The Cat Sitter

This is one I'd meant to write for a long time after I heard David Wilcox explain on a sunny spring afternoon how we live our lives in the wrong direction. His was a playful little thought about how we should start with the ending to get it out of the way. And, so, that's where I'll begin.

Here's the ending: I was the cat sitter.

The problem with this ending is that, at the time, it was also a beginning. This is a circular story, but the only one going around and around is me, and I don't blame anyone but myself for that. Some lessons need to be learned more than once.

You've read the ending. Now, let's get to the beginning.

We'll call her Linda. She was cute. Blond and curvy with curious eyes and a smile wider than one would expect from a stranger, though we weren't to be strangers for long.

Linda was going to be traveling for about a week. She needed someone to drop by her apartment each day while she was gone to feed her cats and scoop their litter.

She placed an ad on craigslist. I replied. A few days later, we were having lunch. The process of her getting to know me well enough to entrust me with her cats and apartment turned into both of us getting to know a new friend.

Each day while she was out of town, I would walk a mile from my home to hers. I'd feed her cats and play with them a bit so they wouldn't be too lonely, and then I'd walk home.

When she returned to Portland we met for dinner. A few days later, we went to see a movie. And then another dinner. There was an undeniable tension between us, though I wasn't sure of its cause. We talked. We laughed. We flirted.

I kissed her.

We did a bit more than kiss, truth be told, but after a few weeks, she announced that dating wasn't going to work. We were too different, wanting different things. There was no crash and burn. This had been more a case of trial and error. No harm, no foul.

Shortly after, she left town again a few days. That's where this story reaches its ending. I was the cat sitter.

The next time I arrived at her apartment to take care of her cats, I found a note. There was a CD in her stereo. The note said to listen to track number fourteen. It was a song called "Start With The Ending" by David Wilcox.

The secret of a happy marriage,
maybe you should write this down
If you want to keep a love together,
the best way is to end it now
Because when you both know its over,
suddenly the truth comes out
You can talk about your secret passion,
you can talk about your restless doubt

When there's no pretending,
then the truth is safe to say,
Start with the ending,
get it out of the way
Now there's no defending,
because no one has to win
Start with the ending,
its the best way to begin.

And I'm so glad we did

When Linda returned the next week, we started over. The awkward tension was gone and dating came easily this second time around. Weeks passed. And then a month. And then another and another. We spent weekends together, we went hiking, we went to dinner now and then on weeknights, we always held hands while wandering around town. We did the things that couples do.

Her friends liked me. Her family liked me. Her cats definitely liked me, probably because I still took care of them whenever she would leave town which turned out to be rather often.

Late one September evening as we headed back to her place after enjoying a particularly nice dinner, we met one of Linda's neighbors on the lawn in front of her apartment building.

The neighbor was a cheerful older woman who greeted us with a bit of irrelevant chit chat about the change of seasons. Summer was quickly coming to an end and the cool evening air was a sign of things to come.

"It's getting nippy out here tonight." the neighbor said while waiting to be introduced to the man whose hand Linda was holding. "Fall will be here before you know it." The superficiality of the conversation cannot be overstated. If not for the introduction that followed, I'm sure I'd have forgotten it instantly.

"Rob, this is Evelyn. She's my neighbor. Evelyn, this is Rob. He's my cat sitter."

"Is that what you kids are calling it?" the neighbor inquired with a giggle. I certainly wasn't laughing.

And that's where the story reaches its ending. Again. Despite months of dating, I was the cat sitter.

I said good night to the neighbor and my apparently non-girlfriend, and I headed home.

I dumped Linda a few days later. Or maybe I didn't technically dump her since we'd already gotten the ending out of the way so early on. Maybe we hadn't been dating at all. I'll never know. I didn't feel the need to find out because my role in our relationship had been made so crystal clear.

The breakup discussion was made easier by the fact that she wanted children someday and I didn't, not to mention that it isn't very difficult to stop dating someone once you've been informed you're not actually dating.

Linda told me our friendship really mattered to her and she asked if we could continue what had become our Tuesday sushi-night ritual. I realize I should have said no, but at the time I thought the friendship was worth keeping. This worked out well for Linda because, of course, I would be around to watch her cats whenever she was out of town.

A year passed. And then another. During this time, Linda and I each started dating new people. We still met for sushi each Tuesday. My girlfriend and I met her and her boyfriend for drinks and desert. Another time, she joined my girlfriend and I for dinner and a movie.

We were friends.

Though I started with the ending, this is where we finally do reach it. First, I'm going to vent a bit of frustration because I feel entitled to do so.

Over the years, I'd watched Linda's cats more times than I could count. I'd helped her move when she bought a house. I'd even helped her parents move when they bought a new house. I was that friend who was always reliable, always there for her. I thought nothing of it at the time because we were friends and that's what one friend does for another.

And then came the day I needed a favor. Shortly after I'd helped Linda move all of her belongings from her apartment into a truck and then unload the truck at her new house, I asked If she could help me pick up a small loveseat that I was going to buy. I made a point of asking a few weeks in advance. On the day she was supposed to help me, she called to cancel.

And that is the real ending.

Or is it?

The part about dating and the neighbor whose name isn't really Evelyn isn't really what this story is about. Not at all. This story is about the challenges that come with trying to live by the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I want to be able to rely on my friends, so I make sure my friends can always rely on me. At what point does being a good friend become being taken advantage of, or at the very least, being taken for granted? How does one truly live by the golden rule without being taken for granted or taken advantage of?

I have yet to figure that out.

Life hands us all these lessons and it's important to learn them without letting go of your values in the process. I can't say I haven't made similar mistakes again. Surely I have. They come in different forms each time. The mistakes, not the Lindas, although that's certainly true too... but I truly value friendship. There's no worse feeling for me than the feeling of having let a friend down because the next worst feeling for me is the feeling of when a friend lets me down. And that brings me back to my questions about living by the golden rule.

I still believe in the golden rule.

At what point does being a good friend become being taken advantage of, or at the very least, being taken for granted? How does one truly live by the golden rule without being taken for granted or taken advantage of?

I have yet to figure that out.

::::: | Tuesday, Feb 23 2010 at 8:54 PM
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Christa said:

Love the David Wilcox tune...

When you no longer get anything in return from the relationship. The golden rule is as much about what you 'get' out of 'giving'... The reward to oneself for the acts of generosity. At some point giving will have no return value... and that's when it ends.

I haven't cruised jalpuna in some time... always love what it leaves me with. Thank you always. Christa

::::: | February 25, 2010 3:41 AM

brando said:

Now you know.... the rest of the story. Wow. Reminds me of so many times that I experienced similar events in a friendship. Giving too much, not giving enough. Friendships work best when both people have open hearts. Even then there are times when one or the other friend is just not able to give or receive. Then there are feelings, which can get in the way of commuication. Ug. You have me thinking... remember to keep my heart open, to let feelings pass through, to communicate.

::::: | April 22, 2010 10:48 AM

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