“Do you have any idea what you’re looking for?” the receptionist of Smith County Animal Clinic and
Shelter asks as I step up to the counter and tell her that I am looking for a new pet.
“I would like to adopt a kitten, but I’ll look at any older cats if you don’t have any babies,” I tell her in my quiet, self-conscious voice. Every time I open my mouth to speak to someone I don’t know or someone who, for some irrational reason intimidates me, I’m scared I’m going to stammer or stutter or fumble my words and sound like an uneducated woman that I know I’m not. This fear causes me to speak slowly and softly.
Immediately embarrassed by my tone, I cut my eyes down to the counter. I’m a grown woman. I shouldn’t be this unsure of myself.
“All right, give me one moment to see what we have,” the brunette says and turns to face her computer.
Nodding my head, I look around the office wondering why I am here. Out of nowhere this morning, I
woke with a need to adopt another cat. I’ve had Sebastian, my Calico, for a year and a half now. We get along fine with each other. He seems content with being an only cat. Yet, for some reason, when I got up this morning, I felt the need to find him a companion. I’m not prone to psychic powers or precognition—if such things exist, and I tend to feel they might—so I’m not sure where this need came from or even why I am indulging in said need. I couldn’t stifle the feeling, the determination to put off work for a little while and drive to the shelter.
I have only a slight tendency toward impulsive shopping. However, for something this big—not that
getting a cat is like buying a new car—I normally make myself seriously think about the purchase for a few days, even a week, before actually making it. My compulsion to over-think things is why I can’t figure out how I ended up here at the shelter ready to pick up a new pet. My better judgment should have kicked in before I even got in the car, especially after talking to my sister.
“You aren’t turning into the creepy cat lady, are you?” Carrie, my younger sister, asked when I told her my plan this morning when she called for our daily chat. She usually calls me as she heads home from dropping her kids off at school. I take her call as my wake up call for the day. However, this morning I was already up, eating a cup of yogurt, and drinking a glass of milk when my cell began singing The Door’s “People Are Strange.”
“Two cats aren’t going to make me the creepy cat lady,” I argued, rinsing my milk cup and putting it into my dishwasher. “Besides, who are you to talk? You have two dogs and three cats. You are closer to being the creepy cat lady than I am.”
“Hold up. One, I have three kids who love animals. Two, all of my pets are outdoor pets. Three, one of those dogs and two of those cats are merely strays I feed because if I don’t the kids throw a fit.” Her voice sounded strange and distracted as she said the last bit, and I knew that she had switched her attention from me to the road.
For a brief second, I thought about fussing at her for talking while driving, but we’ve had this argument many times before and nothing has changed. She continues to talk while driving, never mind the laws against such things. I know her Bluetooth lets her talk without holding a phone to her ear, but it still bothers me. I refuse to be on my phone while driving, no matter the distance of my drive, or who is on the phone. She, on the other hand, would talk, text, and take pictures all while driving if she could figure out how to do it without wrecking her car.
I’ve had people suggest that I not answer the phone when she calls, but that doesn’t work. She’ll blow my phone up until I answer, or she will show up on my doorstep worried out of her mind that something has happened to me. More than a few times, she has chewed my ass for scaring her. No, answering her call is easier.
“Strays, huh,” I said a few seconds later when I knew most of her attention was focused on me again.
“You don’t take strays to the vet to get them fixed.”
“Hey, it’s in everyone’s best interest to fix roaming animals. Half of those animals starve and so do their offspring. I did them a favor by having them fixed.”
“Whatever. They are still not strays,” I said, laughing at her denial.
“You know, you should really find yourself a boyfriend instead of another cat,” she threw out in a voice that suggested she had been waiting for an opportunity to bring the subject up again.
Damn it. The joys of being close to your siblings. They just love poking sleeping bears. One of these days, this sleeping bear is going snap her hand off if she doesn’t let it lie.
“Thanks,” I said sarcastically. “So do you,” I muttered, hoping she didn’t hear my lame-ass retort.
“What? You know you do. You’ve been alone a long time. Too long actually,” she said, ignoring said
lame-ass retort because she didn’t want to go down that road at all.
“I’m well aware of how long I’ve been alone,” I said with a growl. “Trust me. The empty battery packs in the trash can by my bed tell me exactly how long I’ve been alone.” Ha, I knew alluding to sex would shut her the hell up.
“T.M.I,” she shouted, and I heard her remove her earpiece in case I decided to expound a little more on what those batteries operate. I could tell she did this because the overly exaggerated gagging noises she made sounded muffled. I laughed at her. Score one for me.
