I’ve heard it said that to achieve perfect balance in life, everyone should have a dog to worship them and a cat to scorn them. I’m proud to say that, having grown up in a household that was almost always populated by both, I must be an exceptionally balanced soul.
Over the years, three dogs have taken up residence in my childhood home, not to mention my heart, and we’ve had the same beloved cat, Minette—moderately scornful, often dog-like in her affection—for 17 years.
She is in many of our home videos. She has slept almost as many nights in my parents’ home as I have. She knows every secret nook, every cozy sock basket and every strategic perch. She made me into a cat person, all by herself.
I’ve cried into her fur after many difficult days, and stuck bows on her indifferent little head on many Christmas mornings. My parents joke that, functionally, she helped raise their kids. Few things in this world bring me more joy than the knowledge that this cat exists.
You know where this is going…
Tomorrow, Minette will be making a trip to the vet, and she will not be coming home from it.
And so, I will turn to writing, as I’ve always done when grief comes knocking, or barging rudely, as it’s wont to do. I will tell the story of a cat who remains, despite the multitude of wonderful dogs in my life, my very best animal friend—a friend who helped me grow, gave me confidence, and taught me that Albert Ellis was right when he claimed love is “largely the art of persistence.”
“You are not Special.”
From the moment she came into our lives as a delicate-looking kitten with a croaky mew, Minette made it abundantly clear she saw no reason to treat me any differently than the other members of the household. (You can try arguing she simply wasn’t bright enough to realize I couldn’t see, but given the amount of things she tried to get away with while I was the only one around, I’d beg to differ.)
No, she would not be moving out of my way, no matter how many times I bumped into her. Nuh uh, she was not going to signal when I was about to accidentally sit on her; I’d just have to learn to be more careful. No, she was not going to spare me from duties like letting her out, letting her in, fetching her water, and providing mandatory snuggles.
And, yes, I was just as capable, as loved, as wanted as anyone else.
This doesn’t sound like much, but as a disabled eight-year-old, I was accustomed to being treated differently by just about everyone in my life. Grownups had different rules, expectations, goals, fears. I struggled to be helpful. I felt out of place. I was uncomfortably aware, as were those around me, that I was the odd one out, despite my family’s best efforts.
But around Minette, I was just another member of her loyal human staff, perfectly able to do her bidding, and perfectly worthy of her unreserved affection. In scorning me–in expecting me to adapt to circumstances not tailored to my every need–she taught me that life is full of surprises that will wind around your ankles and trip you, no matter how unprepared you may be.
Humans would work around me. Dogs would get out of my way.
Minette, not so much.
“Human, I Summon Thee”
Minette isn’t the least bit imperious. H. P. Lovecraft, who liked his cats “lithe and cynical,” would not have approved. The choicest spot was always as close as she could get to the nearest available lap, and her favourite activity was waking me in the mornings with a torrent of kisses. (Her tongue may have had astonishing exfoliation powers, but I would personally have preferred the alarm clock.)
Since she split her time between indoor and outdoor pursuits, she was often in need of something or other.
“Human, I have kicked my toy under the stove. Help!”
“Human, I need to take up 90% of your queen-sized bed, not this paltry 75%. Move over.”
“Human, I am hungry. I am thirsty. I need to go out. I need to come in. I need a cuddle. I need you!”
For the first time, a fellow living creature was in sincere need of me, and I was able to fulfill that need. It was one thing to do chores, but it was another to hold, feed, and care for an animal that depended on me as much as anyone else in the family. Somehow, caring for a dog wasn’t quite as validating. The implicit, unwavering trust that cat put in me, a trust I hadn’t yet found elsewhere, not even in my dog, was transformative.
Adults were forever telling me to ‘be careful,’ ‘slow down,’ ‘let me do that for you.’ Dogs were always pushing me out of the way—of traffic, of water, of anything that looked remotely dangerous.
Minette, on the other hand, saw no reason why I should not attend her as faithfully as any other. She barely blinked as I handled her newborn kittens, and was never shy about insisting I find her a treat. Speaking as a blind person who still fights to be useful, nothing builds confidence like a little bit of trust.
“I’ll Be Back”
I don’t know of any cat who loved bigger, harder, more persistently than Minette. You couldn’t get rid of her. I have many memories—God, but they hurt to think about now—of pushing her off my lap as she walked all over my book, or my keyboard, or my plate, or my fancy new outfit. (In our house, you weren’t ready to go out until you’d been sufficiently furred up.)
She had to be on you, not beside you. She had to lie on your pillow or in your arms, not down by your feet. She needed all the snuggles, all the time. And she had a special, highly effective meow pattern in place to make sure she could always get through my bedroom door:
- Meow #1: inquisitive and chirpy. “Meagan? Are you awake?”
- Meow #2: cheerful and warm. “I knew you were up! Let me in, will ya? I haven’t walked all over your head yet today.”
- Meow #3: confused and injured. “You mean … you’re actually pretending to be asleep right now? Seriously? I can hear you turning pages. I know you’re awake. Not cool, Meagan!”
- Meow #4: resigned and piteous. “Okay, you win. I am now desolate and despondent, but that’s just fine … I’ll remember that. And by the way, the guilt’s going to kick in any moment now.”
The beautiful thing about having Minette in my life was that I got to observe unconditional, extravagant love on a daily basis. I could push her off my lap five times, but she’d come back six. I could trip over her, accidentally shut her in an empty room, even forget about her. But I could not ever lose her joy at seeing me—her delight in the time I spent with her. No matter what kind of day I’d had, no matter what mistakes I’d made or burdens I carried, there was always that engine-like purr. If I had a migraine, a broken heart, truly torturous chemistry homework, she was there. For her, my need for comfort was always valid.
I hope I can learn to love like that—with a few more boundaries and a little less keyboard-trampling, of course.
Run free and chase the sunbeams, Meeners. Thank you for everything you gave us.