My mother has OCD. And 12 cats. This combination was responsible for the nightly ritual known as “counting cats”. We were a family of five in a standard three-bedroom ranch style home in El Paso, Tx. My two sisters and I dreaded bedtime. I, for one, had been known to slink off to bed early just to avoid participating. Before you judge, let me describe the scene to you:
”Bedtime!” my mother announces. We all know what that means. My sisters and I crowd into the one full bathroom in the house to brush teeth, wash faces, apply moisturizer, and whatever else our toilette entails. The cats, of course, scatter to the four winds.
Everyone changes into pajamas, and it begins.... each cat must be located, it’s location reported and confirmed. Don’t even try to pretend you’d found one when you hadn’t. If your veracity was at all in question, someone would be sent to verify your claim. Woe be to the prevaricator! Not only would they be punished (lying was the greatest evil in my mother’s mind), but when the cat you said was inside was actually left out all night, suffering a cruel death at the mercy of the elements and/or the coyotes, upon your shoulders is where the blame would firmly rest.
Those of you who know cats will understand when I say I’m convinced they took sadistic glee in finding impossible hideaways at this time of night. The cat who sat on your homework all evening, the one continuously howling for cream in the kitchen, the one snoozing peacefully on the sofa, the one biting your toes under the dinner table, the one who’s so old and fat it lays in the same spot in the hallway twenty-three hours a day- all disappear.
“None in my room!” cries Tammy, the middle sister. Her room is neat and tidy- nothing out of place. A cat could not go unnoticed in there, even under the bed or in the closet (Standard Search Protocol).
”I found Juby in my room!” reports Tara, the youngest. She and Juby have a special bond. They’re each the youngest and the smallest of their litter. Make of that what you will.
“Prince is in the bathroom,” says my mom. Prince, an affectionate, languid, long-haired Persian mix who’s favorite hiding place is the towel closet, is the reason every time I get out of the shower and dry myself, I’m covered in fur.
Four cats down, eight to go. The search continues.
“I’ll check the laundry room,” I announce. Just then, Katie, a shy calico we found living in the woodshed with her newborn kittens (whom we obviously took in), leaps down from the shelf above the washer, narrowly missing my head, and darts past me. “Katie’s here!”.
The only kitten of Katie’s we were unable to find another home for was Marilyn. Now a full-grown, cotton-haired white cat whom we suspect is deaf, and who is perpetually covered in mats due to an aversion to self-grooming, resides primarily under my bed. She’s called Marilyn in honor of Miss Monroe, due to her lush white fur and habit of lounging about and gazing provocatively at anyone who passes. Don’t try and touch her though; she bites. I spot her (without touching her) lying in the far corner under my bed.
Someone has located Kelly, a large, fluffy, motherly calico, asleep amongst the couch cushions. That leaves only “The Boys”, who are likely outside.
Once my mother is convinced every room has been thoroughly scoured, she heads for the front door to round up the stragglers.
“Heeeeeerrrrre KittyKittyKittyKittyKittyKitty!” she calls.
And again. “Heeeeeerrrrre KittyKittyKittyKittyKittyKitty!”
Nermal comes sauntering in. He heads directly to the kitchen, expecting a treat. Tara obliges him with a saucer of milk.
My mother continues to call for several minutes, then enlists me to take over.
Reasoning that perhaps they simply couldn’t hear her well enough from the doorway, I venture out onto the porch. Standing under the porch light, I begin to call.
“Heeeeeerrrrre KittyKittyKittyKittyK.....AAAAAHHH! Stupid bugs! Heeeeerree KittykittykittyKITTY! Help!!!”
The porch light has attracted the usual array of moths and June bugs, and now there’s a June bug entangled in my hair, buzzing frantically near my right ear, its creepy little legs crawling on my scalp. I’m generally considered the least squeamish and the boldest of the family, but June bugs are my Kryptonite. As I dance around yelling for help, Keaton ducks past me and scratches at the front door. Tammy opens the door and he runs in. She manages to get the bug untangled from my hair and takes over the cat calling.
Back in the kitchen, I trip over Nala. “Where did you come from?” I ask him. He mewls at me, indicating the empty milk dish.
“All right,” says my mother as she comes into the kitchen. “Who’s not here?”
I run down the list with her: Juby, Sugar, Pepper, Prince, Kelly, Katie, Marilyn, Nermal, Keaton, Nala. Only two missing.
Momentarily, Tammy opens the door for Shadow. “Just Cowboy left to go”, she reports.
Cowboy is a rogue and a rambler: a large, lanky, orange tabby who prowls the neighborhood from dawn to Last Call. There have been a few nights we finally gave up and let him stay outside (against my mother’s better judgment and ability to sleep). When he does come inside, he sleeps in my bed- curled up on my pillow just like when he was a tiny kitten. I feel a particular fondness and a responsibility for him, so I volunteer to brave the porch again, thinking maybe he’ll come for me if no one else. This time, though, I avoid the June bugs by turning off the light. Cats can see in the dark anyway, right?
After another twenty minutes of calling with varying tones, pitches, and ululations, he appears. I scoop him up in my arms, kissing his head and scolding him for causing so much worry.
My mother announces it’s now truly time for bed. All is well. Until tomorrow night......