingers drumming the steering wheel to teeth-grindingly struggles for restraint.
“I’m going to toss that cat out the fucking window.”
“No. You’re not.”
“Can I at least hold her out the window?”
“Nathaniel,” Kelly said, using her patient voice, “Are you going to hold the baby out the window when it’s crying?”
She had a point. If I am unable to bear a scrawny Paraguayan cat’s backseat yowling without threatening to throw her out a moving vehicle, I am doomed when our baby starts hitting pitches just shy of bat sonar. The problem is, I have a certain sensitivity to certain noises, rhythmically erratic noises in particular. Snoring, for example—those cursed nights I’m forced to share a room with a snorer I’ll lie awake for hours, dreading yet caught in excruciating anticipation of each and every clotted gasp. Occasionally our chickens will throw fits first thing in the morning, and the boiling agitation behind their incessant and explosive bwer-bwaaakkkkk!-ing is almost unbearable. I’ll sprawl half out of bed, open the sliding glass door, and fling pens or other random bedside objects at the coop, though sprawled as I am they never make the distance, and arc into the kale, where I’ll retrieve them days later, and be like, what the hell?…oh, yeah, and I’ll look over at the birds, who are looking at me, heads tilted to the side, patiently waiting to sample some kale, and I’ll flush with shame.
So yeah, a baby coming? Sudden and unpredictable instances of soul-piercing screams? I’m done for. I know that. But I’m not a lunatic. I’m won’t hold the baby out the window. I assume my overwhelming love and genetic regard for my own spawn will overcome my aversion to sudden shrieking sounds. It’ll have to.
And to make a statement that can only be so blithely declared by someone without kids, I think Marc’s right—pets are like baby-training wheels: all it took to soothe poor Dengue was to turn round in our seats and talk gently to her, offer her our fingers to rub, just as I’ll calm the chickens by clucking softly to them, feeding them shreds of kale. Really, though: we feed the cats when they cry in hunger, we clean up their feces and vomit, we scold them, we’re fiercely protective of them, we coo over them and make up absurd nicknames for them (“precious little fluffy-fluff”) and call each other into the room to gaze adoringly at them sleeping so cutely, their little toys are strewn about the otherwise clean living room (I’ll even sing songs about the toys: “little green snake, little green snake” being one of their favorite refrains), Kelly is always yelling at Dengue to “be nice to your sister” and picking them up and twirling them around to Elton John songs (well, “Honkey Cat,” at least), they dominate our bed at night, they’re jealous of our attention, and on and on, just like infants.
“…if I were all the man
that (she) is
if there were men
the world could
(Charles Bukowski, from “startled into life like fire”)