Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Right and Wrong: Learning it the Hard Way

I admit it. I have a history of breaking and entering. But from my experience, I am convinced that even the most hardened criminal must have encountered something, some object in some house, that makes him blink before he gathers his loot and causes him to wonder, "...What the hell?"

Because my father has been slightly obsessed with the cat house he has built for Libby, I find my mind wanders frequently to the subject of cats and cat-doors. This leads inevitably to the only house I know that has a cat door on it. It belongs to John and Carol Platt, our elderly and rather feeble next-door neighbors. The moment the Platts enter my brain a photograph I saw once flashes into my mind and refuses to leave-- a particularly ugly thought that sticks like glue and won't be undone. It is because of this photo that I can never think the same of the Platt family again.

Many years ago, Shirsti, Koseli, and I were asked to cat-sit the Platts' kitties while they were away in China for several weeks. At first that is all we did, and the whole affair was quite innocent. For some reason however- and it honestly escapes my memory why- Shirsti and I decided to break into our neighbors' home through their conveniently flimsy cat-door. The task proved quite simple. We sneaked in like burglars, barely letting our fingertips brush the banisters as we tiptoed downstairs to watch movies on the big screen.
As time went by we became increasingly bold. After finishing the seemingly endless task lists my mother had set for us each day, we would escape gleefully, exclaiming as we skipped out the door,
"The cats must eat too!"
We invited friends to join us. We began searching the kitchen cupboards for food. Soon the basement floor was littered with popcorn kernels and stale fruit loops. We spent entire evenings sprawled out on the couch and soon we were completely at home in somebody else's house. We exhausted the movie supply. Not wishing to return to our real home, we started exploring. We stole about the living room, peeked into the bathrooms and down darkened hallways and then eventually- and really I'm ashamed to admit it- we entered an entirely forbidden area-- the bedroom.
The focal point of the room was an enormous canopy bed with 90's style drapes hanging from the top. Everything was neat and orderly and quite respectable. Through some sheer hanging curtains one could enter the bathroom which was adorned with a round porcelain jacuzzi. On the crowded counter top near some bottles of antiquated perfume I saw the photograph I mentioned earlier for the first and only time ever. It displayed Carol in a blue feather boa and nothing else. She was younger in the picture-- maybe mid-thirties. Her hair was curly and short, and her pouty lips were adorned in bright pink. A dreamy cloud framed the corners of the photo. No one expects to see their next-door-neighbor in a scanty, sumptuous boa. I held it in my hand for some time, stunned, not knowing if I should cover my eyes or run first.
"What's that?" Shirsti asked from the linen closet she was nosing around in.
"I...am not sure," I replied.
When the Platts returned from China, they brought us each back little silk purses as souvenirs. With eyes downcast and a guilty feeling in my heart I took the gift, hoping against all hope that they wouldn't notice the lopsided cat door on their house.
I had thought myself quite clever when we figured out how to unscrew the cat-door and crawl in, as slippery as snakes. Though I was slightly scarred I should be grateful for that photograph. It undoubtedly saved me from a life of crime.