idol survivor | daily-fic challenge, day 3 | ~2135 words
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There is a cat-whisperer in our house, and I used to think it was me.
We are a family that really likes cats, and for years, that family was just HalfshellHusband and me. I move slowly and quietly around cats, and speak to them softly. If they seem shy, I'll let them sniff my hand before trying to pet them. From a cat perspective, this is the equivalent of being "wooed"!
I pet their heads gently, stroke their bodies firmly, and I understand the importance of rubbing the sides of their jaws until their eyes roll back in their heads. Yesssssss…
If I pick them up, I'll set them all the way down instead of tossing them, and I do not, for example, pat or whomp them as if they are dogs. Ahem. So, while all of our cats have loved HalfshellHusband, I was always the preferred human. This went on for more than twenty years!
But then, the dynamics began to change.
Our son was always an energetic child. When he was little, we'd drive North to visit my parents, and my Dad's idea of entertaining family usually involved chatting while he sat in his recliner all day. He was very sedentary, and even the adults found that limiting. So, there was usually a point each day when we gathered the kids up and went looking for a playground or a McDonald's Playland. Every time, my Dad would wonder where we were going.
"Out," we would say.
He was always surprised. "But why?"
We would point at our son. "To run the 'puppy.'"
This was a boy who was very much like a puppy. He was talkative, loud, busy, and on the move, and he needed and wanted a large amount of interaction. How could anyone with such a dog-like personality not be a dog person?
But somehow he was not, and he still isn't. He is most definitely a cat person.
All of that racket and restlessness fade away when he's near a cat. Suddenly, he's on their wave-length—quiet tone, gentle interest without being pushy, and the kind of soft, slow petting that most cats love. He "gets" them, and they know it. And they "get" him in return.
Here he is at age 12, with our little rescue cat Tigger. I was always Tigger's main person, but he was a close second. Tigger was very much a lap cat, but liked to sit sideways. That worked out well for our son—he was very accommodating. He would often sit on the sofa with his computer parked on a tall footstool and just lean forward across her to play his video games. The light squooshing probably felt like extra snuggling to her.
And here's a sick day in 2013, just a few months before we lost her. She was 18, and our son was devastated.
We didn't go looking for another cat until 6 months later. That trip to the animal shelter was where the game changed.
We knew we wanted a shorthaired cat (because HSH, HalfshellHusband, is mildly allergic to cats), and we were hoping to find an adult cat, ideally about 2-3 years old. HSH had seen a pretty gray cat on the shelter's website, one with short, deep-pile velvet fur similar to a Russian Blue. I think we found the room that cat was in, but HSH sat down on a chair where she was behind the throw draped over the back, and while I was trying to apologize to her and she was licking my fingers… a completely different cat homed in on the Boy.
Wherever she'd been lurking in that room, she came out and headed right for him, like she'd found her savior. By the time I spotted her, she was sitting on the Boy's lap, purring like a twin-propeller plane.
That little black cat was four, a little older than we'd hoped but still young enough to have many good years left. She rode home in a cardboard carrier on the Boy's lap, her little bowling-ball body straining the bottom of the box. We named her "Jinx."
The best way to find a cat is to let the cat pick you, and it seemed that we had. But more specifically, Jinx had actually picked our son.
It wasn't quite so obvious at first, when she was still getting used to a new house and a new family—and another cat, because we still had our ginormous tuxedo cat (The Whale) at that time. With an adult cat, you often don't know the history or anything about what they're used to, so it took us awhile to realize that among other things, Jinx really did not care for other cats.
We unexpectedly lost The Whale to kidney failure about 4 months later, and Jinx's personality and territorial comfort-zone expanded when she became our only cat. Then it became clear that most of what she was interested in was upstairs, where the Boy's bedroom is.
We used to try to keep the cats downstairs, and our earlier cats were good about honoring that. This house is double the size of our previous home, and has lots of places for cats to hide when it's time for them to be outside or in bed for the night. And there is only one litter box, downstairs in the laundry room. The Whale would go upstairs anyway, so we resorted to putting the baby gate at the top of the stairs back up. That usually deterred him. But Jinx was the first cat who made it her mission to be up there whenever the Boy was in his room.
If she wasn't sure he was home, she might spend time downstairs with the rest of the family. Or she might station herself at the top of the stairs, where she could see the Boy's door and anyone passing by below who might turn out to be the Boy! Sometimes, we would look up and just see this little pair of black points above the horizon of the stairwell. She was on high alert for the Boy much of the time:
At night, I would put her to bed in the laundry room. But in the morning, she would make a beeline up the stairs to howl and scratch at the Boy's door to be let in. He decided it was easier to leave the door cracked open, so he didn't have to get out of bed for her. All she wanted was to get in his bed to snuggle and doze with him anyway, so that worked out fine.
