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This post is kind of a sandwich: cat-whisperer giddiness to start and end, with some oversharing about psychological trauma in the middle.


Monday, October 20

Stormy came into the cat shelter about three years ago. She was feral, probably a mother with kittens, and should have been released after she was spayed, but there were a number of feral mothers who came in at about the same time who one of the volunteers was sure could be socialized with some intensive work, optimism and smittenness winning out over the reality that there were no volunteers with enough time to work with the ferals, including the volunteer who deemed them tamable. Then after a few months, the cats had been in the shelter long enough that it wasn't feasible to just release them back into the world that they'd forgotten to navigate. Stormy and her comrades eventually moved into a free-roaming room, where the cages are just places to hang out and the cage doors are open. She seems content, and will probably live out her life at the shelter, because three years in, she wants nothing to do with people. A couple of people a few months ago found that, if they approached her right and set a hand on her side, she didn't seem to mind, too much, but that was it. The two volunteers who were able to touch her have since moved on, and as far as I know, she's once again been left alone.

I periodically let her sniff my fingers when I'm in the room: reach out hand, in loose fist, about six inches away; give her time to sniff and lean toward me a bit, then slowly uncurl my index finger until it's close enough that, if she chooses, or maybe isn't careful, her nose will just barely touch the end of my finger. A couple of times, I'm climbed into the cage when she's lying on the shelf and done this, and then let my hand rest on her tail. Maybe move one finger on her tail.

A couple of weekends ago, when I held out my finger, she left her nose touching it for maybe five seconds. I moved a little so I could touch her cheek, just the front part where the whiskers come out. I stroked about an eighth of an inch of her cheek for a couple of minutes before she pulled her head back.

Yesterday, I climbed in the cage with her. We nose-finger-touched a couple of times, but she was not having anything else, glaring wide-eyed even when I touched her tail. So I left. I came back later, climbed in again, and this time when I touched her nose, she stayed pressed against my finger a little. I pushed back, slightly. I moved my finger a tiny bit, back and forth, not so much stroking her nose as pushing it up and down a millimeter. She didn't pull back. I moved a little to the left of her nose, rubbing the spot I rubbed two weeks ago. She didn't pull back, not for a couple of minutes. I gave her a 30-second break, then put my hand in front of her again. Uncurled a finger. Touched her nose. She stared, not quite glaring, pulled back a fraction of an inch, but no further. And then she put her head down. So that her forehead was touching my still-outstretched finger. I am quite sure she didn't do it on purpose; that was where she wanted her head, and my hand just happened to be there. But she didn't jerk back. Didn't pull back. Even when I moved my finger slightly to rub her forehead. Or when I switched to stroking her with the back of my finger, just a half-inch of her forehead, but a half-inch. Three-quarters of an inch. And then: she closed her eyes. Closed her frickin' eyes while I was rubbing her forehead.

We stayed like that for a couple of minutes before she suddenly roused and pulled back, glaring at my hand, having perhaps zoned out enough she'd forgotten that that was a hand rubbing her. But then she put her head down again. We did this dance a few times, the last time with me rubbing back as far as the space between her ears. In the end, I had to leave before she pulled back.

I don't know what I feel, I just feel a lot of it. I don't know if I feel pride, a sense of specialness; it mainly just feels like: I'm incredibly lucky. If I believe in God, I'd feel blessed; I rarely felt blessed when I -did- believe. Sacred. That cage, in that moment, was sacred, was a place of trust, a place where she allowed me to feel trusted, where she bestowed her trust upon me. She bestowed the tentative promise, too, that this would happen again, and happen slowly but inexorably greater, perhaps hopelessly too-slow some weeks, but our world will change, and I hate change — even undeniably good change — but this will be change even I can welcome, change I will long for, pace internally waiting for. Still, it's intolerable: giddy, giggling, wailing, teeth-clenched joy. Want want want now not enough, move faster, time, no, slow down, halt, let me stay in this moment until it soaks through all of me, let this never fade, but I want tomorrow, too, I want I want I want. This is too much; I want more.


Tuesday, October 21, 12:15 p.m.

It's not just uncomfortable, not just my usual allergy to joy. At my shrink session yesterday, the day after Stormy, he asked about my reluctance to take pride in what I did. It's not reluctance, I said, it's just, it's like what I wrote my mother, when I asked her what I had done growing up that she -was- proud of, and not to mention academics, because that wasn't something to be proud of, doing well in school, because I didn't work at it, it just happened, it was just who I am, makes no more sense than being proud of having brown hair, or fingers. It's just who I am, a cat whisperer. And then I was crying, in the shrink session, because: who I am is a freak. It's not normal, how I connect with cats, it's not normal even among the other volunteers, it's not normal, so it's abnormal, it's perverse, and it's shameful. My old shrink said that shame is pleasure interrupted, and it was pure pleasure, that moment with Stormy, and it wasn't interrupted by anyone in the room, it was interrupted by the mother in my mind. Her embarrassment of me, of her abnormal child, the child who loves animals more than is seemly, who runs into the kitchen breathless and giggling because she just met the neighbor's kittens, the child who… she looks at me with something beyond the condescension I am familiar with: she looks at me like I am a stranger. I am strange, and I am outside her understanding, and she does not know who I am. I am not her child. We fear things we don't understand, but she doesn't feel fear, fear is outside her understanding, but this is fear's kin: disgust. I am dirty. I am unclean like the lepers in the Bible, contagious and diseased and with fingers rotting, but the only thing that's oozing out of me is joy, is connection, is the glorious sense of rightness that welled up within me until it flowed out and I had to share it, but it isn't something to be shared, it's pustulence and decay, and I should do everything I can to excise it. But I don't want to. I should want to, but I don't. I want that feeling, want to wallow in it like a pig in a cesspool. That is what is shameful.

It's absurd, or course. I can see that now. But that only makes it worse, because I still feel it, intensely, the putrescence below my skin, even as I know it isn't real, another layer of things I know I shouldn't feel.

December 28, 2014

I’ve continued to work with Stormy every weekend, with slow progress — leaning her shoulder into my hand, tilting her head up for chin rubs, tentative purring some nights, especially if there isn’t too much chaos and noise from the other people cleaning. So, uh, tonight, while she was sitting, I rubbed her belly, just reached under a little between front and back legs and ruffled her fur a little for a few seconds. She didn’t seem to mind, a little suspicious, but eyes still half-closed. I did it a few times for a few seconds at a time. At some point between belly touches, she settled down sort of meatloafed, and I rubbed it again. She twitched a front paw, looked confused, twitched a back paw… and then her head kind of melted into her front paws. We stayed like that a while, and then I left to go clean stuff, and came back to spend more time with her. She ended up partly facing me, so I was reaching past her head to her neck, and shoulders, and then belly, and: twitch; tiny stretch of one back leg. And then she settled again, slightly on her side, with her belly not flagrantly exposed but definitely offered. So I rubbed her, and then moved my hand further up toward her chest-belly. And her upper front paw twitched. And then the paw raised to let me rub her. And: then it draped over my hand. And then she laid her chin on my wrist. And we stayed like that for close to half an hour, which is when I left in part because Michele was done with her feeding duties, and also because the foot I was sitting on to reach Stormy on the cage shelf was completely numb.


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Violet Wilson

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