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My Dream Kitty
“When I grow up, I want to be a cat lady,” I said as a four-foot tall kindergartener reading slowly and proudly in front of my class from a paper I had just completed.
“I want to own one-million cats. They will all live in my cat house.”
I smiled largely and softly clip-clopped back to my seat in my red glitter high heals I had insisted on wearing that day with my blue pleated uniform skirt.
“Thank you, Kathryn. That was very nice,” the soft, neutral voice of my teacher chimed in from behind the large array of knick-knacks arranged carefully on her school- provided aluminum desk. I sat down confidently at my table, so small it could have been mistaken as a doll toy by some people, but for the petite bodies of kindergarteners, it was perfect. I picked up an orange crayon from the communal bucket in the center of the work area and began coloring on an oddly scented piece of manila paper that gave me goose bumps every time I ran my fingers across it. Multitasking in my own way, I began to color a picture while simultaneously listening to the teacher talk. I was interrupted almost instantly with a light tap on the shoulder. I shifted my eyes slightly to the left.
“Is it really true that you want to be a cat lady when you grow up,” a boy seated beside me with peanut butter breath whispered.
“Yep,” I simply responded starry eyed and self-assured, not even glancing up from my artwork.
I brought the picture home from school that day.
“Look mommy,” I demanded as I pulled the folded sheet of off-white, rough paper from my crayon-scented backpack. I opened the surprise picture with my small fingers and stared longingly at her for a response.
“Wow! Is this a kitty,” she said, with a very impressed infection on each syllable.
“Yep,” I yelped, showing my big toothless smile, “It’s my dream kitty, mama!”
“Dream kitty…”she began, “It’s beautiful. You are quite the artist. But you know, sweetie…”
At that point, her voice trailed off and she was talking only to the air. As a six-year old, I merely understood a small amount of the grown up words she was saying regarding my father and his allergies. I knew that it only meant one thing: no dream kitty for a long time, if any time.
To make up for the fact that I could not have a kitten of my own, I instead collected everything I possibly could that had a cat on it or resembled a cat in any way. Every holiday I received numerous cat figurines, stuffed animals, photographs, paintings, and clothing items from all of my family members. I very quickly fabricated an enormous cat collection. I kept all of my figurines in a tall cedar cabinet with a glass door that rattled vigorously when anyone walked across the floor. Everyday, I would open up my cabinet with a brass skeleton key and talk to my silent plastic, ceramic, and stuffed pets. I would take them out and play with them for hours. I named them all individually, the most important one being Sally, a teddy bear sized stuffed orange cat with a pink nose and white paws. Sally only stayed in the cabinet for a very short time before she became my official companion and substitute dream kitty.
“Where’s daddy, mom,” I, now a confident first grader, asked on a regular basis often upon my arrival home from a long day at school.
“Not here,” was always the simple answer. With a sigh, I would then escape with Sally into my room and play with my cats under my canopy bed until it was time to sleep. Late at night, long after I had been tucked in, I would hear the front door almost silently squeak open and then softly shut. This would often follow with hushed arguments of which I would listen closely to through my closed door.
“Good thing I have you, Sally,” I whispered while squeezing her closely to my chest, feeling both alone and confused.
The arguments between my parents continued sometimes during the day, but mostly at night. One day I came home from school and once again blurted out the question, “Where’s daddy?” My mother sighed and kneeled to my level.
“Daddy is not coming home, sweetie. Daddy is moving out.”
“Oh,” was my effortless response, “Alright.”
“You’ll still see him, just not here,” she reassuringly stated.
I played with my cats a lot that night, running my fingers over the creases and detail of each face. That night the door did not open and close and there were no soft, seemingly private arguments for an extended period of time afterward. At night, I would lie awake staring at the ceiling with blankets up to my chin and Sally right beside me.
About one week later, I was playing dolls at my friend’s house, when to my surprise my mom came to pick me up early. Reluctant to stop playing, I answered to my name being called and gathered my belongings. The two of us walked side by side to the front door where both if our moms were standing and smiling.
“Close your eyes and hold out your hands,” my mother quickly voiced, now at my level and still smiling. I crossed my arms and smiled shyly at her, having been tricked by this game before.
“No, really. It’s a good thing,” she said, her smile growing larger by the second. Reluctantly, I held out my hands and shut my eyes. About three seconds later, I felt something soft, squirmy and miniature in my palms. I opened my eyes quickly and found myself starring eye to eye at a six-week-old orange and white striped kitten with a glistening bubble gum pink nose and tiny snow-white paws. I gasped loudly and smiled.
“Mew,” he squeaked with his head slightly tilted to the left, still staring directly into my blue eyes. Overwhelmed with excitement, I set him down and screamed, “Mommy, mommy! It’s my dream kitty! It’s my dream kitty exactly!”
“He’s all yours,” she said, her smile almost bigger than mine, “You can take him home!”
“Thank you so much, mommy,” I said while scooping up and hugging my very own new pet kitten.
“What’s his name,” my friend asked curiously. Lost in the moment, I paused before confidently replying, “Sweetums, my dream kitty.”
That night, I clutched both Sweetums and Sally close to my chest and for the first time in months, I quickly fell fast asleep under my canopy bed.