A week ago, I was walking through Terminal 2 of Madrid Airport talking on my phone to a mate I went to school with whose name is – well, I’ll call him Cooldeep.
Cooldeep is Indian-Australian, and he’s sort-of like the brother I never had. He’s currently living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and, against my advice, he has gotten himself a cat.
Now to be clear, I had carefully advised him against this, because I have noticed that fewer than 5% of cats actually like their owners; the rest are just waiting for their people to die so they can eat them. I don’t know why cat owners don’t notice, frankly, but there it is.
Now bear in mind, I’d even told Cooldeep about my childhood cat, Mieze (I had wanted to call her Measels but I was overruled by some authority figure or other). Mieze was a lovely cat who never grew out of her goofy kitten stage. She was friendly and affectionate, and thus in summary a complete outlier in the feline world. And she ruined cats for me, because she was the best cat a boy could ever have - and why? Because she didn’t behave like most cats.
“Mieze liked people,” I had explained to Cooldeep. “But everyone I happen to know right now has adopted a cat who bites and scratches them. And they’re enormously fond of them anyway. Stockholm Syndrome, I think it’s called. Look, you can get a cat, but understand that the odds of that cat actually liking you is really low. It can happen, but it’s going to be down to luck. Are you really lucky, Cooldeep? Because I’m not sure many people are that lucky.
“Tell you what, though; you want companionship, get yourself a horse.”
“Mate, I’m not getting a horse,” said Cooldeep. “I’m living in a studio apartment in downtown Phnom Penh.”
“If you want companionship,” I repeated, “get yourself a horse! Or even a dog. And by the way, I didn’t know the subject of the conversation was ‘How to Live comfortably in Phnom Penh’. I thought you were a free spirit, free to travel and live anywhere, like a rural farm community where you and aforementioned horse may roam the hills at leisure …”
Anyway, Cooldeep got a cat, and the creature has been biting and scratching him all year, bless his heart.
A few weeks ago, the cat hit puberty. Which brings us to last week, when I was walking through Terminal 2 of Madrid Airport.
My mate wasn’t doing well. He called me up to explain the situation.
“I haven’t managed to get the cat fixed yet. Did you know that cats who have been fixed live twice as long? Because cats that are intact go roaming … they cross streets and highways in search of … what’s the word?”
“Female cat genitalia?”
“That’s the term I was thinking. You’re good with words, Kris.”
“I’m awesome with ‘em. Continue the story.”
“The libido of cats really contributes to their mortality. In short, male cats do dumb things because they like their –”
It reminded me of something I wrote in The Harvard Skull Fiasco about a pretty girl.
Inspired by a smile like hers, men have tumbled from cliff-faces, burned up inside rocket capsules, and gone missing at sea. Countless others have even found themselves tangled up in mortgages and parent-teacher meetings.
“You should read my book,” I reminded him. I wondered if this was a good time to mention that I’d advised him to get a horse, but decided it wasn’t.
“Well, that’s all well-and-good, but I can’t sleep,” said Cooldeep. “My cat is yowling all night and day. He’s suffering man. And I’m suffering. I have not actually slept for three nights …”
“Maybe you should get yourself a female cat.”
“I don’t want live in a feline bordello. Or even a cat house.”
“Well, not to be indelicate but do you happen to know if there are any … ahem, marital aids, for frisky cats?”
Cooldeep swore, and angrily asserted that he didn’t.
“Mate, you know what? You should get him a toy monkey.”
“Why a toy monkey, exactly?”
“Well, you live in Cambodia. Give your cat a year or so of practicing, um, carnal relations with a toy monkey, and then one day you can bring home an actual live monkey. Imagine it, man. Imagine, after their first hour together … how confused both monkey and cat would be!”
There was sort of a long silence.
“I don’t know why I bring my problems to you,” he said. “And the worst thing is that you even know that I haven’t slept for three nights. Three nights of non-stop yowling. I can’t sleep, I can’t think, and you’re putting weird imagery in my head!”
“Nonsense. You’re doing fine. I have two small children. I haven’t had an uninterrupted sleep in five years.”
And it’s true. My children invade my room after midnight, when I’m too out-of-it to put up a fight.
