Our Great Cat Experiment
A long time ago, in a city named San Francisco, I made my wife a promise. I promised her that if we moved to Poland I'd let her get a big, fluffy cat. Like all great deals, the timing was perfect. She had been agitating for a cat for quite some time. I had always managed to deflect the desire. But now she had me. I was moving her to a country we'd never been to, that we knew nothing about, to start a business that wasn't guaranteed to work. She played nice and went along, but as we packed our lives into four boxes, she struck. "I'm not going unless you promise me I can have a big fluffy cat." What could I do but say yes? Textbook negotiating.
Fast-forward to the depths of Polish winter. Grey skies, cold, sunsets at 3 pm, crazy air pollution. I'm grinding on the business. Things are moving, but it's questionable if success, or positive cash flow, will even come. This is hard. On both of us. The cat promise has been long forgotten. At least by one of us (now, I know a promise is a promise, but aren't the delivery, timing and execution of that promise up to negotiation?).
"I want my fluffy kitty now," says the Mrs.
I try to deflect. I fail. I try to defer. I fail.
"But what about my cat allergies?" I retort with my ultimate trump card.
"I've found two breeds that are less allergenic than most cats," she responds.
Crap. My Maginot Line surmounted, I am reeling... I might actually have to get a cat. I switch tactics and go on the offensive. I agree to the cat, but begin attaching conditions: 1) The landlord has to agree, 2) We can only get one of those two low-allergy breeds (unstated that we're definitely not travelling out of Poland to get one), 3) Although I'll help, you'll have to take care of it. The Mrs. agrees. I breathe a sigh of relief, thinking there's no way the Mrs. is going to meet all of these conditions.
But the universe has a sense of humor. Literally one week after our conversation we find the perfect cat. One week! We go to a friend's flat for a visit. Our friend's flatmate has a big, fluffy kitty that happens to be one of the two breeds my allergies can take. And, it just so happens, this flatmate is about to move out of Poland and cannot take the cat, so she's been looking for a new home for it. The Mrs. calls our landlord. She's on board. And just like that, we have a cat. The Mrs. is in heaven.
Now, despite my previous protestations and lamentations, once the deal has been done, I'm all in. I want the biggest, fluffiest cat we can get (because if you're going to go, go all the way). And this one fits the bill to a T. The first time we saw it hiding in the closet, I thought it looked like a cloud with eyes. Here's a photo from that evening
We imagine sitting in our living room on a dark winter night. A blizzard roars outside, but inside, Chopin plays on the speakers and the cat is purring contentedly with us as we read books on the couch.
But as soon as the cat comes over for a trial period, reality starts to kick in. First, it's scared of us, and our apartment, and of being touched. Second, it takes some huge poops. Third, it doesn't seem to like the food (which we got from the owner). Fourth, there's a good amount of shedding going on. Fifth, it starts to scratch the furniture. Sixth, it whines all night. We take it all in stride. We're new, the place is new, of course the cat will be scared. We throw some towels over the furniture and plan a trip to the pet store to get a scratching post, a real bed, new food, more kitty litter, cat nail clippers, a brush and some toys. It'll stop whining at some point, right? We also attempt to come up with a new name.
But then, a day later, at the pet store, we have a moment. We've already bought the smaller items at the neighboring grocery store, but there, in the pet store, confronted with cat beds and giant scratching posts, we freeze. Both of us. Are we really doing this? We see nothing but future years of cat poop, whining, shedding and taking care of a cat that doesn't feel like ours (we can't even come up with a suitable name). It's a freak-out. We put off any major purchases for a later time and return home. We discuss. We conclude it's because everything has happened so quickly. We decide to give it a couple more days to see how we feel.
The cat begins to get more comfortable in our apartment. It begins to purr when I pet it, it nuzzles me on the couch, and even plays with the toys we bought it. The cat and I begin to bond. However, in cruel irony, the cat does not want to let the Mrs. pet it. And what good is a big fluffy cat if you can't even pet it. Also, we still can't come up with a name.
The days tick on. I spot the Mrs. in a mood. She's reconsidering the cat. I tell her I'm all in at this point, and am fully ready to have cat.
"It's not you, it's me" she says. "I don't feel like it's my cat. We can't think of a name, we don't want to buy any big cat items, and it won't even let me pet it. I don't think I can do this anymore."
"Do you want to call the owner and let her know we can't take it?" I ask.
Yes, she says, dialing the phone. It's over.
The great cat experiment lasted five days (but we found cat hair in our apartment for months afterward). I can't say I was very sad at the cat leaving, but I wasn't exactly glad either. We thought a cat would help fill some of the loneliness and depression that come with expat life during Warsaw winter.
We also figured out that what we really wanted wasn't a cat, but children. So I knocked the Mrs up and we're now awaiting for the next great experiment.
Despite the cat not working out, we had some good moments. The highlights: