Here’s a hill I’m willing to die on: the very best novels, movies, and miscellaneous media all fall into the genre called “coming of age.”
Here’s a wrinkle: we’re all perpetually “coming of age.”
Just ask Mishush.
Mishush, miniscule creature of questionable name, is by any account a cat of a certain age. That age is certainly north of ten, more likely twelve-plus.
If our lives were a novel, this would place Mishush squarely in “coming-of-age” territory. If our lives were a film, a dreamlike soundtrack with cuts from Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire would follow Mishush through the indignities and epiphanies of seventh grade. She would rock an olive green flannel over her baggy corduroy overalls, wondering Who She Will Become and learning to answer to the tiny, honest voice in her own gut.
But our lives are a cat sanctuary, which means Mishush is unfettered by even one spangle of angst, and she would greatly prefer magenta sequins to corduroy. Far from middle school, being twelvish puts her on the edge of elderly.
And may the record show that no “learning” is required when it comes to the honest voice in Mishush’s gut. It sings with soaring confidence of liverwurst and Vienna sausages and some abomination called Treet. And, there’s nothing tiny about it, unlike Mishush herself.
It’s Mishush’s tininess — speaking strictly of her physical presence, as “tiny” is otherwise inapplicable — that has gotten her into trouble. By “trouble,” of course, I mean “great glorious fun, the kind in which we should all indulge more often for the sake of our mental health.”
When Mishush was merely a dream on an artist’s canvas, the muse must have been in a rollicking merry mood. “Let’s give her shimmery black fur, the kind that won’t go matte with age. Tear through a trillion gold mines to craft two million-dollar-marble eyes. Give her gastrointestinal mysteries that no sage can unsolve. And — this part is very important — do not make her any bigger than a Pop Tart. No, not a double package. No, not a Toaster Strudel. This is very important!”
And so Mishush made her microscopic debut on this planet.
It would be a sorry understatement to describe Mishush’s middle as a “mess.” She has been unceremoniously described as a “vomiter.” She has been on more meds than you could hide in a Pop Tart box, yes, even the Costco-sized package. She has borne the title of Most Likely To Have Intractable Diarrhea, which is not precisely what one wants in one’s middle school yearbook, or one’s adoption profile.
But she has not been bothered, or baffled, or borne away to the detention of despair by such things.
Nor has she received the memo that she is old.
As far as Mishush is concerned, youth is what you make it, and she’s making haste to make like a kitten as long as there’s breath in her bean-sized body. Life is a jumbly jambalaya of ridiculous deliciousness. It’s no less a mystery now than it was when she was a girl of two. She’s in graceful, ceaseless flux.
Mish would scratch her pecan-sized head if you tried to explain to her that one is expected to have Things — or at least oneself — generally figured out by a certain age. She wouldn’t know what to do with the assumption that a worldview or an identity or a taste in music or fashion or fish mush is supposed to be settled by the time the dust of adolescence settles.
She’s a stubborn believer in perpetual process.
Coming of age? She’s scarcely begun.
And lest you think I’m foisting feisty philosophy on an aging cat the size of a Cheerio, consider the evidence.
Given her intestinal festivities, Mishush is a resident of Suite A. Call it The Diarrhea Suite; call it the Gastrointestinally Fascinating Forum; call it The Place Where All Earth’s Odors And Vapors Converge; it is what it is, and you get the idea. This is the redolent realm where all of our cats with a certain sort of issue keep company and keep things fragrant.
Two doors down, you’ll find the Special Needs Suite. Although initially intended as a room for cats with Special Needs (you didn’t see that one coming, did you?), we have surrendered it to the kittens, whose numbers and powers are vast beyond measure. At the time of this writing, the overwhelming majority of these kittens happen to be solid black. Track with me here.
From time to time, someone will leave a suite door open for more than a sixth of a second, and some pioneering cat will comet herself into the hallway. In the normal course of affairs, the door-opener notices; the cat is caught (sometimes with a maximum of flailing); and the escapee is returned to her proper place (often with a maximum of petulance).
Leave it to Mishush to make a hash of such a happening.
No one is exactly sure how it happened, but on a recent date in Tabby’s Place history, a certain scrumpet of a black cat was found unattended in the back hallway. A certain human, who shall remain anonymous to protect the silly except to say that his name rhymes with Ronathan and he founded Tabby’s Place, came upon this sable scrumpet.
In Ronathan’s own words, “I assumed kitten.”
You can’t blame him.
Except you can, and you should, whilst dissolving into uncontrollable laughter.
Some time later, an entirely different staff member whirled into the Special Needs/Kitten Suite and found a fiesta of happy black kittens, one of whom happened to be elderly.
Mishush made no apology (cats are incapable of very few things, but they include “apologizing”, “appreciating the song ‘Jack and Diane'”, and “accepting vegan cheese as a food item”). In fact, she invited us to imitate her:
“Keep company with the young and strange.”
“Keep considering yourself to be in the prime of your life.”
“Keep coming of age at every age.”
“Don’t you dare decide you’re done, unless you’re a can of broiled Treet, in which case call me.”
(Personally, I was born in the same year as both Beyoncé and MTV, which I’m pretty sure means that I am incapable of ever being old, but I digress.)
So let’s make much of Mishush as a mentor, kittens.
Let’s own our adolescent awkwardness, our shimmering youth, and our elegant age in every stage.
Go get found in some unexpected places today.