I sat on the curb and awaited a taxi. Carol’s escaped cat came by, approaching me from the long way, announcing her presence with a mew that straddled the border between greeting and complaint.
“Hi, there, Missy,” I said, reaching out my hand. “They gave you a stupid name, you know.”
She didn’t seem to care what I thought her name was; or my opinion of it. She knew just how far my arm could reach and stood just beyond, as ladylike women used to stand by doors, waiting for men to open them.
I scooted over and mauled her head with my fat hand. She pushed into it and purred. Her tail went vertical, but just as I thought we were getting into it, she pulled away, and played hard to get.
“It’s going to be that way is it? I see you have more self respect than your mistress does.”
She began to lick her paw and scrub the spot where I had petted her. I might’ve been offended. I wasn’t sure that it was self respect that the cat had. Maybe she played the same games with desire that we humans do.
Desire is a birdie that we bat back over the badminton net just as soon as it comes near us. It’s a golf ball that we walk three hundred yards to find, just to hit it away again.
That’s because it’s always better to be desired than to have desires, we think.
I sighed so loudly that the cat looked up from her cleaning to see what was going on. It was only me, sick of wanting. Desire makes you vulnerable and susceptible to disappointments. It puts you in touch with your emptiness, everything you don’t have and can’t achieve, and everything you have selected and lost. It’s the source of all suffering, said the Buddha. I think I’m going to give it up and become a Buddhist.
You know, I said to myself, every woman in your life chose you; you didn’t choose them. They wanted you more than you could admit that you wanted them.
You’re right, I answered. Maybe I already was a Buddhist and didn’t know it. It was that way even with Joy, who I admired and stalked from afar. I desired her, but I wouldn’t act on my desires, I kept them secretly to myself. It wasn’t until she approached me that I was free to act. I needed to arrange it so that she wanted me first. That way, I would have more power and less responsibility if it went wrong.
There’s that maxim again: Whoever has the most desire has the least power.
And Carol? Did I really like Carol that much, or did I like her because she seemed to like me? Did I go along with her so I wouldn’t have to take chances and pick someone?
I looked over at Carol’s cat, as if she would have the answer. She had finished her cleaning and was beginning to walk away. I got up, with some effort, and scooped the cat in my arms. I put her on my shoulder and petted. Her motor started and for a blissful minute or so, I stroked unbelievably soft fur and she kneaded my back.
I think I’d like a cat, I said, surprising myself, for I always thought I was a dog person.
No sooner had the two of us begun to groove in a pleasant rhythm, than she decided she had enough, slipped out of my hands, stood on my shoulder, and considered jumping.
“No, no, no, no,” I said, and pulled her back to my chest.
Dogs clearly want you. Cats are more ambivalent. With cats you have to choose.
The taxi arrived, and, together, the cat and I, we got in the back and told the driver where to go.
I found the spot on her head that she liked. She shut her eyes and pushed back against my caress.
“I think I’m going to call you Desire,” I said, not caring if the driver heard, “and I’m going to keep you, after all.”
I guess I would make a lousy Buddhist.