Jennifer adopted a cat when she lived in Louisville and named him Register. Register loved to sit on your chest while you were reading and tread softly, his eyes closing slowly in happiness. Register also loved to pounce, claws and teeth flashing, onto your bare legs, often drawing blood. Days would go by with no problem, with just sweet catness, and then something in his mind would change and no bare calf was safe. But we loved that cat.
The song "Oh, Register! Why Are You Crying?" was written in our little duplex with peeling linoleum. Ants would come in the backdoor so we spread red pepper across the threshold like some modern folk ritual. One night, an electronic toy went off in the closet and scared us both, always ready to believe that there is a ghost in Carroboro. Each night Register slept at the foot of the bed for a while and then began his nightly prance and play. His favorite game was Foot Attack. This was my least favorite game. If we put him out, he would be quiet for a while and then begin to pound on the door like a full grown man. BOOM BOOM BOOM. Waking to a pounding on your bedroom door is also not fun for those prone to spectral fancies.
Once Register evens started to turn the door knob. I began to scream. "Here he comes now! That malefic beast!"
"Don't say that about your cat," Jennifer replied. We let the cat in and he licked Jennifer's face and we slept until morning.
The song isn't just a cute song about a cat. With the lyrics, I wanted to capture Register's dual nature: placid on one hand, uncontrollable on the other. But even still, "he's the best cat in the world, tell me that I'm wrong." The music reflects this, changing from an inoffensive Belle-And-Sebastian-style pop song to an unhinged cyclone of atonal squealing that ends abruptly.
The song's main melody was another creation of my day in bed, waiting for LSAT scores. I crouched in my boxers over the 4-track, bells in hand, and in one swoop found the perfect notes. When we recorded the song at Nick's, we saved it for last. We knew that we had just enough time on one reel of 2" tape to record all of our songs. We planned on doing "Register" last and just jamming it until the tape stopped. At some point during the melee, Matt began to scream into his pickups. I heard this and thought it was Nick trying to get us to stop and I began to flail my arms until we all were silent. It turned out we had plenty of tape left, so we just cut the song after Matt's screaming.
I heard it twice on the radio in one day and I realized that we'd accidentally recorded a song that people liked.
Eventually, Register became too much to handle. The days of calm sweetness were few and far between. Every day was more or less a battle to keep him from attacking you. It was impossible to walk around the house in shorts, or to sit where he could get access to your face or arms. We took him to the vet for help, but the vet said they didn't know what was wrong and that there was nothing they could do. We looked for shelters that might could take him, but the thought that a family with a small child might adopt him worried us. Register was not fit to be around children.
Eventually the attacks became violent enough that we decided that we had to have Register put to sleep. He'd attacked Jennifer while she was carrying him, leaving her face and neck bloody. I made the appointment and drove him to the vet and held him while they did it and then when the vet left the room, I had a breakdown.
Loving someone is very difficult. It can be as full of pain and unhappiness as it is joy and warmth. I don't think Register was a bad cat. He was good, but there was something wrong with him, something that I think he didn't understand either and I feel very bad for him, but I hope that he was happy. He had two people who were just crazy about him, despite his problems.
While I hear that song, I don't think about our cat. I think about the plainness of human life and how it is full of days dreaming in the sun and days of flipping out in anguish, but in union of the sorrow and happiness, that is where the real joy of being alive is.
I am very fortunate to get to share my life with Register and Typee and Jennifer and Matt and Ben and Robert and Finn and Eric and all of my friends, even if we bite each others legs sometimes.