Saturday, April 9, 2011

Catius Birthdayus

When I was a kid in Minnesota my grandmother would visit from Oklahoma, where she grew up and began raising her kids on a farm. As she'd sit on the end of the living room couch--as far against the edge as possible to protect half of herself--one of our cats would be closing in on her from the other end. "Oh gum!" she'd explain. "Phooey! I can't believe you allow dirty animals in your house." And then the cat would lay down, the arcing back pressed into her side, perhaps purring, and my grandma's arm lifed up above her head in dread. If that cat didn't know what he was doing, twisted and dark humor, I'd be shocked.

My family first got cats while living in Oklahoma, when I was around 8. In our exhuberance, and after failing with a dog, my dad, sister and I went to some stinky apartment and picked up a fat, gnarled, unkempt tabby something-or-other we saw up for grabs in the classifieds. As soon as we brought it home I'm pretty sure my mom said take it back. We just wanted a cat!

A short while later, with Mom in charge, we went to some woman's house and picked up two kittens--a female for my younger sister, and a male for me. Though my sister's cat never took to her, mine took to me, often only leaving my room or closet to eat. He died of diabetes when he was 9, back in 1994 (senior year of high school).

I immediately got another cat at the humane society, one who tricked me in the cages, so desparate was he to leave. We never bonded, likely because I was still grieving and would soon be in college. He lived with my parents until 2007, when after peeing all over their house seemingly uncontrollably, they put him to sleep (right before I got married, but they waited to tell me).

We did have a sort of house cat growing up, the king, who often snuggled next to me in evenings growing up, who would growl and hiss when anyone but family visited. A few times he jumped into an open dryer, sat atop my other grandmother's clean load of warm laundry, and hissed at her so she couldn't begin her folding. He died of cancer when I was in college.

In 2001, living on my own for the first time in Columbus, Ohio, I drove two hours north to Cleveland to snag a manx--a breed reported to be able to play fetch and open doors (right). I took the tail-less, 6 month old kitten home, and over the next few months he slept on the bedroom floor. Right now, in his third house, he's sitting behind me on my office chair.

When I'd take him to the doctor in Ohio, the vet, noticing his attentive, patient, happy-go-lucky nature (odd for a cat), asked me if he'd often just stand in a nearby doorway, or lay in a place in the house where he could both see me and every other room. I said yes. It was strange. She said he was my animal guide, a protector, and though it struck me as too mystical at the time, I knew it was true. He always has to know where I am, even if he's not touching me.

Today, Valen, V, the Valenator, turns 10, or 56. He was a strong antidote to my solitude in Ohio--a nature that both heals me and makes me terribly vulnerable. It is true we tend to put too much of ourselves into our pets--our hopes, fears, expectations, desires, persona--but in turn they reflect them back, filtered, made better I think. I am biased, but cats are better at this. They are subtle, they are opinionated, they have moods, they have conversations (V will talk to me forever if I keep up the gab). Cats are metaphors.

Happy birthday, big guy. Even though you've made it to the whiney "my god why haven't you fed me yet I haven't eaten for an hour" phase of your life where you vomit to bring the point home, it's all oddly charming when I've had enough sleep.

Cockroach V -- ready to play with socks as I fold them

Cats simply make you jealous

Cats simply befudde you

Cats are far more comfortable in the world than we are


Diana Studer said...

Then you know what the Ungardener means when he says Chocolat just told me a long story. I only realised you were a cat person when I saw your comment on Victoria's Pushkin.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Oh, Happy Birthday, V! Thanks so much for posting this wonderful catography. Love the picture of your grandmother from Oklahoma. I totally get it, and our older cat is definitely this way with me. Beautiful pictures and great captions.

Benjamin Vogt said...

D--Dogs suck. There you go.
S--Thanks! Always a pleasure.

our friend Ben said...

How could you, Benjamin?! Love the tribute to V and wish him the best year ever, and of course, who could possibly resist "Oh gum." But cats are wonderful, dogs are wonderful, birds are wonderful. (I'd be happy to go on, and tell you that lizards are wonderful, toads are wonderful, bunnies are wonderful, fish are wonderful, but in the context of your comment to Diana will confine myself to the initial three.) They're just differently wonderful, and how they are, in my opinion, depends entirely on how you relate to them. I can't tell you how many people have told me that cats are aloof and unfriendly, dogs are slobbering idiots, birds are scary. They've all been warm, affectionate, interesting, complex, and intelligent creatures in my experience, just like us. Offer affection, you get affection; offer coversation, you get conversation; offer appreciation, you get appreciation. Most important, perhaps: Offer acceptance, you get acceptance.

Benjamin Vogt said...

So true. You get what you give, but too bad we have to think like that in the first place. Animals are certainly mirrors, and hopefully, they filter out the bad if we let them. Of course, that means confronting ourselves. Still, not a dog fan (most people don't know how to take care of them, evidenced by the constant barking 24/7 in my hell, er, neighborhood).

Ginger said...

thanks for visiting my blog! sweet kitty you have there. I have two (and a dog) and they are totally the boss of us.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Ginger--As it should be, you know. :)

Kathryn/ said...

Beautiful kitty, Ben, and one of your teachers, for sure. I'm glad you listened to your instincts and brought him into your life. :)