“We’re not having this conversation,” she said, coming back to the line a near full minute later. “Look,
I’m just saying you’re turning into a recluse. You take classes on-line. You work on-line. Hell, you even shop on-line. And that last one is so not natural. You need to get out. Meet people. Meet men. You need to get laid. Badly.”
Another conversation we’ve had too many times. Let the sleeping bear lie already. I’m fine. I like my life. My life is safe, quiet, and drama-free. Why can’t she see this? I sighed, and then wondered if I really am that sad? I don’t feel that sad.
You would think that the hell I went through in my last relationship would warrant a get-out- of-jail- free card when it came to such conversations. I mean, it isn’t as if I kept any aspect of that abuse secret, especially after I left him. Everyone knows about the beatings I took, the verbal attacks I suffered through on a daily basis. Yeah, I tried to hide them, but people knew. My many trips to the E.R. were a dead giveaway. Even his parents knew what he was doing to me. His mother rushed me to the hospital one night when he sliced open my leg with a knife because I wasn’t getting ready to leave fast enough. That was all the help I got from them.
The entire way to the hospital, his mother begged me not to press charges. Later that night, he gave me a black eye because his dad chewed his ass over what he had done to me.
Not to mention the fact that my sister and my best friend Crystal are extremely observant people. I can’t count the number of times they called the police on my ex when I wouldn’t. They weren’t here every time he put me down, told me I was worthless, criticized everything I did, shoved tooth picks into my arm, burned the tips of my toes with a lighter because I let my toe nails grow too long, the days I went without food because he said I was getting too fat or the days he did nothing but shove food down my throat because I was too skinny. They weren’t here for many things, but he didn’t hide who he was either. Although no one but me will ever know how bad he tortured me, and I mean that in the most literal of senses, they were still privy to many things.
What amazes me is that they couldn’t figure out why I stayed. I mean it was obvious…wasn’t it? Fear. I knew if I had left that man, he would have killed me, or someone else I hold dear, and I couldn’t have that.
The second thing that amazes me is that they think it should be easy for me to find another man, to trust another person in my life after that. I don’t know that I could ever do it again.
I’m aware of how damaged I am because of that man. I’m trying to be better, trying to work through my issues. He put all the fucked up thoughts that run through my head on a daily basis there. I understand that, but when you have things like that drilled into you, no matter how hard you try not to believe them, you can’t shake them. When I look at myself, I see the person he said I was. The image is permanently stuck there.
How I managed to pull myself out of that situation is beyond me. I don’t think I would have if he hadn’t gone out of town for a week and made the mistake of leaving me by myself. If he hadn’t been completely wasted and at the whim of his friends, he wouldn’t have left me. When I realized he was five states away and that I could move without him knowing anything about it, I did. To ensure my safety and the safety of those around me, I took all of the degrading pictures he had taken of me as proof of his abuse in case he ever tried to come for me.
Even with that, if he hadn’t died three months later of an overdose, I’d probably be back with him. I
“That’s pretty easy to say coming from someone who looks like you,” I finally replied, forcing myself away from that line of thinking, unable to stop the hint of fear and anger tinting my voice. Some days all it takes is a single word to send me back there.
I also had to stop myself from sounding petty and jealous. My sister doesn’t have a perfect life, I know this, but the fact that she has the house with the white picket fence, the three wonderful children, and gets enough in child support and alimony that she won’t have to work another day until her kids are off to college, and by then she’ll have another husband or two does at times make me forget the life she has led.
“You could leave your house in hot rollers and a muumuu and have three phone numbers plus a marriage proposal before you leave the yard—all from men who are simply driving down your road on their way to work. I, on the other hand, would be paid to go back inside, lock the door, and to stay there forever.” Yep, there was that hint of jealousy and bitterness I need to work on. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, there is no way for me hide my feelings.
See, my little sister, who is only two years younger than I am, mind you, not only has the perfect life, but she is nearly five foot eight and weighs probably a hundred and twenty-five, a hundred and thirty pounds. She has perfect perky “C” cups and legs that go on for miles. Her hair is light brown and wavy. She isn’t Angelina Jolie beautiful but damn near it. Her skin is smooth as a baby’s ass. Her teeth are perfect, not that they have always been that way. My parents paid good money for her to have teeth that perfect. Okay, here I’m being unfair. My teeth and complexion are just as perfect as hers are. God really blessed us with acne-free skin.
“Stop it. You know that isn’t so. Okay, I’ll admit that you’re a little overweight…” Only your sister would willingly say something like that to you face-to- face, or, well, phone-to- phone. If she were here, it would be face-to- face; I’ve no doubt. The bitch has no qualms about calling things as she sees them. I still love her.
“A little, my ass,” I snapped, wanting to be the one who calls me fat. I can handle facing my weight
problem if I’m the one who brings it up. “I won’t even tell you how much weight I’ve gained in the last two years.”
