from a 1982 journal by Vickie Aldrich
Zen Cat’s name wasn’t always Zen Cat, at first she was named Lemon and then when I got her I called her Kit Kat, which is actually her name. Her name never was Zen Cat, I just call her that sometimes on account of what she did that year that I lived at the Zen Center in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico.
The reason I got a cat in the first place was to help me relate to men. Now this made perfect sense to me at the time. I had been living in various houses or apartments and had gotten into the habit of having male roommates. These were always roommates and not lovers, which would have been nicer but it never seemed to work out that way. In an attempt to break this pattern I decided I was going to live by myself, I was going to get a cat so I wouldn’t be so lonely and also, I felt that if I learned to form a relationship with a cat it would help me to form a relationship with a man. My friends continually pointed out to me that men and cats are not of the same species.
Well, the Goulds were going to get a kitten too and the people they were going to get it from had two left. So we all went down south of Albuquerque and picked up Zen Cat, who was being called Lemon at that time and was the last cat given away because she could hide the best and was really hyper. Her owner, put her in a bag, which I put in the back seat of my car. This was to be my new roommate. I never liked the name Lemon, I had a car I called the ‘magic lemon’, it was one of those first Honda cars, a 600 coupe with a two cylinder engine, the kind people would always joke about. Things like ‘where is your other roller skate’ or ‘are you a midget?’, too which I would calmly reply, ‘yes’ causing them great embarrassment. I’m not actually a midget, but I’m not very tall, 5’ 0” or actually 4’ 11 and 3/4ths inches.
Zen Cat came home with me and promptly hid underneath the refrigerator of the apartment for 2 weeks. She would come out when I was at work and eat her food and then go back under the refrigerator. I felt rather discouraged at my attempts to relate to other life forms.
A couple of months after I began living alone, an old friend moved back to town and needed a place to stay, so she and her two year old son moved into the apartment and the cat, which was sometimes referred to as Kitty Cat and sometimes referred to as Miss Underfoot would come out and run crazy around the apartment with the two-year old, who was sometimes called Diniya and sometimes called Aire or Momo and people began kidding me about living alone. Especially when my friend’s boyfriend got to town and there were three adults, one kid and one cat in my little apartment. This place being crowded, I rented a house, which was closer to my work, as the Magic Lemon had died and was sold for $50 to a junk yard. I was faced with taking the bus to work, which often took an hour and a half to make connections. By car it was 15 minutes but I had little money and didn’t feel responsible enough to take care of a car, so Zen Cat and I moved up to the North Valley to be near the Yogurt and Sprout business.
My three human roommates left to be replaced in a month by another ‘old friend’, another plutonic male relationship. I was beginning to give up on the whole idea of controlling my living situation, and decided out of desperation, on realizing I was reaching the great age of 30, that it was time to do something drastic. So Kit Kat and I moved up to the Zen Center in the Jemez Mountains.
I gave away (rented out) most of my belongings, such as desk and bicycle and wok, stored a bunch of things at houses of friends and went to do the “Buddhist Thing”.
I liked the Buddhist thing, the smell of the incense, the sound of the bells ringing and people clapping wood clappers. Hours of sitting still in black robes looking at the floor, it felt so natural I decided I must be a reincarnated monk from 16th century Japan.
Kit Kat didn’t do as well as I did, at first she had trouble with another cat who lived there, who was bigger than her, as she was still only a year old. She also had problems living in my little room, she would go nuts but she didn’t know how to come and meow, as I was often gone. She began to meet me outside the meditation hall, as I was there at regular times. This worked fine until the spring training period when she became more curious about what was happening inside and we had the door open during meditation time. At first she would sit on the outside window ledge during Teisha – when the Roshi (Zen teacher) gives his talk. Then she began coming in the door and sitting underneath the seat of the head monk in the Zendo, whom disliked her and was always threatening to ‘do away with her’. He would yell at me after we got out of the hall ‘I don’t want it to happen again, Vickie!’
I needed to let the cat out as she became too hyper inside all day, but I couldn’t guarantee that she wouldn’t come into the Zendo. I became more and more distraught over the whole thing, and the cat became more bold. She would come in the door and go under the seats to the end of the hall where no one was sitting. I would suddenly hear this THUMP - GA - THUMP as she would jump upon the empty seats trying out the cushions. During this time I was suppose to sit still and let the officers take care of any disturbance. Meanwhile the other students were enjoying the diversion of the cat and trying hard to keep from laughing. Roshi even said it was fine to have a cat in the Zendo because there were mice there. But it left me between laughing because of the situation and crying because of the anger I knew the head monk would unleash upon me when the meditation was over.
This further discouraged me in my attempt to relate to men, but strengthened my relationship with the cat. Note: it probably added to my leaving the Zen Center in the summer.
I now have left the Zinc Center, as Magie calls it and Zen Cat and I live with Maggie (age 10), her parents, 2 goats, 7 rabbits, 12 chickens, 3 cats, 3 dogs, 8 gold fish, 5 tropical fish, one rat and one turtle with whom Zen Cat and I meditate every day.