It’s been a while since I’ve added something to the “Beauty Breathes” series, and it’s time.
A few years ago, I worked briefly with a beautiful, and as it turned out, very disturbed young lady, who badly wanted a cat. But she wouldn’t actually adopt one because she was hell-bent on getting a boyfriend, and she was terrified that owning a cat would brand her with the mythical Crazy Cat Lady stigma.
I’ve always found the association of cats with women and madness to be fascinating. I haven’t quite put together all of the pieces yet, but there do seem to be these free-floating associations out there that somehow equate cats with a particularly female type of being-ness, and a particularly female sort of madness. I think this has something to do with intuition and mystery and the yin aspect, but I’m not sure. Cats are also much more strongly associated with writers than dogs are, but I think that one’s easier to figure out--writers and cats are both very solitary beings. (If you are a woman, a writer, and a little bit mad—I’m sorry to inform you that you’re an inevitable draw for a feline companion.)
I never grew up with cats. We always had dogs around, nervous, quivering little breeds that my mother preferred. My father, who detests cats, instilled a certain amount of fear and distaste for them in me from a very young age. Nonetheless, I got my first kitten when I was a lost, lonely 22 year-old, living the poverty-stricken artist/barrista life in downtown Olympia, in a studio apartment above a second-hand clothing shop. Lucy was a tiny, beautiful, orange and white long-hair with giant green eyes and a delicate, femme-fatale temperament. It took me a very long time to learn how to relate to her. She ultimately became a consolation prize for my first fiancé when we broke up, and I’ve long since lost track of her. But she taught me how to truly appreciate the nature of a cat.
I know that cats have a reputation for being cold, selfish, and aloof, but that’s just not the case. The fact is, they are extremely affectionate and caring companions once they’ve bonded to you. In fact, I believe that they’re ultimately more loyal than dogs, because cats are very self-directed. They make their own decisions about where they go, what they do, and how long they stay. So if they’ve chosen you, it’s not because of an instinctual pack mentality, but from a choice they make of their own accord. You don’t every really “own” a cat. You share your life with a cat, you steward their health, you care for them, but cats ultimately belong to themselves. You can’t boss around a cat, bribe loyalty or affection out of it, or make it do a damn thing it doesn’t want to do. Cats demand patience, respect, and equanimity. They are not interested in doing any of the undignified things that dogs do to make us feel good about ourselves as people.
But this is also what makes cats so great. Cats will never give you the immediate gratification and joy that you get from a dog jumping and yelping with happiness to see you come home from work. But when you feel like total crap, cats know. If they are like my cat Zooey, hey will just quietly come and sit next to you, not demanding that you talk about it, not asking anything of you, just quietly offering their presence. If they’re like Zooey, when you’re really messed up, they will insist on climbing onto your chest and laying there in the heart spot where you hurt the most, no matter how many times you try to push them off. If they’re like Zooey, they will constantly attempt to seduce you into taking a long nap with them. And they will be hilarious and fun and ironic and will try to get you to chase them down the hallway in a roaring, terrifying manner just so that they can feel something. They will stay with you through a major breakup, numerous job losses, a marriage to a new man, five moves in almost as many years, emotional and spiritual trauma, skint times, apartment flooding, and even the almost unforgivable addition of a threateningly cute, feral kitten to the household. (And they might even come around after eleven years and decide to lick said feral kitten on the forehead occasionally.)
And they have a well-documented 6th sense, something about understanding the earth’s magnetic pull; a homing instinct. They have an innate sense of direction, unlike me. And how a damn cat can have the power to make me cry every single night since their disappearance is a mystery to me, but I suppose it’s just another weird, spooky cat power.
Zooey, I miss you long time. Please come home.