Don’t you dare shut up.

Don’t shut up about how inglorious the new Space Jam is, nor how glorious the first was and is and forever shall be, amen.

Don’t shut up about injustice.

Don’t shut up about your favorite sandwich shop.

Don’t shut up about the furious raging love beneath your bones.

Don’t shut up if you intend to be anything like Koda, which you should.

In the words of one of the greatest bands who ever banded together, we are all engaged in “sentimental wars.” Even if we fancy ourselves to be tougher than beef jerky, our secret hearts are soft, gooshing things prone to tidal waves of feeling.

Feel the feeling, and the feeling might freak you out.

Share the feeling, and you might have to ride a craggy silence.

Far better, our bumbling brains insist (committing mutiny against our gooshing hearts), to simply go underground.

Go small.

Go quiet.

Turn into fear incarnate.

Shut thyself up.

This last, lowest, leechiest fear is as anti-feline as the concept of vegan cheese. Cats will do many things out of fear (vault themselves into the literal ceiling, bite you so hard they see daylight, swathe themselves in blankets like shy swamis), but they will no sooner submit to fear-based silence than to plant-based bacon.

Cats are not in the business of making themselves small.

This is particularly the case for cats with inner Kodachrome kaleidoscopes so vast, they roam the earth searching for beige surfaces to splatter, Pollock-style, with profusions of color and sound.

I’m speaking of the Brothers Bad. I’m speaking of Lemon. I’m speaking of Olive. I’m speaking — nay, shouting — of Koda.

If most cats have a placid inner Main Street, where kindly aged mailpersons amble among friendly border collies and neighborly dads, Koda’s interior landscape is the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, except all the yelling yahoos are happy, the value of everything is continually soaring, and the traders are sporting tutus and sequined balaclavas instead of subdued suiting.

Given the wildness within, it’s no wonder Koda wobbles. More precisely, she has seizures — or she did, before better days found her, and she found us, and we found out that she will merrily consume her medication in a sea of fish mush. (See above re: “they will bite you so hard they see daylight.” Medication hidden in food is fabulous mercy.)

But although there are scientific explanations for Koda’s condition, they are partial. Clearly the riots that rock her busy brain are the overflow of color and life. Koda feels all the feelings. Koda surfs the brainwaves of a frantic inner freestyle. Koda wants to see the cherry blossoms in Kyoto, and go face-to-face with a Kodiak bear, or at least experience a Klondike bar. Koda wants to dream while waking, take every precious moment into the Mariana Trench-depths of her heart, and bring them all back out to bless us with. Loudly.

At this point, you may think I mean that Koda is a meower. She is not. She is volume and verve incarnate, audible even with the speakers turned off, erupting in opinions and essence and her unsinkable, better-than-anyone-could-think-able self. She commands the Community Room as a creature of size (literally and figuratively) and gravitas (literally and figuratively), eyes wider than the Yukon and presence more potent than a 55-gallon drum of sriracha.

She speaks her mind without blinking.

She is unafraid to feel, to flail publicly, to flaunt perpetually.

This is not because she’s had it easy. In addition to her seizure disorder, Koda has the kind of crinkled history that would send lesser creatures (e.g. you, me, all the actual Wall Street wailers) scrambling towards silence, diving beneath blankets of self-protection. Koda came from a public shelter that couldn’t handle her, medically, existentially, or otherwise.

(Here I must interject to note that this is no fault of that valiant shelter. Public shelters and their people are heroes working miracles on raveled shoestrings. We owe them all a great debt. We need them in the animal welfare galaxy. We are all in this messy miraculous labor of love together. But no one — not you, not me, not Captain America himself — can properly handle so chromatic a creature as Koda. We can only, if we’re lucky, learn and love.)

Being told, in word or jagged silence, that you are “too much,” “difficult,” “unhandleable,” is enough to make even the loudest among us — perhaps especially the once-loudest among us — go quiet. We twist and we scrunch and we hope that our silence and our smallness will make us acceptable, give us access to closed little rooms and closed little minds that would prefer we shut up.

What we really need is to go to Koda.

Koda’s chariots of sorrow and jetliners of loneliness did not take her to the place of quiet. They did not render her careful, delicate, measuring out teaspoons of herself in desperate docility.

The years and tears only made her more herself.

The feelings forged a golden heart and a galaxy of guts that have given her the voice of the century.

And so Koda speaks.

In the sunny window; under the blessed brush; before the luminous food bowl; before the face of life itself, sloppy and sentimental and never straightforward, Koda goes quiet for no one.

And it’s her hope that no one, having met Koda, will ever shrink into shut-uppage again.

Let yourself out to sing, kittens. And have a Klondike bar while you’re at it.

PS: We’ve done it again. It happened, as it often happens, that Koda was adopted between my writing and your reading. Deliciosity abounds.

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