In my experience, the more time stacked on a relationship, the lighter the expectation. Fifteen years ago, spending time with my future husband was an endeavor, a planned scheme to win over and anchor his commitment. In pursuit of his devotion, each date and occasion had to create a moment that surpassed the one before. A date to a movie progressed to a picnic by the river that eventually advanced to a spontaneous, overnight trip to Alabama for a KISS concert, and before I knew it, I had surprised him with a trip to London just so he can experience his favorite musical, The Phantom of the Opera, on its home soil. Nowadays, though, my wallet and I are grateful that an acceptable level or relationship maintenance is an evening on the sofa, sharing a movie and a bowl of pomegranate seeds while chaperoned by a balding cat that lounges between us on a towel matted in clumps of its own long, black fur.
The cat in this scenario is Elvis, my husband’s favorite of the herd. The loose clumps of fur, an issue that has caused me alarm over the past few months. I can’t go anywhere in the house without being startled by at least one rodent-sized tuft of its fur, sometimes tumbling across the floor after catching a ride on the draft of an opening door. On one occasion, enough of its coat was left behind that, if not for the disappointing reality that such hilarity is impossible, I almost convinced myself that it had spontaneously exploded.
This wouldn’t be an issue if Elvis was simply shedding. Cats shed all the time, and thanks to years of immersive desensitization and prescription medication, I have learned to cope by regularly dragging a vacuum nozzle across the floors in a medicated stupor, grinning the whole time like a Stepford wife. But this isn’t shedding. This is denuding. Epilating like a Vegas showgirl stripping off tufts of its coat one ghastly, flirtatious chunk at a time.
My husband is adamant that this is nothing more than the cat grooming out its thick undercoat. The vet seems to agree. But I remain unconvinced. This heathen has been a squatter in our home for over nine years, and as an obsessive cleaner and neat freak, don’t you think I would have noticed before now that it’s dropping hair from its body like a radioactive leper?
To be clear, it’s not so much that it’s sloughing fur; it’s sometimes how and where the fur is sloughed. I can easily suck offending clumps from the floor or furniture with my vacuum. But on occasion it’ll ingest enough to regurgitate a slimy, turd-shaped hair ball that I’ll inevitably step upon with a bare foot or maybe my husband will leave the linen closet open, allowing the heathen access to sleep at the top of our stacked towels. The latter I didn’t realize until one morning I leaned from the shower and snagged a fresh towel from the nearby closet. With water dripping into my eyes, I quickly rubbed the towel down the front of my wet body. The fur clung to my face and chest like an appalling mass of spider webs. It’s the only time in my life where I can remember showering twice in a row, but unlike the first shower, I was too occupied with yelling profanities than to sing along with the radio. I rubbed the soap against me so aggressively you would have thought I was exfoliating away a terrible sin. But at least it couldn’t get any worse, right?
A few nights ago, my husband and I were enjoying a quiet evening at home. The living room shined by the light of Bill and Ted Face the Music. The fingers of my right hand were sticky with pomegranate juice. Elvis slept on a towel between us, curled into a ball behind the bowl of seeds. Even though I could have used that time to do a load of laundry, wipe down the windows, or scrub the toilets, I allowed myself this moment of contentment with the person I love more than anyone. As the movie played, I felt greater joy hearing my husband’s laughter than experiencing the humor of the movie, myself.
While romanticizing this ordinary moment, I reached into the bowl between us and pinched a few seeds between my fingers. I tilted my head back slightly and dropped the seeds into my mouth. As I began to rest my hand on my lap, I felt a small drop of juice running down my finger so rush it between my lips before any could drip on my lap. It was then that I thought, ‘Why does the tip of my finger have cotton candy stuck to it?’
Have you ever felt a state of confusion where something didn’t seem right but you couldn’t quite explain what? Like waking from a dream to find yourself in bed and not standing over the toilet or re-reading a sentence that doesn’t make sense over and over until it clicks on the tenth try? That’s kind of how I felt when I suckled on what I thought was cotton candy. This confusion even lingered long enough for me to ask myself a follow-up question: ‘Why isn’t this cotton candy dissolving in my mouth?’
“Can you turn on the lights real quick,” I asked my husband.
With a swipe of my husband’s finger across the face of his smartphone, the living room lights faded in like a cocaine-fueled sunrise. I plucked the fuzz from my mouth and pulled it into view and was appalled to find that I was holding a large wad of Elvis’s long fur.
I leaned forward and frantically spit and wiped my mouth as if I had foolishly licked a swatch of lead paint. Despite my dramatic effort, at least a strand or two remained. It was terrible. I may have even retched once or twice. I was too panicked at the moment to know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I had.
With my fur-laced tongue protruding from my mouth, I told my perplexed husband, “I us ay evis haiya.” (I just ate Elvis hair.) I had to repeat this a couple of times and even presented the wad of hair, damp with my spit, as evidence. When he finally understood, he looked at the apathetic cat (now awake and whose furry tail, I had just noticed, was draped into the bowl) and said to it, “Well, tell him not to swallow it or he’s going to have to clean up his own hair ball.”
I already know that this isn’t something that my husband will be forgetting anytime soon. Since the incident, he has already approached me twice with a balled up wad of Elvis’s fur and saying, “Here. Elvis said he thinks you may want a snack.” Turd.
Our definition of quality time has evolved over the years. We haven’t gotten lazy or lost interest. We have become comfortably settled. And even though our moments nowadays are simple, even though we don’t need picnics by the river or surprise concert tickets, we still have each other and the occasional disaster during an ordinary moment. Because I’ve learned that to make memories you’ll cherish, sometimes all you need is a bowl of pomegranate seeds, a denuding cat, and your dignity.