Afterthoughts: A Cat of a Different Color

Sometimes you don’t know what you want till you get it.
Photo: Michael Keany

I decided recently it was time for a cat. I love cats, grew up with herds of them, but for a long time wasn’t quite ready for one of my own. I wanted things to be just right.


My search began with some lofty expectations. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems like the internet is close to reaching peak kitty. There are ridiculously adorable kittens and cats all over the place. YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr—at this point they’re mostly devices for injecting cuteness directly to the bloodstream. So, yes, I had visions of a pretty little puffball, purring in my lap.


Things didn’t quite go as planned. Now, those photogenic puffballs definitely exist. Visit the pets section of Craigs-list and you’ll see Himalayan Blue Dream kittens or whatever—for $300 a pop. Not only did I not have that kind of scratch, I’ve also had it drilled into my head that adoption is the only right and proper way to get a pet. Down with kitty mills and all that.


And so I visited the Hawaiian Humane Society. My fantasy of a kitten paradise was quickly replaced by the reality: rows of small cages, mostly containing somnolent, fully grown cats. A tag on each door listed their stats. Many of them were 5 or 10 years old already and had the blasé attitude and heft to match. One of them was named Brian. They all seemed in good health, I hasten to add. The Humane Society is running a good operation over there.


I just wasn’t sure I was ready to share my apartment with Old Brian.


I returned to Craigslist, browsing through the pet section to find something a little closer to my dreams. And, hey, one cat in particular grabbed my attention. A 5-month-old tortoiseshell kitten with big eyes. “Very cute and spunky kitten,” read the ad. “Her hair is soft and shiny. She is healthy, spayed and vaccinated.” Bingo. The kitten was being fostered by a Kāne‘ohe woman who had already found a home for its sister and was ready to give this one to a good home. I arranged a meetup.


When I walked through the front door, a black and brown streak disappeared down the staircase. At the mere sight of me, this cat hid itself so thoroughly, somewhere in the house, that, for 20 minutes, the foster mom could not find it. I began to think I should just head back over the Pali empty-handed and try my luck with some other cat.


But the kitten was eventually retrieved and brought back upstairs, and I had a choice in front of me. This wasn’t the adorable kitten of my fantasies, or even the “cute and spunky” kitten of the ad—this was a reclusive, antisocial teenager of a cat. On the other hand, it was fixed, had all its shots and was litter-box trained. This could work out, I told myself. I don’t need a lap kitty. I actually respect an independent cat, and if she wants to spend her life hanging out at the opposite end of the apartment from me, that’s cool.


Once I signed the papers and brought her back to my place, she did just that, scurrying directly into the darkest corner of my bedroom closet. For the next week, that closet was her home. She’d sneak out late at night, once all the lights were out, to eat and do her business, but otherwise, it was more like owning the idea of a cat. A ghost cat. I started to wonder if I’d ever get a full look at this invisible creature.


And then, one afternoon, she appeared. I was at my computer desk and looked over, and there she was, sitting in the kitchen like a normal housecat. It’s absurd, but the moment felt straight out of a wildlife special. My joy was electric.


Then she bolted into the closet again. It was too good to last. But I knew she’d be back out again soon, and more often. She may not be the cute little plaything I originally imagined, but this cat is gonna be great.