Dateland: The Trouble With Mittens


I’m wandering the neighborhood during a blizzard wearing only a bathrobe and boots. I’m shouting one word repeatedly into the howling wind: “Mittens!”

As I rage through the snowbanks, I am reminded of a similar scene from King Lear. Like Lear, I have descended into a type of madness, brought on by one of my errant children: Mittens.

Before Mittens showed up on my doorstep, loudly demanding cans of fancy albacore tuna and my unrequited love, I had given up on cats. I have tried to love many cats over the years only to be rewarded with scratch marks on my face and vengeful urine attacks against my furniture. So, I finally proclaimed myself a dog person and turned all my spinster energy on spoiling my pups.

It was great! No more dealing with cat-hair-coated clothes or that gritty after-taste that always comes in the wake of cleaning the litter box.  No more cat glares that suggest both complete indifference and murderous rage. Instead, each morning I wake smothered in unapologetic and enthusiastic love attacks from my three dogs. It’s so simple.

But then Mittens appeared and my life became complicated.

Last spring, I was doing yard work when I heard a plaintive wail coming from the woods next to my house. I bent down (because isn’t that just like a friggin cat—to make you stoop to their level?), peered through the bushes, and spotted a black cat. He meowed loudly and repeatedly in a way that suggested he needed me.

This is how it starts. This is how clever cats are. They make you think that there might be an emotional payoff if you agree to feed and shelter them. This is how they suck you in.

So, I trotted into the house and returned with a can of tuna. As soon as I opened the can, though, he started playing hard to get. Although his nose twitched in obvious pleasure at the smell of the fish, he yawned and glanced away. Like a witless servant, I backed away apologetically and watched from a distance as he finally strolled to the tuna and wolfed it down.

This dance carried on for weeks before he finally deigned to rub against me as I was giving him his tuna. Then I was allowed to pet him. Finally, as a chill entered the air, he let me pick him up and warm him.

We had a small setback when I betrayed his trust by tossing him in the car and taking him to the vet to be neutered and vaccinated. This did not please him! Then I confined him to the house for a day, where he stared mournfully out the window like a royal prisoner in a medieval castle, meowing angrily at his lost kingdom until I opened the door and set him free.

So, we reached a compromise. We agreed that he can prowl the neighborhood during the day, but has to come inside on cold nights. But, of course, you can’t trust a cat to keep his promise. And that’s why I’m out in a blizzard, worried sick, and calling his name.

I see the faces of my neighbors peeking at me from behind their curtains. They think I’m insane. I see the faces of my dogs, staring at me from my porch in confusion. Why isn’t their unqualified love enough for me, they wonder?

After an hour of fruitless searching, I begin to trudge home in total despair. Then, through the gale, I hear a meow. Mittens saunters past me without a glance and settles into his perch on the porch. I’m so relieved that I weep. Mittens briefly acknowledges me with a nod, which could mean either “I love you, too” or “get me my tuna.” I chose to interpret it as the former, but I fetch him some tuna anyway.

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