With a Lightly Toasted Marshmallow
She’s asleep at my side currently. Curled into her marshmallow form, toasty ears and tail folded over paws. Toast, the cat.
I’ve been talking here more about what’s going on inside my head, and I tend to write when I can’t keep it all neatly in it’s box, safely compartmentalized from the rest of life. Instead of leaving you with the impression that it’s a bleak landscape, I wanted to share a little warmth and comfort with you. In the form of a cat, yes, but also it’s what she symbolized.
I am mildly allergic to cats (or at least, to long-haired cats, or cats that are ill) so my dear husband, who hates to see me sick, had put his foot down when we got together. “No cats!” was the mantra for years. My mother gave me two kittens who were beautiful long-haired smoke-gray tabbies, and who wouldn’t fare well with burrs and predators living as barn cats. They lived for a while in my writing office, and then with my daughters. We got a kitten for my son for companionship after his sisters had moved out and he was suddenly an only child and the lockdowns hit. My husband grumbled and growled, but forbore to kick the cats out.
Neither of us are terribly sentimental about pets. We both grew up on farms, and working animals are well-cared-for but often had short lifespans. Barn cats either become savvy enough to avoid predators, and live to a ripe old age or they don’t survive the reality of nature, red in tooth and claw. Both of us are also practical enough, having been poor most of our lives, to know that if it’s an animal’s vet bills, or the future of the family, we will grieve the little creature but life must move on.
His dog passed this spring, after a short illness, and both of us mourned her loss. She had been the everpresent black shadow since I’d joined his life, and we loved her. Humans don’t deserve dogs, really. We can stand to learn from that level of unconditional affection for those who are loved. We’d get a puppy, but that’s a lot of energy neither of us have, and we won’t take on a little creature we can’t properly care for and train.
So a kitten. “No cats!” my husband said, talking about the future looming ever nearer where our son and his cat move out of our house. Not that Inspector Gidget is our cat. She reserves her affection and tolerance for her Boy, allowing him to carry her around like a human baby with this look on her face of utmost disgust, while lying quite still. The plan was to have an empty nest, be able to travel, no dependents that would hold us back.
Right up until the day I went to pick up the kittens. Not, I’m going to point out, my kittens. No. I was going to foster three kittens for a couple of months, transporting them a few hours north from their birthplace to my house, until the friend who wanted them could travel a few hours south to pick them up. One of the litter was a small white kitten with smudgy tail and ears. A flame-point, but not a purebred Siamese. A cuddly little thing. I stepped outside to call my husband in privacy.
There was a long sigh on the other end of the connection. “I knew this was going to happen. Go ahead.”
A few months later, I was very grateful for his forbearance and my stubborn desire to have a small companion in the house with me. He did come home again. She was there warm and purring while he was gone. She will be there when he doesn’t come home, whenever that happens in the all-too-soon future now. I think I will need her insistence that a 5 am alarm is her feeding time, make with the gushy food! And her all-too-clever recognition that the way to get me up and moving is to gnaw on my cell phone or pick my glasses up and drop them off the nightstand.
She insists on being held, at least once a day. If I am taking a day away from the desk, she’s delighted and will curl up next to me to nap, a very warm presence, undemanding, just comforting. One paw will extend and be in contact, if she’s not pressed up against me in some way.
She doesn’t insist on knowing where I am and being in my shadow, like a dog would. She does like to be nearby and will check in on me from time to time. Her bed on my big desk is her most common napping place. Not that she’s any less of a cat for her decisions to stay in my immediate vicinity. Certainly not.
If there’s a box, she’s in it. A bag? Can’t keep her out of it. A bug in the house? She will tell you all about it with the most adorable chirps and chitters. The red dot appears and she’s obsessed immediately (which is hilarious when it’s the boresight in a rifle). She will sit for ages in a window watching the birds at the feeder, or when my husband puts on ‘cat TV’ on his computer monitor for her to watch videos of birds and squirrels.
In short, she’s a joy in an uncertain life. I knew, when I brought her home with us, that if all goes well she will be my companion for a couple of decades. At that time, I didn’t realize how short my time with my husband was growing. I will have him for a time yet, I hope, but it won’t be a long time. Ambiguous grief is difficult. A kitten’s playfulness eases the heart. A small companion is a doughty squire to take with me into the valley of shadows.
Don’t go alone. Take this.