The Cat wins.
When I was a kid, I was torn between becoming an astronaut and becoming a pirate. Secretly, I hoped I could be a space pirate. Of course, sometimes dreams die. Mine didn’t die quietly.
My doctor looked like a malnourished Santa Claus, and he was the only man I’ve ever wanted dead. His response to my breaking my arm in three places was, “Her bones are very brittle. She’ll need to be careful.” I thought about Mars and my fragile bones crunching like soda cans under the atmospheric pressure. Space exploration suddenly became impossible. My mother, sensing my mood shift, hurriedly shuffled me out of the room before I throttled the man.
Mom knelt in front of me on the sidewalk, her hands soft on my face. Some of the other parents were giving us judgmental looks, but my mother looked at me like I was the only person on Earth. “Honey,” she said, that crease on her forehead miles deep, “sometimes the cat wins.” I must have looked confused, because she pushed a strand of hair behind my ear and continued her gentle explanation. “Sometimes life is like a game of tic-tac-toe, and that means sometimes the cat wins. Don’t let today keep you from finding happiness.”
It was difficult to understand, and not just because I was a dumb kid. I tucked the expression away, wondering when I’d understand her words.
When I was sixteen, I found myself in a vehicle wrapped around a tree, my leg shattered like glass, and the only coherent thought in my panicked head was, “Sometimes the cat wins!” The paramedics were not impressed with my wisdom, and promptly shut me up with an oxygen mask. Positivity is a difficult thing to come by when you’re a kid getting destroyed by your pediatrician, and I learned then that it was equally elusive when you were a teenager with a permanent limp. No more high heels; no more jogging. I quit the softball team with all the sullenness I could muster.
At twenty-six, I found myself forced to stand there demurely as my boss told me he was sorry, but he had to let me go. That’s fine, I told him, sometimes the cat wins. His lunch dinged in the microwave, and he waved me away without any comment. I fit all my possessions into a cardboard box and left the office feeling like an idiot. I spent the next three months desperately searching for any job, just trying to make ends meet. The cat was winning while I had sleep for dinner, and it was winning when I cracked and moved back in with my mom, unable to make rent.
I was twenty-nine when I started my own firm and realized that the cat didn’t *always* win. It was a nice feeling, almost as nice as hitting a cousin I hated in the face with my pillow. “Sometimes the cat wins,” I muttered to myself sitting in my corner office, and the words didn’t fall as heavily as they usually did. I allowed myself to feel a bit hopeful, for once. The cat only won sometimes, not always.
At thirty, I sat next to my mother on her back porch, contemplative. The sky was clear and full of stars. I thought back to the days when I used to list off all the constellations with a belligerent sort of efficiency, like the knowledge would strengthen my bones. I squinted, realizing I couldn’t find Polaris.
“What did you mean when you told me that thing about the cat winning?” I asked my mother, turning to look at her. She was a bit more wrinkled, but she still looked at me like I was the only person on Earth.
“I have no idea,” she said, calmly, like this wasn’t advice I’d been using for my entire life. “I remember feeling a bit silly after I said it.”
I turned back to the night sky. “I think it means that sometimes no one wins.”
“How sad,” my mother murmured.
“No,” I disagreed. I thought about my family, about how the life I had wasn’t the one I had originally set out for, but was filled with precious moments all the same. “I think there’s something a bit hopeful in it. Sometimes there are things even better than our dreams waiting on us.”
My mother was silent, but I could see the smile on her face. I sat with her a little longer, losing my thoughts in unfamiliar stars.