Our daughter went to college the year after we got Jinx, and every time she came home on break, it seemed as if the cat had entirely forgotten her. That led to the sour-grapiest thing I've ever heard her say:
"I'm glad that cat doesn't love me. Because at least she doesn't follow me around like a little stalker!"
Truer words, truer words...
Two years later, the Boy went to college. He's more of a homebody than his sister, and he knew from her leaving how much we would miss him. But what he really worried about was leaving the cat behind. The guilt was overwhelming, and he finally decided that we needed to leave his bedroom door open after he'd left and prop up the baby gate just inside of it, so Jinx could see he wasn't there and not just ignoring her on the other side of a closed door. So sad.
It was a hard year for her, with bright spots when he came home on break and one glorious final summer. We'd actually considered sending her to school with him once he started living off-campus, but by his sophomore year, her health was too poor for that. When we'd adopted her, we'd had no idea that she had heart and kidney problems. She was destined for a much shorter life than most cats, and she started to show signs of decline that Fall. She died just a couple of weeks after spending one last Thanksgiving with her special Boy.
We began looking for another cat about 6 months later, but the shelter had almost no cats available for adoption, and no adults at all. We wound up getting our current cat in late June, although we were careful that time to leave the Boy at home.
The new kitty, Kashka, picked HalfshellHusband at the shelter. This was key, as we'd tried a few cats from a foster home during the spring, and all of them were afraid of HSH (who is very tall). We'd been looking for a one- to two-year-old cat, but the four-year-old cat in the room got up on HSH's lap and made himself at home while the other cats were still wandering around and smelling our shoes.
He preferred HSH for quite a while. During the day, the Boy and I were usually at work, while HSH was at home. The cat paid more equal attention to HSH and me when the Boy went back to college. But then COVID happened, and our son moved back home over Spring Break last year.
Now…we've lost another one.
A lot of it is probably about the Boy's bed. The cats have to stay off our bed (because of HSH's allergies). But the Boy is usually up in his room (especially with doing school remotely), and Kashka likes to doze on the Boy's bed, and on the Boy himself when he's in bed.
Kashka isn't as mellow about it as Jinx was. Jinx just liked to snuggle with the Boy in bed, but Kashka usually wants attention from him (even if the attention is, "Lie on your back so I can breadloaf on your chest"). So, the Boy does not leave the door ajar in the early morning anymore.
This prompted the cat to develop the habit of thundering up and down the stairs to see if the door is open, and sometimes howling outside it when it isn't (which is super annoying). Though to be honest, this cat is unbelievably energetic, so he also just loves thundering around the house (and is the first cat to "claw-nado" his way up the stairs, which is galloping while flailing his claws on the carpet and making an incredible racket). HalfshellHusband now keeps the cat shut up in the kitchen/laundry room area until the Boy is awake, which helps in the morning.
The rest of the day, Kashka is usually with the Boy except for brief breaks to visit HSH and me, to get food or water, or to go outside for awhile. Sometimes, the Boy brings him downstairs mid-afternoon to put him outside, so the cat will use up some of that excess energy before bedtime. It's ironic how much that reminds us of managing the Boy's own energy when he was little…
The cat also spends time in that spot at the top of the stairs just like Jinx did, for exactly the same reasons. It's all deja-vu:
Sometimes, I feel like chopped liver compared to our son. The cat will come back in the house, and he'll come toward my office and then stand outside the door looking up the stairs.
Me: Kitty! K-i-i-i-i-tty. Pss-pss-pss-pss… Kitty!
Kashka: *rotates ears toward me* *twitches tail in consternation* *stares obsessively up the stairs*
Me: K-i-i-i-i-tty! *slaps side of leg* Kitty, kitty! Kashka!
Kashka: Meowr-rowra-rowt-rort-rup.1 *trot-trot-trots upstairs*
At night, when the Boy is ready to go to bed, he carries the cat downstairs (this cat loves being picked up and snuggled). Then he puts the cat down on the sofa next to me, and I put a hand on the cat to keep him there while the Boy goes back upstairs. Otherwise, the cat bolts right up after him.
After that, my quality time with the cat begins. He gets on and off my lap periodically for high-intensity pets and snuggles, and otherwise snoozes or breadloafs next to me until it's time for me to go to bed.
When it is, I pick him up and slowly carry him to the laundry room while petting and cuddling him. It's a whole procession, and it reminds me of carrying our kids to bed when they were babies.
The cat enjoys this immensely, and since I'm the last person up, I'm always the one who does it.
"Does he ever put himself to bed?" HalfshellHusband asked once.
"Hah!" I said. Because, no. And also? With this cat, I can tell that will never, ever happen.
At least I'm still good for something, cat-wise, even if I'm no longer sitting on the Cat Whisperer throne.