Posted on May 3, 2016 by Patricia Ann McNair5.3.2016 Journal Prompt Photo by Ralph Crane May 3, 2016: We aren’t so different. Share this:ShareClick to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Like this:Like Loading... Related
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We aren’t so different
“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little,
they become its visible soul.” –Jean Cocteau
John awoke with a start to the loud banging on the bedroom door. Saturday morning. 6:30 am. What is going on? Through bleary eyes he glanced over at his wife Julie, stirring slightly but trying to sleep through the racket.
Daughter Alice’s voice came through the door. Insistent:
“Dad. Mom. Come on, get up. Get up. We have to go soon.”
The night that he most needed his sleep he had been tossing and turning. Not sure what happened. Nothing usually kept him awake. Last night must have been different. Maybe four hours sleep tops.
“I’m coming Alice. I’m awake,” he mumbled. Julie turned to open her eyes a little.
“Dad get up, this is the day. We have to be ready to go soon.”
John slid out of bed to find Alice at the door, Charcoal the cat clutched tightly to her small pajama clad body. Charcoal unimpressed. The bland look that cats have when everyone else is stressing. Why do I have to be here, the clear cat message.
“Dad this is it. The show starts at 10:00 am and we can’t be late.”
The show. A cat show at that. Throwing his clothes on John asked himself how he got into this. Knowing the answer already.
A quick breakfast and they were on their way. Julie in front helping with navigation and advice. Alice in back holding on proudly to a fresh smelling, shiny Charcoal.
A show. The thought of exhibition. Perhaps even showing off a little. Something owned, a possession or talent that others might want to see. Others come to watch. Even participate in a vicarious sort of way. Clap their hands, hoot and holler, show appreciation. The best get awards, a standing ovation, perhaps a medal to take home. Others return home with a dream of perhaps doing better next time, chewing on their disappointment. There are always those who shine, and those who struggle. The audience breaks up, goes home. Equipment gets put away. The trash swept up. Show’s over. The cycle continues on.
The night before, with the kids in bed, John and Julie had a slow quiet talk that were one of the treasures of their years together, a chance to talk over the events and feelings of the week behind them.
Julie was the one who first brought up the cat show. “What is it with you an Charcoal, John? You don’t seem all that excited about this show.” A partner in life always gets to the heart of things so quickly, straight to the point.
John sighed a deep sigh and poured them each another glass of wine.
John tried to think back to make himself sound rational, adult-like. But he sensed that looking at it now, in this beautiful evening, watching the summer sunset with Julie, that he really wasn’t making much sense.
John never had cats at home growing up, he thought in his own defense. They seemed so useless back then. His mom always said she was allergic to them. And they never had mice around anyway, using traps and De-con as they did. So John always thought of cats as weird animals that didn’t need to be around.
He went on to recall the day that, while still in high school, he told their gentle elderly neighbor Mrs. Ellison that her tomcat Melvin had a funny smell. “I mean I was trying to be Mr. Diplomat and all,” he told Julie, “but he was just ugly. Really ugly. Splotchy colored and matted and dirty fur.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth that the conversation was over. Mrs. Ellison gave him that dark laser look meant to kill him on the spot, clutched Mel to her ample bosom, and retreating backwards slammed the door in his face.
“I guess I always go back to that Mrs. Ellison experience: I learned right then to never piss off a cat lover.”
Julie smiling into her glass of wine: “Yes John I guess you learned your lesson back then. Every cat no matter how different, no matter how it looks, no matter how mean or cuddly—every cat is special to those that love them. There is no ugly cat.” In the colors of the sunset reflected in her face he could see the warmth of her love.
“OK I can see that you started out with a blind spot,” Julie continued. “In a way you were born to hate cats. But now here you are tomorrow taking daughter Alice to a cat show, and she and Charcoal are going to be the star attraction. That’s quite a shift. I hope you are ready, because Alice is counting on you.”
The two of them talked way past sunset about how life had moved them both along. Getting married, three kids. Two now out of the house. Mortgage payments, car payments, kids to the dentist and play rehearsals and soccer games. And now college bills for the older two. It just keeps rolling along.
John recalled how one day a couple years ago the treadmill came to a sudden halt. “Don’t you remember, Julie? You went out to get our sweet Alice after a sleepover at a friend’s house. She was still in Junior High. And you came home with a surprise, both smiling. Along with her little travel case and stuffed animal, you walked into the house with a tiny ball of a black kitten.
“Daddy we gotta keep this one.” Alice pleaded. “Please. They might have to put them all down if they can’t find homes for them.”
“Don’t you remember that morning, Julie? I looked over at you coming in the door, and all you could do was look down and smile, not saying a word, as if to say ‘It’s all you, hubby.’”
“Alice had wrapped her small arms around this tiny being her limbs clenched defiantly as if daring me to pry them open.”
Julie had to laugh out loud at this memory. “Oh yes you should have seen the look on your face! I wasn’t going to help you out of that one. But honey you did so well. I could hear the gears grinding in your brain as you looked Alice in the eye.”
