A Love Letter to My Cat, Thomas
You’re a cat. Which means you’re a paradox. Which is to say, we’re a paradox, you and I. See, I love you. And that’s good. But it’s troubling. And it’s also inevitable.
You recognize these contradictions. You deal with them too, only from your angle -- the floor, the bed, the kitty door, the food bowl. With this post I put into words the things you already know. For Valentine's Day, this is my love letter to you, my kitty.
Loving a cat probably wouldn’t make sense if you “did the numbers.” Wall Street would hate it. You pay a lot for food, brushes, treats, toys, and vet bills. You build catios, and you saw through wooden doors to install kitty passages. Yet what you get back is roundabout and not quantifiable in the same way. If this were Wall Street, the company shareholders would fire me and throw my desk down the stairwell after me.
Loving a cat is like loving baseball. “It breaks your heart. It’s designed to break your heart.” That’s what late baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti said about the game, and it also applies to cats. Like baseball, loving a cat is unpredictable. Occasionally it’s glorious, but sometimes it’s terrifying and really sad. You live and die with it, think of it as a friend, and then it’s gone. Yet we keep going back. I know this heartbreak, Thomas, with you, as with all the cats I’ve loved.
Our beginning was far from perfect. When I showed up in September and moved in with Daphne, your kitty mommy, you were okay with me. But nothing more. Just okay. But “okay” didn’t break my heart. I’ve been a cat guy for a long time, and I know kitties take a while to get used to new daddies. I didn’t expect you to learn my two-finger “petting signal” in a matter of days. I didn’t expect you to count on me being around until I’d really, truly been around for a while.
Also, you were shaken up from losing a few friends the year before I moved in. One died, and you watched Daphne bury her in the backyard. A couple of others moved away after a breakup. Understandably, trust wasn’t easy for you. All the same, after you and I had spent two months together, you’d approach me, head-butt my leg, give me a cute “meow!” -- and then duck and run away when I reached to pet you.
I was a little discouraged.
Yet looking back on it, maybe I was “just okay” with you too. I had come from a home with two cats who I had to leave behind. Maybe you could tell I missed them. Maybe that got in the way. Maybe you could read my mind when I thought, “Thomas is beautiful, but he probably wouldn’t have been my first choice at the shelter.” Maybe you felt like a placeholder. People can sense these things. I'm sure you could too. But maybe you understand that transitions can be hard for people as well as animals. So you gave back what you were getting. Okay.
So on we went. I gave you all I had, regardless of what you did or didn’t do in return. I’m usually the first one awake in the house, so I gave you breakfast most days. When I was home alone and you were in the backyard, I’d come out to check on you every half-hour or so, just to make sure you were safe. I played with you in the evenings, giving you treats afterward so you could “eat” what you’d just “killed.” I waited for the day you'd let me pet you -- and the day that you'd come to me and ask for it.
While I wasn't looking for it, things changed. And the change was stark. Your frequent evening meows of confusion and "cannonballing" through the house had given way to quiet, shared routines of food, bed, books, or movies with myself and Daphne. When I worked from home, you’d often sleep near me most of the day, on the futon by my desk, even though you could have gone outside. On nights when Daphne was out of town, I’d wake up and there you’d be, sleeping right up against me. And you were still there in the morning.
When I caught that awful stomach bug in January, you walked into the bathroom in the dead of night to check on me. As my body surrendered to the virus and I buckled and shook and made terrible noises, you walked back to the bedroom and gave Daphne the most concerned of looks. You sat with her quietly, waiting for me to get back so you could sleep between us. Now, every night when I get home, you give me long, extended, two-syllable purr-meows when I pet your back. You do the same when we get into bed. When I stop, you look at me and ask for more.
Without knowing it, Thomas, we turned a corner somewhere. You now show your love for me. You're not afraid to need me. You finally do trust me. And you depend on me to take care of you. You trust me with your life like no cat before you really has.
Thomas, you’ve taken hold of my heart. I consider you a friend. I love spending time with you when I’m home alone. When Daphne is home, I love spending time as a little family. I worry about you when I’m away, and I monitor you with obsessive precision alongside Daphne if you’re not feeling well. If you were in trouble, I’d be in motion coming to your aid before even stopping to consider the cost or effort. You, my friend, have put your fragile little life in my hands, and I hold that with honor and the promise to give you a happy life.
So this is our happy little paradox, Thomas. I'm reminded of a quote from Surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico that has guided me through life since I was young. I'd never applied it to my love for cats, but it fits.
And what shall I love, if not a paradox?