Ours is the instant age.
Instant pots. Instagrams. Instant gratification of every greedy, grasping gradation.
But cats prickle at our pace.
If you want speedy satisfaction, adopt a Hatchimal. No human or cat or cactus will bend and bloom at your chosen speed.
If you want real satisfaction, love a creature, infuriating and inscrutable and holy as a prayer. A creature like, say, Heather.
I have not written much of Heather, despite her longish tenure as my office-mate. Like Ginger* after her, Heather was chosen for my office because it is quiet, and peaceful, and seen by the powers-that-be as promising for cats of a certain shyness.
Some would say I have a good track record with bashful beasties, but they would be wrong. No magic of mine caused Louie and Carley Rose and Magic to blossom. Honestly, I could have done more. Trust me; whatever good got hold of these cats, it wasn’t me. I loved them, yes, but I was hardly heroic.
But, each in their own time, my anxious office-mates “came around,” as we awkwardly describe that process of shedding scaredness. Day after day, they heard my voice on the phone with donors, the old ministry of “nonanxious presence.” Day after day, they saw people come and go, and not one visitor to our 90-square-foot fortress wielded a blowtorch or a shout or a shred of meanness.
They even heard me sing, entirely too often, in their direction, and somehow, still, they did not die.
Ordinary, unspectacular life slew their fears. So it goes. And so they realized that every daft human in their orbit loved them, from the volunteers who slid trays of fish mush in their hissing direction; to the staff members who medicated and marveled at them; to the brave souls who sat on the floor and cooed into cowering eyes, investing hours in an emergence they could only take on faith.
In a short matter of months, they each came around.
But not so with Heather.
Elderly and anxious, Heather had one wish: to go unnoticed. Shrouded in soft fur the color of mist, Heather hunkered down behind my computer monitor, and she would not hunker back up for any price.
I did all the Usual Things. I cooed, I sang, I blinked and blinked and blinked myself blank. Heather stared back in abject terror, her expression frozen at “Do not kill me”.
I could pet Heather, my fingers light upon her feathery fur, which shifted her expression to, “OK, at least tell me when you’re planning to kill me”. When she slipped into dreams, I’d see one of her peach-and-grey paws peek out around the monitor, cocooned in the trust of sleep, and when I couldn’t resist I’d gently stroke her arm.
Still, always, my friendship was her fear.
On rare, radiant occasions, usually at the end of the day, I’d walk into the Lounge to wash my coffee mug only to come back and see Heather un-hunkered, loose and luminous in the very middle of the room. She would freeze, nearly evaporate into fright, and hustle back behind the infernal monitor, her tortoiseshell pantaloons swinging as she vanished from sight.
I lamented to my friends and my husband and my Bucca. Why was Heather still, still, still so sad? What would it take for love to break through, at least a hairline fracture of hope? Why was it taking sooooo looooong?
Well, kittens, Heather has not exactly embraced our species’ sweetness. But last night, I dare say the granite began to give, and the slow cooker began to burble, ever so slightly.
Right before my baffled eyes, a peach-and-grey paw peeked out from behind the monitor…then another. Heather stepped out, as though across a lake of lava, one shuddering step at a time. With her eyes fixed fearfully on me the whole while, she launched herself onto
Bucca’s the perch that looks out from our office onto the Lobby — a window we’ll call the Fishbowl.
Our cowardly-yet-courageous little crock pot warmed herself in the fleece blanket lining the perch. Clearly it felt good…but would she break her terror-stare to gaze out into the world beyond?
I blinked, then looked away.
When I looked back, Heather was peering out the Fishbowl.
A whole wide world of weirdness — Olive and Anka and Jonathan and Jonathan! — lay beyond. Heather could finally see it all.
Turning back to make sure I hadn’t turned into Godzilla, Heather’s eyes were, for just a second, splendorous. She had seen life, and it was luscious. There was more than she’d dared to want, hers for the gazing and gobbling any time she dared…if only she dared.
Feeling a bit daring myself, I reached out and pet her…and pet her…and pet her. Nervous strokes gave way to full-gusto chin skritches, and Heather leaned in with love and a little befuddlement.
When I left last night, Heather was still in the perch.
One other detail I must mention. Throughout this minor miracle, Bucca was extremely unconscious. Bucca, as you know, is my constant companion, the Bea Arthur of cats who barks at most beings. At nearly eighteen, she still packs a punch with her clawless paws, and many — feline and otherwise — wisely fear her.
As I type this post, Bucca has reclaimed
her the perch.
Nobody ever said transformation was instant…or uncomplicated.
But we’ll take our courage as it comes, slow-cooked and savory, giving ourselves over to the mysterious timetable of saints and angels and stubborn cats.
Slow-growing, built-for-life love may just save us all.
*More on this spicy little spitfire in the near future.