Archie and Me

I never thought I’d be that guy.

The guy who posted pictures of his pet on Facebook.

The guy who got the appeal of cat memes.

The guy who considered the potential for a cat’s loneliness in planning his social calendar.

Then I met Archie.

To put a finer point on it, I lived with Archie.

Aside from four fish I shared with my sister (one of whom cannibalized two of the others), I never had a pet growing up. My mom is allergic to most anything that moves (cats, dogs) and many things that don’t (chocolate, eggs, raspberries). And my father; well, let’s just say the erratic behavior, shedding of fur, and general maintenance of an animal would never really become his lifestyle. And so I grew up with the perspective of animals as alien species. I liked the idea of cats and dogs, but aside from petting one for a few seconds and maybe scratching behind his ears, I never really knew what to do with one.

In the fall of 2010, I took over my friend’s lease on an apartment so I could move to a more happening area of Baltimore and she could spend the better part of a year house sitting for a professor. My friend had two cats—one of whom she sent off to live with her mother and Archie, who went to live with her friend in DC. The trouble was her friend had two kittens who Archie didn’t look at as “friends” so much as “prey.” Archie needed new living accommodations and, against my better judgment, I said, “Sure, send the furball over.”

Our first night together, Archie and I got along just fine. He explored the apartment, climbing on the kitchen cupboards (the tops of which I have never cleaned) and leaving a trail of dusty paw prints around the apartment when he was done. I poured out some food for him. By the end of the night, although he wouldn't make direct eye contact, he lay beside me on the couch, looking at me expectantly as I watched TV. I pet him. He purred.

5 a.m. the next morning. Archie hopped onto my nightstand. He batted at the pen I keep by my bed for late night ideas, until it hit the floor. He knocked my phone to the floor. He climbed over me and hopped on the dresser on the opposite side of the bed. I watched groggily as he knocked my glass of water into the underwear drawer I had left open the day before.

He wanted to me to get up and feed him.

This marked the start of routine, which more or less exactly replayed itself every day for the next nine months.

(Note: I did start closing my underwear drawer and drinking from a water bottle.)

I started sneezing. I came to suspect that the cat was not only disrupting my sleep, but that he had unveiled an allergy I had inherited and never spent enough time around cats to notice. I told my friend I might need to give him up, but that I’d give it a little more time.

I lay on my couch that night reading Flaubert. Archie hopped up to join me and lay down on my stomach looking up at me. I’m not sure why, but I started reading aloud to him. He watched me, and dare say listened, stock still and attentive. While I didn’t often read aloud to him again, I came to enjoy those moments, rubbing his furry tummy, listening to him purr while I read War and Peace and The Passage and Play Their Hearts Out.

We established other routines. Each evening when I came home he waited by the door, meowing plaintively as soon as he heard footsteps climbing the stairs. I got in the habit of scooping him up on my way in the door. He’d purr and nuzzle the top of his head into the side of my neck as I set down my bag, and made my way to the kitchen to prepare dinner for myself and pour a fresh bowl of chow for him.

We had other adventures and other rituals. He took to batting strands of spaghetti, stealing romaine from my salad, lapping at raw chicken before I had the chance to put it in the oven. He tried to take my pen from me most times I wrote freehand. He stalked and killed a number of cockroaches, eating their lower halves and leaving the heads behind--perhaps as trophies or warnings, or maybe that part just didn’t taste as good.

I think of this creature, whose poop I carried to the dumpster multiple times each week, who woke me at odd hours, who nearly tripped me any number of times in his efforts to keep up as I walked across the apartment--that desperate for companionship, for attention, for a friendly stroke.

My last night with Archie, I picked him up, looked him in the eye, and told him I loved him. He looked away. He still didn't like to make eye contact.

And I suppose that’s what it is to have a cat. To have his unconditional love one moment, only for him to want nothing to do with you the next. Only for you to love him just the same.

My friend took Archie back once her house sitting gig was up. I’m happy to sleep through the night now and not to make plans for his care when I spend a weekend or more out of town. It’s nice not to come home to books knocked over, not to find bread ties scattered around the apartment like part of some mad man’s scavenger hunt. I never had to deal with caring for him when he was sick or with veterinary bills or so many of the practical and unpleasant elements of pet ownership. All in all, objectively speaking, I think it’s fair to say I’m just as happy without Archie in my life.

But I’ll be damned if I don’t miss the little bugger from time to time.