Almost exactly a year ago, I adopted a cat named Oscar from a shelter in Orange County. He had a mustache, and a fat fluffy butt, and I was obsessed with him immediately. But I was scared to bring him home because I was worried about the commitment.
As a waitress and sometimes-commercial-actress, I was in near constant financial stress as it was, and I had these horrible visions of myself guiltily tossing perfect lil Osc into a frozen alley on Skid Row and driving away weeping if he was diagnosed with anything more expensive than a nose-bleed - only to be haunted by his memory for the rest of my days. But the thought of another winter alone in my apartment was even scarier than my imagined catastrophes, so after several visits to the Petco where he was kept, I bit the bullet one day and brought him home.
Which was clearly the right decision. I was immediately in love. He would sit right next to me and purr and I would touch him awkwardly and scratch his weird smashed little mustached face, and stare around with my mouth open “Are you seeing this?!” I literally couldn’t believe him. There were facebook posts, and glitter collars, there were personally engraved name-tags and photo shoots. We peed side-by-side every morning, him in his little box, me on my old weho toilet. We were in love. It was awesome.
But a couple months in, Oscar started wanting more.
For a while Oscar had been looking out the window, yearning to play with the other cats that roamed in the courtyard. For the most part I ignored this behavior, and kept him occupied at home. But I had a new job and was away for 10 hours at a time and when I was gone… he’d go a little nuts. Like knocking things off the countertops nuts. Like, peeing on all my shit nuts. It was clear he wanted to be out. And I so badly wanted him to be happy. So one day, after a particularly aggravating bed-wetting, I held the door open for him and out he went. I thought he’d get his ya-yas out and come back in an hour or two. I thought it would be a nice little vacay followed by a long, purr-filled cuddle sesh.
Well. Turns out Oscar was quite the outsdoorman. Or maybe he was just a dick. Either/or, he turned into an absolute menace. He was gone for hours. He terrorized the other cats. He ate everyone else’s kibble. He broke in to everyone else’s apartments. He refused to let me bring him back in. He was an asshole, and he wouldn’t come home. I was worried sick.
After two days of Hitler-style courtyard domination, Oscar finally meowed at the door to come in for dinner. I threw myself at the doorknob, shaking with relief, arms open wide to welcome him back, and in he came, wild-eyed, scruffed-up and smelling like a trash-can. “Little man!” I yelled with enthusiasm, to which he walked right past me to his food bowl, inhaled every piece of kibble he could with his weird flat face then tromped RIGHT back to the door and cried like a bitch until I let him out again.
I was crushed. Gone was my companion waiting for me when I got home, and what I had in its place was a wide-eyed, garden-obsessed uncontrollable little terror. I knew our love was too pure to last. Oscar didn’t give a shit about me anymore.
To make matters worse, he was an angel to the neighbors.
I got phone calls: “Is this Oscar’s Mom? Yeah, your cat just came right inside! He is just so affectionate!”
“He just jumps right in the car with me when I bring in the packages!” said my mailman Juan. Fuck you, Juan. Fuck. You.
I would walk down the street, humiliated and jealous to pick him up when someone would call. I’d grab him by his furry little middle, apologize that he darted into their house, and cart him home, all the while him smiling up at me contentedly. “What Mom? What?” As soon as we got home he would wriggle out of my hands again, and some neighbor or other would cry out “Oscar!” - And so it went. I was so jealous. But I didn’t know what to do.
Then, on Christmas Eve, I came home from running errands, with an hour before I had to be at work, and 12 hours before I was on a plane to Mexico, and there was Oscar crumpled up on the front step, still as I came towards him. “Oscar?” I said, hopeful that he was at home, waiting to be pet, waiting to hang out. He watched me, but didn’t get up. Something was wrong. As I got closer, I saw that his eyes were glazed with pain, he was covered in dirt and leaves. I touched him and he growled and hissed. I rushed him to the vet, he’d broken his pelvis in three places and needed a surgical consult or cage rest for six weeks. He’d been hit by a car, only three months into my ownership. I was terrified. I was on a budget. I was leaving for Christmas vacation in 12 hours. I told them to board him there over my Christmas break, and I went to work.
I called the vet multiple times from Mexico City. Checking in on him whenever I could. When I went to pick him up when I got home, I winced as I handed over my credit card.”skid row, frozen paws, haunted for the rest of my life!”I thought. But it wasn’t so bad. Big; but could’ve been bigger. I had survived my pet owner nightmare, and the bank wasn’t broken.
From that moment on, I vowed to keep him in to protect him. That he would be an indoor cat and everything would be alright. And everything seemed to settle in for a couple months.
But then he began to get restless.
He hit the blinds. He meowed through the night. He stared at the other cats and hissed through the window. He started to pace. He started to rush the door as I came and went. And then one day…
“He has herpes! That’s why the ulcers won’t heal!”
Yes. Oscar had herpes. Black scabs were growing across the surface of his eyes. And once again, he needed surgery. Suddenly, the costs were climbing. Each vet visit was $150, every eye drop, supplement, or gel was $40, the total cost of his upcoming surgery a whopping $3600, and all the time Oscar, dismissive, restless, herpetic, wanted back outside.
I called my parents from the parking lot of the vet, sobbing, “Why can’t I take care of him? Why doesn’t he like me?!! I didn’t ask for this I can’t handle it!”