Only the night before, I had been woken up by my little angels four times. Two of those times were when I was punched in the face by my three-year-old. She was dreaming away, fighting monsters or something, and her chubby little fist lashed out and connected perfectly with my eye-socket … twice! Hours apart. Amazing subconscious accuracy, or something. I woke up both times with an anguished howl of pain and fright; it’s such an awful way to wake up, by the way, but she looks so peaceful that I settle down and think about how lucky I am, instead.
And so what happens is, before I’m able to muster the energy to put her back in her bed, I pass out. A little while after 2am, I’ll discover my five-year-old has climbed into my bed as well, when she kicks me in the small of my back. I lie there in a helpless delirium for roughly ten minutes, then I pass out again. I’m alternatively kicked and punched, and this goes on through the night, until the sun rises. And then they immediately leap out of bed and demand toast.
Normally, when I’m not exhausted, I tend to give up; I surrender my bed to them, and crawl off to sleep in one of theirs. The problem is that today, while walking through the Madrid Airport, I was too tired from being kept awake two nights ago, when my five-year-old had appeared in my room like an apparition at 2am, to announce that she was bored.
She added that in her opinion sleep was boring and, moreover, that we should go downstairs and outside, to see if The Bat was flying about. The nocturnal activities of The Bat She Saw That One Time has been a topic of grave concern recently, and much-discussed among my daughters.
This was not my first rodeo; I mumbled to her a full description of the wonderful dollhouse I would get her (“it will rival the Palace of Versaille!") if she would only go back to sleep. She didn’t believe a word, of course, because it wasn’t her first rodeo either.
And so I didn’t get back to sleep until dawn. And I was miserably unable to think coherently for the rest of that day, too. That evening I even went to bed early … only to be kicked and punched all night, as I have described above.
Of course, the night before those two nights, I had been awoken by the sound of my three-year-old vomiting all over her bed. It was shortly after 12.30am, and she vomited a number of times through the night. She was, however, mysteriously well again by dawn. I wasn’t; I never am, at dawn, and all I really wanted to do was sleep, but everybody was demanding toast, as usual.
If this narrative sounds chronologically disjointed and bewildering, well … yes.
Yes, that’s how I feel. At dawn, when I’m making toast for a three-year old, or around midday, while walking through airports, or, well, any time whatsoever. My life has been like this for years. The random vomits only happen every three months, I suppose, but there is always some sort of well-justified disturbance going on in the wee hours. Everything, for me, feels floaty. I’ve become one of those people who can lie down practically anywhere and nap, even for five minutes. Fortunately, no matter the depths of my sleep deficit, it never makes me cranky at the children; that just wouldn’t make sense to me. No, my wrath is reserved for any passing idiot who Sings Loudly In the Nighttime And Risks Waking My Little Nocturnal Monsters. (If you ever one-day read of me being arrested for bludgeoning to death some hapless, late-night singing nitwit, well, Your Honor, the defense now rests its case.)
But I couldn’t explain this general state of affairs to Cooldeep. He has no dependents, apart from his pubescent cat, and works as a freelancer. Normally Cooldeep goes to bed whenever he wants and gets up whenever he pleases, typically in the afternoon.
He lives in a wonderful, blessed world. What sort of friend would I be if I tried to make him feel bad about that?
So I hung up and told a woman – a stranger – who happened to be walking near me through Terminal 2 of the Madrid Airport. I told her all about being beaten up by two small children, and a few minutes later she was laughing so hard she had to sit down. I waved farewell to her, and went on my way to my departure gate. My flight was boarding.
And in a nutshell, this is what my life is like. Upon this fragile bedrock of sleep deprivation, I have been hobbling together a writing career. Friends call me up occasionally and ask me what I’ve been up to – have I finished my next book? Have I learned Spanish? Have I seen this or that TV show? Have I created any wrongcards lately?
I don’t complain about it. All it means is that I’m making everything look easy. But wait – I’m still standing in line, waiting to board my flight. I phone back Cooldeep.
“Next time you call me up for advice,” I suggested, “do the smart thing by yourself and listen to me. For I am wise in all manner of ways. And next time, get yourself a bloody horse.”