Cali the Obstinate Cat
I am Catholic.
Technically, I have been Catholic all my life. I don’t think I ever really stopped going to church. But good at being Catholic—no, not really. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs with my relationship with the church. And I have a more turbulent relationship with a lot of the Catholics in my life.
In childhood, it wasn’t an issue as much. My household was a war zone. My dad was a pretty abusive alcoholic (Still is for that matter, but we’ve moved on to emotional and verbal abuse rather than the full spectrum of physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, and occasionally neglectful). My mother—I love my mother. She tries, but trips to the hospital wore her down, so sometimes fighting back was too much. My older brother was a teenager when I was born—scratch that, my brother was a teenager. That is a level of turbulence itself. So church—when Dad went he had to behave. Church was where I could hear something other than swearing or yelling. Church sometimes meant sitting on the rectory steps talking to one of a handful of elderly priests we had who helped me build things I still can cling to.
But I didn’t stay that little girl.
In school I started getting bullied almost from my first day of kindergarten. What I believed was as up for grabs as my clothes and what I said. And so while I went to church, went to CCD, and could still find some comfort there, it didn’t fix all the problems with school. It didn’t fix my family. And as one by one my childhood mentors left, I found others whom sometimes I could talk to and sometimes I couldn’t.
So for a while in middle school and high school, I gravitated towards my Protestant and non-churchgoing friends and boyfriend. But when I wasn’t believing what they did—it didn’t get better.
So I swung the other direction—toward a more stringent Catholicism—part way through college, hoping that since one did not fix it the other would. Nope.
Another boyfriend, another breakup, 3-4 mental breakdowns, severe struggles with depression and anxiety, I wasn’t in a good state. I had friends from college who believed and some who had converted to Catholicism. I had some other friends who still struggled with their faith as well. And I had some who had left the church or belonged to other religions.
But it felt like the number of friends who would even put up with my not being able to make a decision, not being able to always function, not being able to come to terms with what I believed, especially when it did not line up exactly with Church teaching—their words were not the gentle mentoring of my old priests on rectory steps, but the shouts and arguments and cold shoulders that are apparently what grown-up Catholicism looks like. And I couldn’t deal with it anymore.
I couldn’t go to confession without panic attacks. I stopped going to communion. One day, I drove around in circles, trying to talk myself into going to church rather than just hiding for the rest of the day.
So why am I still Catholic if that is how I felt?
Spite. And a cat.
It was right before Halloween and we had a cold snap. I was in my yard doing yard work. I had had another argument with my family. I was in the middle of a bad episode where my depression was concerned. And I did not feel that church was helping. So I started praying, not because I felt I should but because I was so freaking pissed off at God. Where was He?
I probably would have kept ranting, except that my ankle was suddenly savaged by tiny tiny claws. I looked down, and there was a kitten, less than a month old, climbing my leg. And it would not let go. I had no idea what to do with it, this tiny kitten who had climbed me and was meowing at my chin. But I was fairly certain what the answer would be if I asked to keep it.
The kitten did not care.
I went and got it food and milk and hid it in a shed. It did not leave. I started calling shelters. No luck. The kitten did not leave. I continued inexpertly taking care of this little cat through the cold snap in October and November. The kitten remained. I was not allowed to keep the kitten, but I was allowed to take care of it until I found it a home. So I moved the kitten into the basement.
And it would not leave.
And I started to not want to hear back from the shelters. I was falling for this little kitten who had picked me. And who was not letting go. And somewhere in my head, that seemed to be my answer for a church that didn’t seem to want me. “Okay,” I decided. “You want me to go away so you don’t have to see how screwed up I am? I am staying right here.”
I kept going to church, defiantly sitting, defiantly participating, defiantly not going anywhere. It wasn’t great, but it’s what I had.
And then one day, I was able to work a little more with what I believed, even if it didn’t fully line up with what I had been taught. I was praying a little more, and able to think a little more that there was something that I believed, even if I couldn’t find it yet.
I went to work—I’m a teacher—and I started paying attention to the kids rather than trying to just not scream getting through the day.
I started taking classes to keep my certificate and found an entire field that I loved. I kept up with the classes and started to want to be an inexpert safety net for students falling through the cracks.
I kept going to church, and stopped caring if I was welcome or not.
And the kitten did not leave.
Actually, the kitten stayed.
The kitten actually moved in on Thanksgiving, when my family got fed up with the shelters not calling back. Her name is Calico, but we call her Cali.
A couple years old now, she still is an adorable cat. And I still go to church. I’ve been working on reclaiming what I believe, piece by piece. And while there are still days that I hold on out of spite, there is a gentleness in what I believe that is more akin to those three older priests who were dealing with an abused little girl, helping her learn how to pray, and giving her a safe haven, than it does with any strict code of “Do this. Don’t do that. You can’t think that way!”
If you expect me to tell you that this means you have to believe exactly as I do, nope. I still don’t have my own pieces all back yet. And I am still afraid of down-spiraling again, especially when my depression and anxiety are at their worst.
But I am not going to church as an empty gesture now, but rather because there is a whisper of something there again that I don’t want to be silenced and don’t want to lose that voice.
And there is still a cat named Cali, who taught me to believe again.
Maiasson is an fellow writer and old friend of Marie’s.