They told me to start looking or other adoptees. Someone who could afford to get him what he needed. At first I was horrified. But as the months wore on, and Oscar marched around my house bitchily as I fought to keep him healthy, their solution sounded better and better. It didn’t make sense. I couldn’t afford to help him. I started preparing to say goodbye.
Two months later I left for New York with a play I was performing. I left Oscar at a friend’s house with his array of pharmaceuticals and a list of eye drop instructions. And when I returned to him two weeks later, he was seeing more clearly. We were told we could wait on the surgery and watch him. He came back home. His eyes were clear. It was a miracle. I decided to keep him. I couldn’t stand the thought of him being anyone else’s. I recommitted. After all… he was the cutest goddamn cat I had ever seen.
I began to raise money for his surgery online. I petitioned my friends, my friends friends, strangers, persian rescues. Things were looking hopeful.
But the restlessness began anew. His brief sojourn at my friend’s place had made him hunger for the big world again. He was determined.
But so was I.
We fought it out for months. Me, knowing that another car accident and I wouldn’t have it in me to save him, and him, pacing about in front of windows, scratching things up, totally not getting why he was being imprisoned. My blinds were ravaged beyond repair, my down comforter permanently odorous from so many aggressive bed-wettings. He kept me up at night with his crying and meowing, I played bathtub peek-a-boo with him for hours and he was never satisfied, and the herpes continued, tongue ulcers, corneal scars, drops, suspensions, pills, pain drugs, my wits were at their very end. And then the phone call came.
Oscar had given my friend fleas while I was in New York. The extermination was going to cost $350. Bringing my total cost of Oscar care up to $2000 in under a year.
And still, he barely let me touch him.
That night I worked in wrathful silence, while Oscar stared out the window behind me. I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t pet him. I contemplated stabbing him in his squishy little face with a kitchen knife. But instead I chose to just keep working. In stony passive-aggressive silence.
Then Oscar hit the blinds.
Sixteen million times.
And finally. I lost it.
“WHAT OSCAR?” I screamed at him “WHAT? WHAT DO YOU NEED RIGHT NOW??!”
He cowered at the foot of the bed as I yelled. Frozen, silent, puffed-up and wild-eyed.
"OHHHH I"M SORRY, OSCAR! I’m SORRY!! WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU RIGHT NOW OSCAR? HOW CAN I CAN HELP YOU?!!!”
He was still for a moment. Tense. Furious. Then he crawled away from me. He hid under the bed. He’d never hid from me before.
I couldn’t get him to come out.
That night I opened the door and let him out. I don’t think I really cared what the fuck happened to him. Somewhere inside me I probably wanted him to get hit. I was so angry. Angry he was so cute. Angry he didn’t behave the way I wanted him to. Angry that he was so beyond my control. That he needed so much and gave me so little. Angry that the neighbors were thrilled to have him back. That I didn’t get any return for the loyalty I showed him. I set him loose because I had nothing left to try. Because I hated how much I had scared him.
He didn’t come home for a week. He ate at other people’s houses, slept under bushes, wouldn’t let me put in his eye drops. He turned up his nose at the food he used to love. When I did see him in the courtyard, since he never came home, I would wrangle him to the ground, stuff his meds down his throat, pull the various shit off his magnetic cat door collar that he had collected on his adventures… screws, nails, bits of metal shavings, and then he was off again. Now a wet-nurse, a caretaker, not a friend. A part of me was relieved that the responsibility was gone. But most of me was sad. Jealous. Angry.
I told myself he wasn’t really my cat anymore. That he was going to do what he was going to do and I had to make peace with it. It was the only way I could make it okay.
Then one afternoon, just a couple weeks ago, Oscar scratched at the door to be let in. I watched, very still, as he went over to his scratching post, just like he used to, then right to his bowl, and ate a meal with me for the first time since the night of our big fight. Then he jumped onto my bed, and fell asleep all afternoon. Then he came back the next day. And the day after that. He was choosing me again. I was sure he never would.
In a strange way, Oscar has taught me about generosity. Real generosity. Like, giving without expectation. Like, letting go of what you “get back” and choosing to do something anyway. And as bizarre as it is that that lesson had to come from a cat, I really am profoundly moved by being so brutally educated about my own powerlessness. Oscar flouted my control at every juncture, and in response, I denied him love. Just as he persistently defied me with his heinous health problems and Christopher McCandless-esque passions I tried to defy him back by controlling him, blaming him, and placing all these expectations on him that had no realistic correlation to his animal instincts and capabilities. And ultimately when I didn’t get to have it my way, I claimed that his end of the bargain wasn’t being held up and I punished him for it.
But I committed to be Oscar’s Mom when I adopted him last October. And unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps?) for me, that means being a Mom to whatever kind of a cat he actually is, not the one I want him to be. It’s not his fault that he’s sick, or restless or that everyone who meets him wants his attention as much as I do cause he’s so fucking cute. And actually, loving something is all about accepting those things that we find difficult. Isn’t it? I mean real, love?
Last week, Oscar spent the whole night at the foot of my bed like he used to, because I realized I love him enough to meet him where he is, instead of where I am.
It cost me $2000 in vet bills to learn what it really means to love something.
But when I see Oscar run out to the street to greet me when he hears my car door slam, I feel like maybe that wasn’t such a waste.