I dream of my childhood cats, Kate and Daisy, on a regular basis. I have no idea why. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say my subconscious obsession with them has to do with making sure they’re adequately taken care of. When I was growing up, we had many, many rules about how to treat the cats. And since we adopted Kate when I was seven and Daisy when I was ten, I felt as much personal responsibility for their welfare as my mother did, because so much of the time, it was just my mother and me.
The biggest rule was that we couldn’t let the cats go outside. We lived on a busy street, and my mother, who had raised her first cat in a trailer park, didn’t know how to go about keeping the new kittens out of danger. So they were officially indoor cats, except when we took them out on harnesses and leads and let them play in the backyard. This created the added complication that the cats knew what the outdoors were like, and they wanted to go out at all times. So there was always the danger that they would rush the front door and slip out when no one was looking. And when they weren’t rushing the door, they meowled plaintively whenever the sun shone, and they were so trained by the words “go outside” that you couldn’t use those two words together in any other context. If you forgot, you’d have the two of them queued up by the back door in seconds, meowling plaintively, forcing you to do what they wanted. (And if you’re saying to yourself, “They were just cats,” you have no idea of the emotional pull of a cat’s desire, or its effect on an anxious human mother.)
In most of my recent cat dreams, my mother has adopted a vast array of cats and kittens and keeps them in some hidden part of her house, like the basement. I don’t remember where all these cats came from, but I’m always a little irked that she has so many, and she’s not paying enough attention to them like she should. Inevitably, I’ll come across Kate and/or Daisy (usually it’s Kate, the one who came to us first and died last). I’ll realize I myself forgot that one or both of them are still around, and often they’ll be remote, like they don’t know me anymore, and that will be my fault. Sometimes I get mad at my mother, as if she’s been keeping Kate away from me, making me forget, making me neglect her.
Last night, my dream was a little different. I was in my first house, a duplex with 70s-green low-pile carpet and a kitchen that, size-wise, was more like a glorified hallway. I had a young stepfather, who was going around trying to take care of the place, stacking things up on top of the fridge when the pile fell over, repairing things that broke. I noticed some water on the carpet and told my stepdad that the fridge needed help again. Then I found four huge, wet dents in the carpet by the wall. They were muddy, like the mossy pools you might find in a cave. My stepfather took a knife and tried to cut the carpet away, but with the first tear the floor started collapsing. My mother shouted. I shouted. He managed not to fall, but now there was a giant hole in the floor, and that hole led into our garage, where the door was open. I mentioned something about blocking off the hole so the cats couldn’t get out, and as soon as the words left my mouth Daisy leaped through the floor, onto the concrete below, and scurried out to freedom. I yelled even louder, Daisy got out!, and off my mother and I went to find her. Across the street, there was a park with all kinds of calico cats and brown-and-white dogs, but we couldn’t find Daisy. She was so dumb. She couldn’t take care of herself. And I couldn’t find her. All I knew how to do was search and call her name, Daisy! Daisy! Daisy! But my voice was muffled, and my words didn’t go anywhere.
I wish I knew what this dream is supposed to be telling me. If it’s about neglecting my physical health–in dreams, the body is often represented by houses–or if it’s about having too much to do, starting too many projects to keep up with, letting things slip away undone–which is often how I live my life these days. I suppose the dream could also be showing how my current life is tapping into old ways of thinking and being that don’t work anymore. I’ve simplified my life a great deal since I was younger. I don’t have a cat, mostly because my husband is allergic, but I don’t know that I would want the responsibility of taking care of one, anyway. I remember the sickening smell of their food, the hyperanxious focus on the door (Come in! Don’t just stand in the doorway! You’ll LET THE CATS OUT!!!), and I want nothing of it. Maybe that means I’m lazy or not a cat person after all. Or maybe I just like to organize my life around the principle of stasis as much as time and reality will allow. There are piles of junk all over my house. Some have been there for many years. I should clean them up one day, but there’s no rush. There’s nothing rotting, nothing dangerous, nothing that needs immediate attention in any of these accumulations of stuff. It’s not pretty, but it’s not forcing me to chase after it, either.