The Bittersweet, Melancholy Majesty of the Cat Cafe
I was a sophomore in college when the woman I lost my virginity to gave me an unexpected and intense Valentine’s Day present: a surly, intimidatingly smart grey cat I named Maggie May. I was nineteen at the time and only a few months removed from living in a group home for emotionally disturbed adolescents on the north side of Chicago.
I’m not proud to concede that my initial reaction to being given a wonderful animal to love and take care of was that of a nineteen year old dude. I was convinced that there was absolutely no way I was emotionally capable, ready or responsible enough to take care of another living creature. Christ, I could barely take care of myself and now I was suddenly in the position of being responsible for an adorable creature that might die if I screwed up the job.
My soul-consuming fear turned out to be unfounded. I wasn’t a perfect cat owner, of course. Far from it, but I fucking loved owning cats. Adored it. I didn’t just like owning a cat: almost instantly I became a cat person, a male version of the proverbial crazy cat lady.
Despite my reservations, being a cat owner turned out to be one of my favorite things in the world. I adored Maggie May, of course, and eventually began acquiring additional cats. There was the adorable, sweet-natured tabby I adopted from a no-kill shelter a future girlfriend lived in and then the two cats I just sort of inherited from a woman I lived with briefly.
Throughout my twenties women gave me cats. Then I met the woman I would marry and suddenly found myself in the unfortunate position of wanting to spend the rest of my life with a woman who was violently allergic to cats, and also just plain thinks that cats are gross.
In order to be with the woman who would become my wife and the mother of my children I would need to give up cats. Permanently. That’s one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make but I made it reluctantly because I did not want the love of my life to be in profound pain and discomfort because of me and my pets.
So I was profoundly touched when my wife, the same woman who, for real, straight up hates cats, made an appointment for my cat-loving four year old son Declan and myself to spend an hour at a coffee shop/cat hang out area/adoption place called Java Cat.
My son has never known what it’s like to have a cat so it was fascinated seeing him interact not just with a cat, as he does when he hangs out at his aunt’s home, but rather with a whole slew of cats. This was no mere cat cafe; this was a goddamn feline paradise, a Happy Place for cats in need of homes and people willing to spend good money (ten dollars for adults and seven dollars for kids) just to be in the company of a whole bunch of adorable kitty cats.
It was heartwarming seeing Declan interact with these cats. His whole body radiated joy but he also did not really know how to interact with cats because he has had so few opportunities to do so.
Our afternoon at the Cat Cafe was wonderfully but also profoundly melancholy and bittersweet. Our time at Java Cats, which I cannot recommend highly enough, particularly if you’re in the market to adopt a cat, was a reminder of all that I had given up to be with my wife. It was a poignant sample of what I can never have: a whole bunch of cats to share my life with and keep me company on all those lonely days working at home.
“Can we come back later today?” My son asked me when we left. I assured him that we most assuredly could return to this wonderful place, but maybe in another couple of weeks.
I fucking love cats. And I can never have cats. But I can visit them for a price with my son, who can similarly never have cats until he moves out and that, for the time being, and also permanently, will have to be enough, even if it can’t help but remind me of the life I used to have and the person I used to be.
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