Sunday, February 5, 2017
The Year of the Cat
It may be the beginning of The Year of the Rooster according to the Chinese lunar calendar; but for me, the beginning of February marks the end of what will forever be known as The Year of the Cat.
(Note: Although the Chinese zodiac has a Year of the Dog, it replaces the cat in the Vietnamese zodiac with a rabbit.)
Just about a year ago, I made all my childhood dreams come true by adopting a three-year-old black cat with trust issues. Even the shelter wasn't sure how he'd adapt to new surroundings; but despite any trepidation, I decided to give it a whirl.
I was impressed with how quickly he was willing to venture out of the kitchen into the rest of the apartment, despite the fact that the shelter had advised I keep him in one room with the door closed for up to a week.
I was delighted when he accepted my invitation (in the form of a strategically-placed cat bed) to come join me while I slept. Soon, he didn't need (or want) the cat bed; he simply snuggled at my feet in peaceful coexistence.
Slowly, he made his way up to the pillow next to me—and, occasionally, to my shoulder as a perch while I was asleep. Pretty much from the beginning, he'd wake me up every few hours, every night for some kitty love. I was told that would wear off; and while it's gotten less frequent throughout the night, it's still every night.
But I'm still so happy to lose sleep for him. I've even gotten pretty good at petting him in my sleep.
There were many times I wondered if I'd chosen the right cat—if I could possibly make his life better, or if I was just needlessly stressing him out. He seemed pretty calm at the shelter. The folks there loved him. But he reacted to every noise in my building with terror. And he'd look over his shoulder at me with a mixture of suspicion, guilt, and panic.
I accidentally stepped on him once (black cat on a black carpet next to my black pants) and I thought I would die from the heartbreak. I've fallen apart anytime I've scared him with the brush or the nail clippers.
I don't know what happened to him before I brought him home that first day a year ago. But fortunately, I understand PTSD. And so, I've tried to love him on his terms, backing off when it's too much for him.
But, more importantly, I've kept coming back.
I remember certain milestones of the last year—the time I woke up to him licking my underarm, the first time I came home to him sitting comfortably on my bed, the first time I noticed him sitting with his paws straight out instead of tucked underneath him, and so on.
Eventually, he's gotten to the point where the entire apartment is his, and he'll sit anywhere, not just where the cat beds have been placed for him. That's a comfort level I never reached in the house I grew up in.
It warms my heart to hear him snore and to see him waiting for me outside the bathroom door (though he runs away as though in denial of the act). I live to see the corners of his little mouth arch up into a smile while I rub his belly.
He's my preferred Friday night date. He's the only man I want to sleep with. And he's the best reason to get up in the morning.
In these last 12 months with him, I've learned to walk softly—and speak softly—around him. He's brought out the best parts of me—including some maternal instincts I didn't know I had.
I've learned to trade forgiveness for acceptance. Forgiving him would mean he's done something wrong, which he hasn't. If something he's done has ever displeased me, he was just being a cat.
But I haven't learned how to love him unconditionally—because I so desperately want him to love me back.
I know he sometimes gets agitated with me and needs his space, but I hope he accepts me. I'm always trying to take his picture, despite his distrust for cameras and smartphones. Sometimes I pet him awkwardly. Sometimes I get in his face too much when I try to kiss him. He still doesn't like it much when I pick him up, though he might permit it.
I'm only human, after all. But I am, forever, his human.
In this past year, he's made so much progress (as have I). I can't wait to see how he progresses in the coming year.
May every year be The Year of the Cat!