By now they were both laughing. “Yes there was no way I was going to disappoint our daughter, even for a damned cat.”
And so they went to bed, Julie smiling to herself, and John troubled with visions of the cat show to come.
Driving to the high school gym the next morning, John glanced in the rear view mirror at Alice and Charcoal safely belted in, waiting patiently. It had only been a month ago when Alice burst in the door with “There’s going to be a cat show next month, Daddy, and Charcoal can be in it.” Words pushing together in excitement, eyes wide opened. No asking for permission. This was going to happen.
“A cat show? They show cats?” John smiled now at the memory. “What do they do at these things? They don’t do tricks or anything do they? ‘Cause Charcoal never does anything except when and what she wants.”
“No, Dad. Sometimes you make me so angry. You can be so not with it. Of course not. Cats don’t do tricks. No. They just have to look perfect and behave well so that the judges can pick them up and look them over.”
“That’s it? Just look good? Have to admit your cat is cute.”
“Dad the cat has to be more than just cute to win. They have to look good, have good medical records, behave well when picked up, and a bunch of other things. Oh Dad I know that Charcoal can win. We just have to get started on getting her ready. I’m going to register her tomorrow. Oh yes, Dad, could you write a check for $50 for the show?”
The show was more than just dropping off your cat Each cat had to have fur coat shampooed, the right nutrients in their diet, teeth cleaned, all their shots. Looking back now John had to admit that the two of them grew closer through all this preparation. They had spent the last three weeks together getting Charcoal ready. And of course another trip to the vets to make sure Charcoal’s body was at its best. Charcoal had always been the center of their world but was now one special cat.
Driving to the show that morning, John could reconnect to the flood of frustration from four weeks ago as they looked at the entry requirements. But Alice would have none of it. He remembered the lecture he got from her, and the training list that was a single space document five pages long. Who would guess that a cat show could be so complicated! John wondered how they had raised such a strong willed daughter. But then again he thought he knew. He looked over at Julie still smiling taking in the moment.
By this time they had arrived at the high school. The parking lot was jammed with another hour before the show was to begin. John parked carefully and with Julie escorted cat and owner to the registration line. He had never seen so many black cats together in his life. A long line of cat lovers tightly holding their cats by a leash.
John remembered all the intricate details, looking at all the owners and imagining what they had each endured to be there this morning. Like cats with different sizes and shapes, their owners really weren’t all that different. They had each made the exhausting preparations to be there in line that morning.
John and Julie watched in admiration from the sidelines, as their Alice walked with confidence into the judge’s circle.
“Look at her go,” Julie exclaimed, glowing with excitement. Sure enough there went their quiet daughter, shoulders squared, eyes straight ahead. No turning back, no looking for direction.
Charcoal and six other cats and their owners standing in a circle. One of ten other circles in the high school gymnasium. Onlookers could see from the gym risers the process of judging. The judge’s assistant would pick up each cat one at a time. Then carefully pass each one to the judge, who would gingerly turn each cat around, looking at each criteria on the list. The score would be noted on a pad of paper, and the judge would move on to the next cat. Each scoring took about ten minutes. In each circle the process continued, one cat at a time, each judge moving carefully and slowly to make sure the scoring was consistent.
It seemed like forever. An exhausting time standing waiting, wondering. John and Julie murmured thoughts of how Alice could stand the pressure. But there she was holding on to her Charcoal, taking in the process.
And finally the unbelievable: The judge walked over to a stunned Alice and picked up Charcoal one last time. Carefully turning her over for a last check. The judge paused, cleared his throat and announced:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached our decision: Charcoal is Best in Show.”
It was now John and Julie’s turn to be stunned. There was a moment of quiet as they absorbed the incredible. Then Julie began shrieking at the top of her lungs: “Alice, Alice you did it. You did it.” John himself was shouting as well. They both ran out to embrace her, Quietly proud Alice now smiling.
By this time the judges had placed a ribbon around Charcoal’s neck with a large medallion, and Alice was given a lovely certificate.
The judge looked at the three of them standing there with Charcoal and said “you have taken great care of your Charcoal. It was evident from her overall appearance that you spent a great deal of effort and time on her care, and this impressed all the judges. Congratulations to you all.”
The drive home was very quiet, oddly enough. Alice looking at her certificate and the medal for Charcoal. Julie casting admiring glances at their daughter. There was a barbecue at home, of course, and phone calls to family and friends. Alice wanted to have a friend over for the night. Charcoal had become the new family star. But John had also learned that even with a Best in Show, cats and their caretakers are not really all that different. We each might look different at times. We might even look and act ugly on occasion. We can even stand out and shine, and be Best in Show for awhile. But we are all pretty much the same inside.
Everything in John’s life up to Alice and Charcoal had told him that taking in a cat was a bad idea. They don’t do anything, after all, except find the most comfortable place in the house. But he loved Alice and his family more than anything else in his busy noisy world. John discovered that when his heart said “yes” even every so faintly, that he needed to tune out the static buzz in his brain and listen to the music of his family’s love. All because of Alice, and a cat name Charcoal.