My cat Tom died in my arms on the way to the vet in the Northern Virginia snow at the crack of dawn one Sunday in February 2004. My literati pals gave their pets names like “Zeno” and “Clytemnestra,” but Tom and Pinky (his mate) preferred to be down-to-earth. Tom was 18 and I thought my vet could fix anything, but by the time we arrived, Tom’s legs were stiff. Larry dropped us at the curb and drove off. The after-hours vet was a stranger who said, “Your cat is dead. That will be $95.00.”
Flash forward to San Clemente Pier in the glorious California sunshine, June 2009. I’ve been to Asia on business a few times, worked Pentagon contracts, and kept performing since 2004. But now my marriage of 27 years to Larry the college sweetheart is dead back East, too. I’ve pulled up my life and my scalp by the roots and moved 3,000 miles away from nowhere, to get warm out here. After a picture-book perfect beach day, I let a friend grab a table for drinks while I find the restroom.
I don’t return for almost 40 minutes. On my way back, I see a stray cat eating fish trash and collapse on a concrete stanchion at the foot of the pier. I can’t stop bawling despite the public mortification, and all I can think is: “I miss my kitty. I want my kitty. I want my kitty right now.”
Tom slept on my left shoulder for 18 years and provided me with the most invaluable commodity on six continents: fur. Pinky was no slouch at the fur thing either; she did her part on my lap until she was 17 and died in my bathrobe. But Tom slept with me, and Pinky tried to hang with Larry (they smell the opposite-sex pheromones. Larry, however, was hard to sleep with, since he didn’t get to bed ‘til 2 am and the rest of us (Tom, Pinky and I) had to get up at 6 or 7 to get to work.
Fur is what all the internet pix of cats — without which some say the internet wouldn’t exist — are about. Mammals, to cut to the chase, have fur, as do no animals before us. Fur also comes with our new habit of carrying our young instead of hatching them, suckling our young instead of eating them (reptiles enjoy that), and attaching to each other. Odd things to do if you consider the history of animals since the advent of fish.
Dogs have plenty of fur, but cats are more blatant. Cats need love and they need it now, and there is no arguing with them. They don’t over-think it or worry about their 401ks or your hair-do. They simply feel their needs and go right for getting their needs met. They open their eyes and jump you. They snuggle incorrigibly and as soon as they get into a nice furry position, they feel safe — so they fall asleep. They object loudly when we stop furring and go do anything else. (Really, why would we?)
If you watch cats, dogs, and most mammals, this furring around is what they do 90% of their hours, with litter mates, mates, and us. Mammals are designed to be on “alarm” in hunt, protect or other fight-flight mode only 10% of the time. We’re designed to be in “repair” (lots of it sleeping) the other 90%. Thus the internet’s new fad pix of sleeping lion, tiger, and bear cub litters, or kittens and puppies sleeping with human babies. We just can’t understand why they keep doing this, but it sure looks nice.
They feel so safe when snuggled that they don’t sleep with one eye open.
We can’t grok it because we humans are screwing up this fur deal royally.
Thanks to TV, smart phones, traffic, our poor old pal the internet, and so on, most of us go into “alarm” mode at birth (or at least by age 2) and stay there for life. We’re built to have alarm stress chemicals roiling only 10% of the time, but instead we get ‘em 90% of the time. We all crave “fur time” with other mammals, but half of us deny it. The rest of us get as much fur as we can with family, friends and pets, but in a life at light speed, we do worry about hairdos and 401ks.
So we mostly sleep with one eye open.
If you want to know what all that stress for which your mammalian body is not designed is doing to your internal organs, read the ACE Study.
But back to Tom. I couldn’t feel it all when Tom died, because I had no other source of fur. Without fur I wasn’t safe, so I couldn’t feel.
I’m missing the fur of a functional childhood (which has fur), because I had a dysfunctional childhood. We were there to grow up, use our heads, get the grades and perform. Fur? Bah, humbug. No time for nonsense.
So I didn’t notice when Larry didn’t come home either for 27 years — which means I’m missing adult marital fur, too. I did once try to reason with him that 6 billion people (at the time) mostly sleep in pairs, but he just looked blank. Reason? I may as well have been over-thinking it about my 401K. I was over-thinking life to where I couldn’t feel my needs or feel that my body and soul were starving to death for lack of fur.
Mammals don’t feel safe without other mammals around to fur us up, and we humans need other human mammals. Mammals left alone pretty much go on alert and stay on alert — including adult humans who need other humans to love them. Which when no one does, truly sucks.
So I slept with one eye open for a lifetime, which sucked and then some. The 24 x 7 alert status hit me with acid reflux and that was just for openers. Little did I know what it was doing to my internal organs.
Occasionally during his 18-year run I’d look down at Tom and say affectionately, “my husband, the cat.” At least that boy could purr. We also called him “Furry Purry” and “Fur Ball,” sometimes Germanicized to “Fubbin.” He knew one thing and that was it: pour on the love.
That’s why I’m here to grieve Tom, to just feel down into the sorrow of how bad I miss my kitty, fur and all, until it heals. I can do that now, because I’ve spent the 5 years since I collapsed on the pier learning to feel.
In 2009 I hit California sleeping with both eyes open, and began a long journey to learn about my need for fur. It’s taken 5 years which isn’t much, really, if you consider how new mammals are on the planet anyway. I got here missing the fur from childhood, and missing the fur from marriage, and missing the fur from Tom, my real husband the cat.
“I hurt,” I’d say, “Me? OW.” “Me-ow, me-ow, me-ow,” as in Rossini’s “Duetto buffo di due gatti.”
I just kept doing that, because that was what I really needed. To just feel the ow. Finally I found some other human mammals who could grasp something that elemental, who would accept me just exactly as I was: hurt, me-ow, and me-all.
And after 5 years of learning to grieve and to feel, I feel, I feel… er, a whole lot better. Even my organs are doing a lot better. Seriously, my cholesterol is down from 239 to 163 and a month ago I chucked the Liptor and the reflux meds. Because now I know I need fur and I go get it from humans who get it. Now I know which end is up. It’s the furry one.
Twitter@KathyBrous - My blog & book on how I hurt & how I healed is here.
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