By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
I’m a rule follower. Always have been. I’m that person who – upon counting items in her shopping cart – sees that there are 16 items and promptly leaves the “15 Items or Less” lane. My mattresses still have those annoying “do not remove” tags.
So last weekend my three kids were shocked to learn that, years before they came along, their mother was once evicted from her apartment for breaking the rules. Tossed out on my keister for willfully violating the rental agreement. They wanted to hear more about this chapter in my reckless youth, so here it is:
I’d just graduated from college and was living in a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a small complex. I was working as a bank teller while trying to figure out what income-producing job I could do with my newly earned English degree. One day at work, the other tellers and I heard a faint mewing sound. We peered out the windows into the drive-thru lanes. Nothing there.
Then we opened the back door and spotted him – a skinny, scruffy, black and white kitten pitifully asking for help. Someone fetched food from the break room and crumbled it by the back door, and the kitten quickly gobbled it down. Having grown up in a house with cats, I knew that one move alone would ensure that the kitten would stay put by the bank’s back door, hoping for more.
I worried about him all day, fearful he’d get hit by one of the cars that came through my drive-thru lane. So, at the end of my shift, I did the responsible thing and took him to an animal shelter. Then I cried all the way home.
For the next few days, I called the animal shelter to see if he’d been adopted but he was still there. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see his tiny face with those big blue eyes and the small black smudge on his pink nose, which made him look like Charlie Chaplin.
On the fifth day, I cracked. I couldn’t take it anymore. After work, I drove back to the animal shelter and paid fifty dollars to adopt the same stray cat I’d deposited there earlier in the week. Then I tucked him under my jacket and smuggled him into my “no-pets allowed” apartment. I was officially harboring a fugitive – the hairy, homeless, four-legged kind. I named him Sam.
Sam and I hit it off instantly, and he was a fabulous roommate. He developed a fascination with the hair ties I used to put my hair into a ponytail. If he found one on the coffee table, he’d swipe it and carry it around in his mouth as if it was a mouse he’d killed.
One day he dropped a hair tie in my lap, and I tossed it away. He scrambled after it and promptly brought it back to me. I tried it again. He fetched it again. And that’s how I realized that Sam the Cat behaved more like a dog – a world-class retriever with a weird affinity for ponytail holders. He liked playing fetch so much that, if I tried to stop the game, he’d drop the ponytail holder or hair scrunchy in whatever cup I was drinking from so I’d be sure not to miss it.
Then one day, several months after Sam moved in, I walked out of my apartment headed to work and spotted the landlord in the parking lot. He looked up when he heard my door close and then narrowed his eyes as he stared past me. He pointed to my apartment window and asked, “Is that your cat?” My stomach fell. I glanced over my shoulder to see that Sam had climbed up on the windowsill behind the blinds as if to wish me a good day at work.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“You’ve got two days to move out,” he said matter-of-factly.
I didn’t bother arguing or begging. He was right. I was wrong. Sam was contraband. My heart had overruled my head, and consequences followed. Fortunately, one of my friends introduced me to a cat-friendly landlord with a condo for rent, so I packed like a maniac and Sam and I moved two days later.
So, kids, the moral of this story is two-fold: Deception is wrong, and cats are bad at it anyway. And even your strait-laced mother has her own sordid, hairy past – one that she still can’t find the will to regret.