Do you feel the cheese tonight?
Do you dare?
To feel the cheese, of course, is to feel all feelings that belong to the biggest wheel this side of Bastille: Cheddar.
Although he’s barely bigger than a Babybel, Cheddar is a cat of colossal emotion. How else to explain the way he came bursting out the gate as a baby? Despite a mysterious spate of seizures, Cheddar was a full creamery of cheer.
Frankly, Cheddar’s muchness could be manic, even overwhelming. Intensely affectionate, outrageously exuberant, stretchier than string cheese as he leapt over baffled fellow felines, Cheddar tasted every teensy micron of life…and life was delicious. A whirling, frenzied, one-cat episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Cheddar was ALL THE YES! to all of life, all the time.
It was entirely impossible not to catch Cheddar’s freewheeling feelings. You’d have to be a very solemn sort of stuffed shirt to walk into Suite B and not find yourself consumed by glee.
It was as though this cheesy little cat had come to cheer us all.
But if you think you’re tasting something crunchy in your cheese, you’re right. There were other feelings to be found around this quirky queso. What of those seizures, shaking Cheddar to the core from an anxiously early age?
Our earliest investigations — and by “our,” I am most definitely taking collective credit for Dr. C, Denise and Jess’ brilliance — suggested a very rare surgical side effect. Cheddar was neutered just before he came to Tabby’s Place, and it appeared he may have been temporarily oxygen-deprived while under anesthesia. Ergo the vision issues, ergo the seizures, ergo the medication he’d need to gag down like so much gone-wrong Gouda.
But the fragment that made us all feel better was this: Cheddar could, conceivably, grow out of this grief. Plus, medication made a difference; Cheddar’s seizures slowed, then stopped altogether. We felt hope. We felt joy. We felt free to once again feel Cheddar’s crazy bliss simply to be alive.
Cheddar grew, in silliness and stature. Cheddar played, with all his mozzarellan might. Cheddar made a daily argument for the “gonna grow out of this garbage” dream. Cheddar came through early-kittenhood…
…and then Cheddar melted our hearts to mush. The seizures started again.
This wasn’t going to go away. Cheddar was going to require medication all his life, and the lightning bolts could strike at any time. Cats can live well, and long, and lusciously with epilepsy…but like all things cruelly “chronic,” it’s not going anywhere.
And so, neither were the anxiety, the fear, the precarious parachute of feelings flung around any heart that would dare to love Cheddar. To look into his slightly-crossed blue ‘meezer eyes would forever be risk both heights of joy and depths of animal fear. You can’t cherish Cheddar and not feel his enormous emotions — good, bad, or gooey.
This is the point at which some folks would scoff at our cheesiness. How could any sober-minded human actually feel the feelings of a cat, much less be so shattered by them? Surely we must be mad, or at least a little charbroiled. No truly sane individual subjects herself to the full force of another’s feelings — especially another who isjust a cat.
Say it with me, kittens: bollocks.
Like anyone who eats unpasteurized cheese, we know the risk we’re taking, and we take it with arms open. We will be hurt, we gooey-hearted feeling-feelers. We will be melted, macerated, crushed a thousand times.
And we will feel joy that few can taste.
Maybe we’re not idiots so much as empaths.
Much ink has been spilled in recent years about the phenomenon of the narcissist — that person who prances about with an excessive need for admiration, disregard for others’ feelings, an inability to handle any criticism, and a sense of entitlement. I recently read that the opposite of a narcissist is an empath: one who is highly sensitive to other’s emotions.
Hypersensitive. (Raise your hand if you heard that one starting circa age 4 too.)
As sensitive as a child or a holy fool or a saint or a cat named Cheddar.
We don’t choose these hearts, great gloopy globs of Bocconcini that they are. So there’s no shame or pride in empathy, and no anger for the scoffers. May we hold them in our hearts, praying that someday they may get the gift of feeling it all. You know and I know that they would never return to sober-minded “safety.”
Feeling is dangerous. You will be broken, repeatedly. But mark my words; you will be rebuilt, renewed, rejoiced beyond your wildest dreams by a love that will not let you go.
Feel on, les fromages.