Kittens & Cardboard

The gravel crunches under my tires as soft, grey dust flies up from the road; rocks periodically shooting out from the unpaved street, rhythmically knocking the underbelly of my Volkswagen.

I pull down the well-trod driveway to a shuttered house surrounded by 25 sweeping acres. Pastures with waist-high alfalfa grass wait to by cut and baled out front. The air somehow feels clearer here- sweetly tinged with the scent of new-cut wood…  sharp & clean. 

There’s a fondness- for the slightly dilapidated fence, it’s well-worn boards smooth from battering winds and rain of a hundred summer storms... for the grouchy mare grazing peacefully in the pasture, her tail flicking left and right in a bereft attempt at preventing flies from getting too close. 

I slip off my shoes in the cluttered mudroom as the grumbling garage door slams shut behind me. I’m barely inside the house when several cats slink in to join me, purring softly, clearly hoping their affections will impel me to refill their vacant food bowl. 

As they glide in-and-out of my legs however, my mind begins to wander from the Georgia countryside. 

I’m younger and beardless; naively wandering through a yet-to-be gentrified section of Brooklyn. Not far from the Utica Avenue station I stumbled across a box of kittens sitting under a dim streetlight near a shabby apartment complex. I paused for a moment; swallowing in the sorrowful sight. However, as I attempted to formulate a plan to smuggle the kittens across the East River and into my midtown hotel room, I noticed something. 

They were happy… or, if not happy, at the very least exceedingly contented; as if the damp, recyclable carton had always been their home. Realizing even Manhattan has its limits- and not feeling like explaining to my Uber driver why I was toting a box of cats into the Marriott Marquis, I decided to keep walking. 

Not far behind me, a stranger- a Brooklyn local judging by the deep v-neck t-shirt and suede argyle vest- stopped at the furrowed cardboard emblazoned “Free Cats” and picked out the runt of the litter. However, crafting artisanal cheese platters at the organic Food Coop in Park Slope hadn’t prepared him for what happened next. As he lifted the tabby from the box, she became erratic- crying and clawing, desperately trying to fight her way back to the place she knew to be home. 

I didn’t realize it at the time- but that’s what an in-between feels like. It’s a disorienting space wherein everything you’ve known gets stripped away. 

Whenever you enter your in-between- whether after college, or later in life- it’s often more than a simple change in scenery… it’s a seismic shift in all you’ve been defined by. 

When you pursue individualization and the truth of who you are- whom you were always meant to be- the extraneous labels and superfluous aspects of self all get removed, peeled away, killed off. 

You’re free for the first time, but also left floating in empty space… like New York at night; there's no stars, no moon, no sense of time or direction.

You're also alone... for when you stop letting other’s projections of you dictate your identity, there’s a chance the people you’ve been surrounded by might reject you. As you move on, the rest of the proverbial kittens in the box don’t understand where you’re going, or why you’ve left. 

But… back to the tabby for a moment. 

The man behind me on the street in Brooklyn looked like a pretty nice guy- he had well-manicured facial hair, a handsome, if unnecessary fedora, and slid into the passenger seat of a Subaru- the crying kitten wrapped in that suede argyle vest. 

What strikes me now, as my own cats wind between my legs, is the simple fact…. in that moment, the kitten had no idea she was going to a better place. 

Shivering beneath the cotton folds she was terrified- everything she had known had been taken away and she hadn’t the faintest idea where she was going next. 

Now…. I don’t know if my in-between ends in a Brooklyn brownstone with a hunter-green Forrester & a nitro cold-brew tap in my kitchen.  I certainly hope that’s the case… but right now, I feel like I have more in common with the kitten wrapped in the vest than I do the beautiful bearded man. There’s a large part of me that’s scared and wants nothing more than to run back to the box- everything I’ve known- the structure and security I found in my cardboard identity. 

The drive between the place and people I called home to my destination seems like a lifetime- yet in the grand scheme is nothing more than a quick hop across boroughs. 

Perhaps these are nothing more than the esoteric ramblings of an enigmatic twenty-something with too many thoughts & feelings. Yet, if growing up has taught me anything it’s that I am not the first, nor the last, to feel this way… and neither are you. 

In this season I’m finding to build is to first destroy, to know truth is to grieve the past, and to let go is to leave room for joy. 

To quote eternal Hunter S. Thompson, "never forget you come from a long line of truth-seekers, lovers and warriors" and you're so brave for leaving your box behind.