My friend took a trip to Cape Cod and brought me back a souvenir. “You are so hard to buy for,” she told me. “So I brought something for your cat.” She eagerly held out a rhinestone charm in the shape of a crown. “This is for her cat collar,” she said, “Sonnet’s such a spoiled princess, I thought it fit.” Well, my friend has seen my cat numerous times and she has never worn a cat collar since I brought her home. My boss would comment that they do not make cat collars large enough to fit around her pudgy neck, but even if they did, I wouldn’t want to demean Sonnet with a fake rhinestone charm. Of course I politely and graciously thanked her with a hug. I turned away and sorrowfully looked at my gift while she gave my other friend a cool art deco piece for her kitchen.
I went to my family reunion in Boston this year and we had a Christmas in July, as no one can travel in the winter. We held a Yankee swap, where we draw numbers, choose a gift from the pile, and can steal another’s if they have picked something more appealing. I opened my gift under the watchful eye of the family – a stained glass vase with some sort of figures on the side. Upon closer look I saw they were cats. “Oh, I’m so glad a CAT person got my gift, ” I heard someone exclaim, and I smiled weakly. No one stole my gift.
In May, a package arrived from a college friend who is now a Green Beret in the Army’s Special Forces. Having completed a three-month deployment to Senegal and then two months in Tunisia, he barely was back in the States when Uncle Sam sent him packing to Guinea for six months. Long ago he had hinted at buying me something in a Senegal marketplace that reminded him of me, but I had forgotten about the mysterious African gift. I ripped open the package from Ft. Bragg in eager anticipation. I pulled out a carved wooden figure the color of deep mahogany: a cat. Stifling a groan, I read the note, hastily penned as he readied for another deployment: “This is a Jaguar (I stood corrected)…I thought it represents your spirit animal pretty well…not getting all metaphysical on you…I just think that if you were an animal that it would be a Jaguar.”
“Wish I could help celebrate your birthday,” he continued. “But the world needs me!” I smiled at his tongue-in-cheek bravado. Or maybe not so tongue-in cheek. If you want to question a man who rises at 0400 to run 6-10 miles before joining the rest of his team at 0600 for P/T and teaches hand-to-hand combat techniques, be my guest. But, my animal spirit? I don’t know much about jaguars, other than an expensive British car is named for the creature. Although not a prissy Persian, it was still in the cat family. I skeptically studied the sculpture, which is about ten inches long from head to tail. Although crude in detail, the artist captured the jaguar in low stride, its head determined and mouth open in mid-snarl. The front paw is slightly spread, as if just firmly planted on the jungle path. Hands meticulously sanded its lean body and stained it to an ebony sheen, and the elegant tail arches with a lithe flair. Shaped a world away, this cat has never seen a tacky country gift store. It’s not cute. It’s not fuzzy. It’s definitely not darling. I love it.
Kristine McComis, The OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital Newsletter, Volume 8, Number 10, October, 2002.