If my cat was human, I think she’d be a child psychologist, probably working at a school. She has the empathy of someone who deeply understands the emotions and experiences of those around her, but she has the cool, kitty distance of someone who can process information efficiently without judgment, even if it’s tragic. My other cat Alistair would probably be a pirate because he’s a swashbuckling goofy baby with ridiculous cat charisma and very sharp claws, and also he’s got the whole one eye thing going so an eyepatch is an option.
If, like my cats, I found my ideal role in society, I think it would involve a library. Maybe a lot of them.
As a kid, I used to spend hours and hours in the library every day. I’d find a little hidden spot under a desk with a broken chair or behind a wall of Westerns, and I’d just camp out for a while. There were days I’d be at the library for as long as I’d been at school. I’d get cozy and small in my little private corner, and I’d pull the next book from the wall of Fantasy I’d been steadily working my way through. Sometimes I even risked eating those little orange peanut butter crackers while I was reading. I always felt like a scavenger in an empty world when I was hidden in my library. I could hear the faint echoes of other wanderers, but maybe they weren’t really there and the books were just chatty. If I set up under a table by a window, I could hear birds outside, and it always felt like nature had broken in.
I didn’t think that much about the other patrons at the library beyond how to avoid them. Different things are important to a child who was dealing with her own potential homelessness. I cared a lot more about what I was reading than who I was reading it around. I wasn’t that picky about books when I was younger. Lately, I’ve been trying to read more, but I’ve noticed it’s hard to find books. There are authors I know I like, so I start there, but they only put out new stuff once a year–maybe. Or I can look through lists of new books in genre I like, only there are so many so I go somewhere like Reddit and look for recommendations, only they keep recommending the same 5 books to each other and nodding smugly about how refined-yet-sensible their taste is: Ender’s Game, 1984, and Dune have been recommended to me more than 5 times each, whether I’ve read them or not. So it’s left to me sifting through lists of new books, reading synopses, and usually deciding it’s probably not worth the time and just going back on Twitter to be sad and gay.
For a poor kid with nothing else to do, the library was a nice place to hide. It was air-conditioned, and I had access to water, and people usually didn’t bother me, and I wouldn’t be bored. That’s a lot for someone with very few other places to go. Now that I’m older and can’t fit under tables as easily, I actually see some of the other people that go to the library. A lot of them are homeless people using the computer or also taking a moment to rest somewhere cool and quiet that can keep them busy. As a teenager, I started volunteering at the library so I could spend more time there. While learning there actually isn’t that much time to read while working at a library, I also met some of the people who went there. Most of the homeless people I talked to were nice to me, and they usually just wanted help with printing. One of them recommended Ender’s Game to me, which still seems ridiculous. As an adult who eventually learned the empathetic skills to recognize other people as more than an obstacle to drag a fake potted tree in front of a desk to avoid, I’m glad people regardless of class have a place go that is safe and has water and something to keep busy with.
If I told my younger self it’s hard to find a book, she’d probably show me the sci-fi section and say “here they are” before disappearing under a nearby table. That’s the mindset I took to reading and finding new ways to escape my shitty life: there are the books, I’ll read them now, maybe in order. That’s what I want my life to be now. If my cats fully realized their potential, they’d have rich rewarding careers helping kids process their trauma or stealing yachts from rich people who don’t deserve them. If I found my perfect niche, it’d be back at the library, working my way through a wall of books without concern for who wrote them or whether other people thought they were good. And, if I could do this while in a private corner with a cat nearby, that would be nice too. I’d want there to be people, but I’d always want them to be just far enough from me that I don’t feel obligated to acknowledge them, and they could do the same with me. I want to be the woman of indistinct age with a reusable grocery bag who is always tucked away somewhere in a library, smelling noticeably of cats and maybe weird incense, and I’m going to make that happen.