On Becoming a Hialeah Cat Lady

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Here in Hialeah, spring has arrived. Up north, where you’re from, they are still buried in winter, but here, it comes early in a flash. The mango trees are bursting with blossoms, and this summer, you know it will be a good year for fruit. As the temperature warms, you notice people are starting to progress towards summer wardrobes, wearing less as the mercury climbs. The abuelo across the street changes his oil in the morning, still in his flannel pajamas. He is a holdout, but you’re thankful he’s still dressing warmly.

“Te quiero, te quiero, te quiero,” he sings.

You’re taping the back window to your car shut on the way to teach a Literature class, and you greet him with one of the few Spanish words you know, “Hola.”

He answers with a wave, “Bendiga, te quiero, te quiero.”

You are home in this town where you don’t quite fit in. A gringa with no grasp of the language. Time to lay down roots.

For you, spring means you get your hands in the dirt, time to turn over the hard-packed ground for a garden bed. Your landlord likes this idea. It means less lawn for him to mow. He asks if you’ll plant rosemary to keep the mosquitos away. You brave the Hialeah Home Depot on a Saturday, and manage to emerge unscathed with several bags of garden dirt, the rosemary, and for your cats, several thriving catnip plants. “That might be a mistake,” says your landlord, eyeing the catnip.

Turns out, he is correct. If you plant catnip in the yard in Hialeah, every Hialeah street cat will converge for a wild party on the lawn at 3 a.m., shred your catnip, and nibble it down to its nubs. Your cats will partake in this sudden orgy—the traitors—and the noises of rapture will wake you. You will rush out to find a dozen cats, under the almost full moon, tripping their little faces off and rolling around on the lawn (in your fresh planted rosemary, eyeing up the pot of mint). They won’t scatter when you hiss at them. They will look at you like you’re an idiot for leaving the dope where they can access it so easily (the Landlord DID warn you). And maybe, you’ll think, you might be an idiot.

Or maybe you’re just the coolest cat lady on the block.

Jan Becker

Jan Becker is the author of The Sunshine Chronicles from Jitney Books, and lives in Hialeah, FL.