“That’s no one’s fault but your own.” My honest, bitch of sister, everyone. Give it up for her. She holds nothing back; my feelings be damned. “You keep yourself locked in your house with no source of exercise at all. Losing the weight you’ve gained wouldn’t take much, if you try. You don’t even attempt to walk past your mailbox three times a week. You sit in front of a computer twenty-four- seven. Of course, you’re going to be out of shape and overweight.”
The thing is that I can’t even get mad at her. That’s a lie, I can, and I wanted to snatch her scrawny ass through the phone and strangle her, so I kept reminding myself that I love my sister. I do. I love her. Really. But it isn’t as if she is wrong.
“Says the person with three kids who only weighs one hundred and ten pounds,” I interrupted her,
undershooting her weight because I knew it would annoy her and distract her from discussing my weight.
“Exaggerate much? I weigh more than that, and you and I both know it. Besides, if you had my kids,
you’d weigh nothing as well. All I do is chase them around the house. When I do get time to sit and eat, there’s always someone wanting a bite of what I’m eating. I don’t see how any mother of three is
“Whatever,” I said with nothing else to come back with. “Look, let me call you back later. I’m getting in the car.”
While we’d talked, I had finished my breakfast and dressed in the most comfortable, not at all form-fitting, pair of gray, cotton yoga pants and a black, long-sleeve thermal to wear to the shelter.
“You know you can talk to me while you’re driving,” Carrie said with a hint of annoyance in her voice.
“No, I can’t. I don’t have that Bluetooth thing you have that lets you talk while having your hands free. Even with it, I wouldn’t talk to you while on the road, and you shouldn’t be talking to me…but I digress.” Some arguments aren’t worth having.
“Your life is tame compared to mine.” She said this with a bit of sadness in her voice as if this were a bad thing.
I rejoice in how stress-free my life is compared to hers. Yeah, a part of me would like to have one or two little poop-machines giggling on my living room floor, but that is the only part of her life I wish I had. The baby-daddy drama would piss me off and drive me to drinking.
“And that’s just the way I like it,” I said back with a smile in my voice. “Love you.”
“Love you, too,” she replied, and we hung up.
We never say goodbye. I’m not sure why. We just never do. I think it has to do with the fact that goodbye is such a permanent word. She doesn’t like anything that alludes to death or permanent separation. To her, saying goodbye to someone means that she will never speak to or see that person again, so she can’t bring herself to say the words. I think this has to do with the fact that when she was sixteen, Mom dropped her on my doorstep and said goodbye. We haven’t heard from her since.
“All right, we have two litters right now. None of which are ready to leave their mother. If you want, you can lay claim to one and take it home in a few weeks,” the receptionist says, effectively pulling me out of my thoughts as she comes around to my side of the counter to lead me to the room in which they keep the cats.
“I was really hoping to go home with something today,” I tell her with a hint of disappointment in my
voice. I hadn’t meant to sound so disappointed. I could come back another day, no problem, but for some reason, I really want a new cat today.
“The only other one we have is a foundling that showed up on our doorstep this morning. He isn’t a baby, but he looks to only be about three or four months old.”
“Can I see him?” My God, the desperation in my voice is annoying even to me. The receptionist gives me a ‘psycho much’ look. In return, I try to give her a sheepish ‘I’m sorry for being weird’ smile.
“Yeah,” she says, a little unsure if she really should allow me around the animals. “They just placed him in a cage. He didn’t have any fleas or any other physical or medical problems when we brought him in, but we always do a once over and give them a bath before putting them in with the other animals.”
I followed the woman through a set of double doors to the right of the information counter. The other set of double doors on the left led to the hospital part of the building. Smith County is where I purchased Sebastian. I prefer adopting from the shelter because I like knowing that I’m adopting an animal that the doctors have examined. I’m not opposed to strays. I just prefer adopting my animals. I like feeling as if I’m saving one from death when I adopt.
Dr. Smith, Sebastian’s doctor and one of the head doctors here at the shelter, promised me when I asked one time that they never put their animals to sleep unless they medically have to do so. I’m not sure I really believe her.
The other reason I like adopting from this particular shelter is the discounts on vaccines and procedures you get if you adopt from them. I’m not a Scrooge, but I’m not made of money either. Half price on spaying or neutering isn’t something I’m going to pass up.
I follow the woman into a large room lined wall-to- wall with cages. The dogs immediately start barking, reminding me of why I dislike them so much. The noise is deafening, causing my head to ache. Great, that’s all I need. I can’t afford to spend the rest of the day in bed with a headache.
“Here he is,” she says, stopping in front of one the cages halfway down an aisle.
I’m in love the moment I see him.