How Do I Love Thee (Cat)?
The Pride Cartoon Creator's Blog for Valentine's Day 2012
Someone recently asked me if I love all my cats "the same." Of course I love all my cats an equal amount. But no. Not "the same." The relationships I've shared with cats have been as diverse and unique as my human relationships have been, and in many ways are similar to them. The love you have for your sister is a totally different kind of love than you have for your son, or your friend, or your mother. A cat, depending on the time and place he or she fills in your life, personality and other factors, can be like a sister, or a son, a good friend, or an elderly uncle to you. And the love is just as strong.
My first cat was called Pansy, and she was my sister. We adopted her from a man in our building whose cat had had a litter of tabby kittens. I was six years old. Pansy was six weeks. She was adorable. In the first year of her life, we were little girls together. We played silly games, hide and seek, ran all over the house, and slept together in a heap. She was tiny and timid, and followed me all around like a little shadow; just like a little sister.
But cats mature faster than children, and Pansy grew up before I did. When she was about a year old, Pansy had a litter of her own kittens. Becoming a mother, and raising six babies made her an adult while I was still a child, and our relationship changed. After that, she became more of a peer with my mother; more of a big sister to me. And she took on the job of a guardian. She was still always following me around, but whereas before she was my little shadow, just wanting to be everywhere I was, do everything I did, now she was my protector, seeing that I didn't get into trouble. Just like a big sister.
Other cats in my young life and teenage were also like siblings. Especially Theresa who was our family's first bottle-fed orphan. A little boy one day came up the block holding these two infant kittens at the exact moment my mother was passing. He said he found them in a trash can. My mother took them to the vet. One died. Theresa lived. I was 17 at the time and for the next three months, I helped my Mom make Theresa's bottles, feed her, clean her "diaper", and kiss and cuddle "the baby." But as with Pansy too, there was a mom in the house who was the bread-winner and caretaker, making the home, feeding and caring for all of us, on whom we relied for our care. Just like siblings. Theresa, because I helped raise her, was always my baby sister.
Harry and Lance were my first cats of my
own, in my own home. Because I now was the bread-winner, the care-giver,
responsible in a way I had not been for the cats in my life up to now, they
were the first cats that felt like my own "children." I don't
know that I could say I loved them "more" because
they were my "kids", but the bond was definitely more weighty.
This may have had to do with the tragic way they came to me. They'd been born on Joanne's porch across the street to a feral mother, Monica, who would not allow the kittens to be taken inside. So Joanne had made a shelter for them on her porch. Of course, having just signed a lease on my own apartment, which in our cat karmic family, spells "VACANCY," I spoke for two kittens as soon as I heard they were born. I planned to collect them at the proper age of 6-8 weeks. However, when they were just 3 weeks old, Monica walked out into the street, was killed by a car, and they were orphaned. I received a frantic phone call early one morning to come and get my kittens immediately. They were motherless and needed me NOW. Having to take them early, and under these circumstances perhaps created even more of a motherly bond than if they had come home in the shiny, happy, idyllic way we planned. They were so traumatized by the sudden loss, and abrupt change of environment, the instinct to protect and comfort them was instant and intense. My love for Harry and Lance was definitely that of a mother for her kids.
Moby and Stevie were my husband's cats... sort of. They were born in our home to a feral mother cat, Maryann,
that I took off the
street. Soon after that, my husband and I decided to attempt a trial
separation. Having fallen in love with these two kittens, he adopted
them, and their mom, and they all went to live with him. Moby
& Stevie were 3 months old when the four of them moved out.
Less than a year later, my husband moved back in, and they all came with. Which was complicated to say the least. Moby & Stevie were now young adults, having grown up for the most part, in their own place. Harry & Lance had gotten used to having their place back to themselves after hosting a (rather large) homeless cat family. Being made to move back in with a family they had become estranged from, I think, made Mo & Ste feel kind of like step children. And they definitely made me feel like an old step mother. They were always sequestering themselves off in some secret huddle, away from the family, the two of them, alone. They were well mannered and polite, but they made it clear they could take or leave me. Even though I was at their birth, helped raise them, fed them, kissed their heads every day, cat-sat when my ex went away for his job, and loved them as much as the others, I always felt that I was trying to win them over. Just like step-children.
Johnny, of course, was the curve ball no one could have seen coming. The monkey wrench. The afflicted child you never expect to have. Although I suspect he was dumped, I don't really know where he came from, except that he appeared in my hallway one night with some, shall we say, baggage. I don't need to tell the story of his life again. The Pride Cartoon is his biography. Read it and weep. Suffice to say my love for Johnny, who has every known psychological malady, and a very loud mouth, is like that of a mother for a child adopted from an eastern bloc orphanage. It's full of angst, hair pulling and screaming, but on occasion, very rewarding.
Jack, my youngest, is another bottle-fed orphan (abandoned at birth on the back step by his cat mother), raised by me from the time he was less than an hour old. He's more human than cat, really, and for all intents and purposes, he is my son. I nurse fed him for three months, rocked him through endless colicky nights, burped him, changed him, washed his bottom, and sat in the hospital with him when he ate the mop. He has imprinted on me like a gosling to a goose and is responsive to me in ways my other cats have not been.
Which is not to say obedient... or agreeable. Just
Unlike most of my cats, who have found me under some tragic or unhappy circumstance, Jack has never had a bad experience (that he remembers anyway). He has never known anything but comfort and indulgence and instant gratification of every need since the hour of his birth. The payoff is that he's the most spoiled rotten, entitled little brat I ever met. He is the boss of me and everybody he knows. I can't do a thing with him. But I love him. I can't help it. He's my son.
Finally, in my rainbow of human/cat relationships, there is the jewel in my crown, Ms. Julie, my very best girl friend. She's a peer, an equal. We were instant friends the moment we met, as if we'd known each other all our lives. She understands me like none of these boy cats do. She's my besty, my homegirl, my BFF, the person I most look forward to seeing every day. She's my co-worker in the office, my TV pal at night, my kitchen mate when I cook, she never misses an opportunity to be together. She knows all my problems and always has a gentle smile, a soft touch to help me through the tough spots. Just like a best friend. She has her own mind, and her own style. And while she's patient and kind to my "kids", she doesn't take their guff. They're my children. She's my equal.
As I've said in her bio, Julie found me in the street. She was clearly in distress, and ran to me out of breath asking for help. From the clear signs I could see that she was lost or separated from her family. But I'm pretty sure it was a happy family, and a mishap that separated them, a fluke of some kind, rather than abuse or abandonment. She shows no signs of ever having been mistreated in any way. On the contrary, she has a beautiful, dignified, confident nature that people and animals only have when they've been loved and honored. I cherish that about her, and wish that every animal could have the sense of safety and well-being in the world that she has.
You know, you don't choose the cat you get. Not really. Even if you physically go to a shelter and pick one out. Cats are like a box of chocolates, to quote Forrest Gump. You never know what you're going to get. Though I have loved them all, and there are so many ways to love a cat, before Julie, I had only bittersweets, jawbreakers and nuts. Julie is the chocolate cream I was craving but never got. She's the velvet slippers. The angora gloves. The softest cotton nighty. She's what I would design if I could invent the perfect best friend.
I have been fortunate to be able to count so many types of
cat love in my life. But to find, at random, the
perfect cat out walking in the street, on a random day, at a place I never go, is like finding the Hope Diamond in
the frozen section. What are the odds?
Anyway, I know three cats who will get no end of kisses and bear hugs this Valentine's Day, but two of them may be very surprised to find out who my real Valentine is. ;)