I just drank a soda that was “transformation flavored.”

But if it’s growth I’m after, I should have just consulted Pickles Rosenberg, LSW.

You might not think a feral-born kitten with flamboyant hair would be a reputable social worker. But we live in a world of coconut colas with audacious claims, and miracles the size of pickle jars.

When Pickles first came to Tabby’s Place, the label on her jar couldn’t have been clearer:

Contents Under Pressure.
Socialization Not Included.
Agitation Flavored.

And a black-box FDA Warning: May Cause Love.

When the situation is this garlicky, love will put you in a dilly. Pickles may have been trapped outside a Sonic, but the hamburger of our hearts was horrifying to her.

Not even an actual hamburger, Cheez Whizzed with the message YOU ARE OUR QUEEN, would have snapped Pickles’ safety seal.

We are a bunch of mushy milkshakes at Tabby’s Place, but the object of our affection had launched a hunger strike. Not one sip of sweetness would slip into her airtight barrel.

This is always jarring. But there’s no fast-food shortcut to friendship.

So we’d just have to bring out the hundred foot-long sub of subterranean sweetness. If we couldn’t pet Pickles, we would let her stretch out her spicy soul without pressure.

We shook out our finest red checkerboard tablecloth and let her use the good china — you know, the stuff you keep in the cabinet until elegant company comes, by which I mean the Super Mario Bros. plates.

We shook off our expectations and sauteed our schedules. Pickles’ short life had been one sonic boom after another, so this would be the season of stability. Pickles would find the Community Room table set with time and patience. She did not need to be cured of her wildness, only to marinate in a love that wouldn’t try to change her.

She seemed surprised to be given space and grace to simply be Pickles.

She admittedly seems surprised by a great many things: the existence of transformational cola, the existence of her own existence, the existence of super marvelous brothers-in-buffoonery like Walker and Gulliver.

To be surprisable is to be audaciously alive.

To stay surprisable is to remain young, long after you outgrow your jar of safety.

To her own surprise, with her hair standing on end, the black-and-white kitten began auditioning colors.

Green was the electricity in Walker’s eyes, high-voltage hijinks that were just Pickles’ sense of humor. Tussling and telling terrible jokes (Walker is that guy who throws tin foil in the microwave just to watch it burn, and can laugh ten minutes at the word “underpants”), they made the world new.

Pickles was transforming.

Red were the stripes of Cleopatra, ketchup swirls that curled into smiles when the salty kitten came close. The dowager queen marinated in Pickles’ powers, playing with the fire of a princess.

Pickles was transforming.

Gold was the invisible medal around Gulliver’s neck, the award Pickles bestowed for Most Handsomest Friend. The injured tuxedo and the concerned kitten could have swapped sad stories, but instead they jested and jousted, free as the surprises that rise with each dawn.

Pickles was transforming.

White was the Styrofoam packing material that Pickles found delicious. In her defense, we do drink carbonated chemicals flavored like “transformation.”

Pickles was transforming.

Pink were our cheeks, smiling until they hurt, crunching into life by the fluorescent light of one feral-born kitten. With Pickles in the Tabby’s Place Community Room, we were not permitted the luxury of forgetting that joy precedes perfection, and no one needs to be “cured” to be adored.

There are no sticklers at Tabby’s Place, and no enforced tickling. There’s only Pickles, and ninety-nine other surprises, savored exactly as they are.

We can’t say whether Pickles will ever become “pick-uppable,” much less relish our kisses. Her go-to order is deep-fried feline friendship. We are a humble side dish.

But mark my words: Pickles will continue to surprise us.

Pickles will continue to transform us.

And this astonishing life will continue to grant us all sweet, salty adventures together.

It’s the Tabby’s Place way.

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