When I first mentioned to my mother that it was about time I arranged for the cat to come home to us — weeks ago, long before I found out about E2’s cat allergy — she surprised me by pulling a sour face and hmmming her disapproval.
I was startled. “What?”
“Well, I just don’t think it’s very fair,” she replied, with irritation in her voice.
“But… but she’s my cat.”
“Yes, but your sister has had her for a year now.”
“But that was always the deal!” Everyone had always known it was going to take us probably the best part of a year to find a house and get moved and settled before we brought the cat home.
“I just think she’d really miss her, that’s all. And you have the girls…”
“Mum, I miss her! She’s my cat!”
“Well… well, I at least think you should go and get her yourself. You shouldn’t make your sister have to make the drive all the way up here, on her own with the cat. She’d be so upset.”
I should have shut up then — her take on the situation clearly differed from mine — but I carried on. It didn’t make any sense for us to drive down to get the cat, when my sister was coming up in just a few weeks for Easter. Besides, it would be hard to fit the four of us, enough gear for a weekend, and a cat crate in the car. Surely it just made sense for my sister to bring her up?
Deaf ears and irritation, on both sides. And for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on — and still can’t, to some extent — an awful lot of hurt on my part.
So after the bad news at the allergist’s, I was dreading telling my mother, and began with a defensive and too-strong preface, “Mum, there was something else, and if you try to tell me that this is a good thing in any way, I will be incredibly irritated with you…” So she listened quietly to the news, then told me she was sorry to hear it and changed the subject. Somehow, I was irritated with her anyway — not by anything she said, but by what I knew she was thinking and how pleased she must have been for my sister. I felt sure she was more pleased for her than she was sorry for me.
I held off giving the news to my sister — like if I didn’t say it, it wasn’t true yet — and, besides, I didn’t want to broach it over the phone. But today, she was here for Easter …and it was time.
I started it off wrong — feeling a subconscious need to stake a now-pointless claim on my cat — and told her we were ready to have the cat come home to us, and were thinking of picking her up next month (when we will be visiting a nearby fiber festival). My sister’s face went blank, and then stony.
“Are you ok with that?” I asked. I wanted her to confirm that that was fine, that of course my cat was mine to bring home, that my mother’s crazy idea that one year of cat-sitting trumps eight years of ownership was… well, crazy.
“Yeah.” She kind of threw the word at me. And then, “But, I’ll really miss her.” It could have been a plea for pity or a request for leniency, but it wasn’t — it was cool and with a touch of accusation. Clearly, she was of the same mind as my mother. The statute of limitations had run out, and what I was doing was wrong, was unfair.
So when I changed tack and told her the news, I couldn’t bring myself to make it permanent: I told her that we might not be able to take the cat back, that E2 had shown an allergic reaction but that I wanted to discuss all the options with the allergist first. I don’t know why I said it that way. I know it’s not workable and discussing it with the allergist is pointless — I know my cat can’t come home — but I just wasn’t ready to make it final yet. I wasn’t ready give my cat away yet — especially not after her reaction.
The stoniness on her face was replaced by confusion — I’d explained this badly, and had to go through it again. We wanted to bring the cat home, but there was a chance — a good chance — that we couldn’t and so I needed to ask her if she’d be happy keeping my cat for good. She brightened at that — yes, of course. She’d be glad to.
“Ok…” I said, not really knowing where to go from here. “Well, I’ll let you know what the allergist says…”
“S-s-sure,” she replied, and nodded, still looking a bit confused. The whole mood had gone funny now, and neither of us knew where we stood.
“I was… I was really upset, you know!” I wanted one of them to realise that this was painful for me, that giving up my cat — for allergies or for ‘fairness’ — was not as easy as they seemed to think it was. “I really wasn’t expecting it… It was really upsetting when I realised…”
“Oh… oh… of course. I know.” She tried and I think it was genuine, but it didn’t make any difference. I felt so resentful to realise they both felt this way and she was so conflicted by my two bits of news and confused by the way I’d delivered them, that the whole situation had become tense and odd.
And it was time for them to go home. Easter had been wonderful: great food, a happy atmosphere, well-behaved children, and — even better — well-behaved adults. It had gone so much better than I’d anticipated, and then I’d gone and mess it up at the end. And when my mum and sister finally got in the car, after a million kisses and hugs from two over-excited little girls, I wondered what it was they talked about as they drove home …and imagined the worst.
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