This is based on various thoughts I was having at three a.m.
So. I’m lying here in a queen sized bed, in the middle of the night. Beside me is Sean, sound asleep, and as usual, an earthquake probably wouldn’t wake him up.
A few minutes ago, Loki jumped up on the bed and started demanding my attention. He’s been with me virtually all of his 13 years or so, and I can pretty much pet him in my sleep — in fact, I’m told I have — but he was restless as well. He curled up against my stomach when I laid on my side, then got up, so I rolled onto my back and he came back to my side for more petting, but still was restless. I finally woke up enough to really think about what was happening and asked him out loud what was wrong.
Angel, probably in response to my voice, jumped up on the bed too, and invited herself onto my pillow, curled around my head like a furry purring hat. That meant petting one with each hand. The old trick of patting one’s head and rubbing one’s stomach is nothing compared to petting two cats at once who like different things! Trick I didn’t see, but that’s not a surprise, since he sleeps in the linen closet in the bathroom for some reason, every night without fail.
Finally, it occurred to me to check on Loki’s breathing, since he does have asthma. Sure enough, while he was fine on the inhale as usual, there was a perceptible push on the exhale. I got up to get his bronchodilator, the one that helps when he’s having trouble, and came back to bed. Loki hopped up on the bed immediately, and laid there purring while I gave him a dose of his meds. Afterwards, he left for a few minutes, probably to get something to eat, and I nudged Angel’s back legs one way, her front legs the other, and laid back down on my pillow with the top of my head touching her tummy. Sure enough, Loki came back, and curled up for a much less restless snuggle-session, and all three of us fell asleep like that.
Eventually, that is. I found myself thinking about the situation.
We’re so used to domestic animals that I don’t think most of us ever really stop to think about how incredible it is that we can form such intense bonds with a member of a completely different species. It’s not a relationship of mutual convenience, it’s a relationship of love and trust. Mutual love and mutual trust, I might add.
Biologically speaking, cats see us as their mothers for all their lives, and they retain some infantile behaviours because of it. We provide food and shelter and affection long past the point where they would normally be out on their own. But this is, I think, a gross simplification and a huge understatement.
Within the last fifteen minutes or so, remarkable things had occurred that I had more or less taken for granted.
Loki has not only made the connection that the bronchodilator will help him when needed, but he allows Sean or I to place a mask over his face twice a day for regular anti-inflammatories (Flovent) as well, without any bloodshed. He hates to be held, and would rather lie there on his own while we do it. Is this because he gets his gushifood right after? Well, maybe, but he accepts the mask for his salbuterol as well, and it takes five to ten minutes to start working, and there’s no gushifood right after that.
Angel, who was once terrified, now trusts enough that we won’t be angry with her or punish her that she’s right here on my pillow. I’m much larger than she is, I could hurt her terribly if I chose to, or I could do other unthinkable things like depriving her of food — and believe me, she’s aware of that. But there’s a flip side to this. I’m lying here with my face in easy reach of her formidable natural weaponry. I know what she can do to my hand if I’m playing with her, if I’m silly and tickle her tummy when it’s available and she decides to grab me; at those times, she’s controlling it, inhibiting herself because she knows it’s me, and while she’ll respond to my temerity, she isn’t actually trying to hurt me… much. Yet, trusting her, I’m lying here on my side with her curved around the top of my head, and if I open my eyes, I can see her forepaws only an inch or so from my eyes. She could hurt me so much, if she chose to. After all, I’m right against her most vulnerable area, her stomach. Even if she turned playful, rather than aggressive; she wouldn’t need to use anything like her full impressive strength and coordination to do me real damage.
Yet, she doesn’t choose to, because she loves me and she trusts me and she understands what would hurt me so she avoids it. And I don’t hurt her, because I love her and I trust her and I understand what would hurt her so I avoid that. And so, we can lie here like this in the darkness, enjoying the company and the intimacy, which at this moment has nothing to do with who provides food or who has more control over whom.
While I’m with her, I’m with Loki, too, who has flopped with his back pressed against my stomach, his head pillowed on my upper arm that’s against the bed, while I stroke him with my free — upper — hand. There is no tension at all left, no reservation, he all but turns into striped liquid under my hand as he purrs. It doesn’t matter if I rub his throat, along his sides, his ears, it’s all good. When I slide my fingers between his front legs to rub his chest, he twists to give me access to his stomach without the purr ever faltering for an instant. That same trust, that same mutual power to hurt badly that will never be used, is there, too. Unlike Angel, he’s never been abused, never had that betrayed, and I don’t think he thinks about it any more than most humans do; for him, it’s just part of life. It’s there anyway, though.
Early hominids were just another prey species for leopards and probably other large cats as well. Humans have committed unspeakable atrocities against felines of all kinds, including the kind lying here with me.
That doesn’t stop all three of us, curled together, to fall asleep with perfect trust, all of us finding our own pleasure and peace in it.
And I feel so sorry for anyone who has never felt that with a member of another species…