For the love of cats
I reach over and feel a warm circle vibrating beside me. I dig my fingers into the thick fur behind his ears and the purring intensifies. My hands still for a moment, the gentle vibrations resonating up my arm straight to my heart.
My love of cats is boundless. I have lived with cats since early childhood, I sometimes joke that my DNA is part feline.
During my teens, my favorite cat slept under my bed every night in the warm spot where the heating pipes ran. I fell asleep to the sound of her incessant purr. She purred every time I shifted in my narrow single bed, a comforting presence that I relied on. Her disappearance at age fifteen overwhelmed me, I didn’t sleep well for months, waking from dreams of searching for her to tear-streaked cheeks and a sinking feeling in my stomach. We never found her.
In my twenties, my life was too unstable for me to take on the responsibility of a pet. At age thirty I knew I was finally growing roots when I brought my first cat home. I worked as a receptionist in a vet’s office in midtown. An older cat had been abandoned by the only family he had ever known at age twelve. He was a biter. Huge and overweight, the vet thought he was a Maine Coon mix. He sat in a cage for six months with a Will Bite sticker attached and no one even considered adopting him. He bit everyone who came near, screamed for food, and scowled when you got too close to his cage. I fell in love with him instantly. He was the kind of cat only a cat lover could love. Every lunch break I visited his cage and shared my sandwich with him.
I took him home for an experimental weekend that turned into the last six years of his life. He would lay on my husband’s stomach and he stretched from his knees to his chin. We secretly suspected he was a part mountain lion. He bit me. He bit my husband. He bit every visitor we ever had and he bit our two-year-old daughter. He also adored me and only me, and I, him.
His death sent me into paroxysms of grief the likes of which I didn’t even feel upon the passing of my father.
This probably sounds terribly harsh. The irony is that the only other person I know who would truly understand that grief was him. My father loved cats more than humans. He passed on my astronomical love of animals.
I love their liquid weight in my arms. I never owned a dog until ten years ago. One of the strangest things about dogs for me was the first time I picked one up. It didn’t bend. How strange, I thought. I am so used to the slide of a spine as a cat elegantly drops to the floor and rights itself that I was stunned by this stiffness. Cats are serpentine. My favorite toy as a child was a slinky, which mimics a cat’s movements.
I can read a cat’s behavior as if it is talking directly to me. Their body language is my native tongue. The tail going up as they enter a room signals hello. The relaxed blink, I trust you. Every turn of their ears and twitch of their tail signals an emotion, a thought.
I love cats’ sense of independence. Their giant fuck you attitude. Their willingness to do things only when it suits them thank you very much and not a minute sooner. I love that something that wouldn’t think twice about eating me if we were the same size shows me its belly when it wants affection. But will then announce the moment is over by demonstrating its lethal weapons.
A cat’s ability to hunt is a breathtaking thing to watch. Their patience is legendary. The apparent casualness with which they will snatch prey is a study in coordination. Cats are badass.
As I sit here writing, I glance over at two of my cats. They are mother and son. Ying and yang. Their every feature is reflected in one another. Body language and posture are identical, even in sleep. I resist the urge to squeeze in between them and curl myself into a warm ball.