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It may be a stretch to make such comparisons, but I feel that our pets are truly a reflection of who we are in this moment.
For me, my first cat, Slinky, seemed an apt representation of myself: though female, she was hardly a dainty pet. Prone to clawing folks who dared to get too intimate with their petting, Slinky would pick fights with any other animal in her dominion. Despite this, however, she was a beautiful cat with an indomitable spirit. Slinky represented the young angst and restlessness I felt in my twenties. She was simultaneously fierce, foreboding, and a loving mush all in one. I often feel I’m two extremes in one person, much the same way.
An indoor/outdoor cat, Slinky gained a lot of weight when I was forced to keep her in a small New York apartment. As a result, I moved her down to Florida to live with my parents. Like any goodbye, it was heartbreaking for me to let her go. She was my companion and my kindred soul, but I knew it was for the best.
For the second half of her life, Slinky lived a luxurious life, able to be and feel like she was outdoors in my parents’ screened lanai, yet protected from other adversaries. And she wanted for nothing, being doted on by my folks in their retirement years.
Three years ago, though, as Slinky’s health went slowly downward, a black cat began to come around my father’s home looking for food. Petite and shy, we thought her a kitten, only to find she was severely malnourished. We took her in and named her Bella. Slinky tolerated this new addition to the home with disdain. If not for her arthritis, Slinky likely would have torn in to Bella with tooth and claw.
Sadly, Slinky passed away within months of Bella’s arrival, and, not wanting the little girl to be bored, my father adopted a new tabby, a male we named Ciccio (Italian nickname for Francesco). Ciccio was a boisterous kitten and is now a sweet young prince of a cat. One year later, we accepted a declawed Himalayan being surrendered by a family moving out of state, and we renamed her Lana (Italian for “wool”). Visually, they are three interesting cats to have around the home: a black shorthair, a striped gray tabby, and a taupe, wookie-like longhair.
I’d contemplated their spirits recently. It struck me that they represented my two mothers and my father: Lana, the Himalayan, struck me as my birth mother who died in her 30’s of a heart attack. My mom’s teased hair was almost the same blonde shade as Lana’s. Bella, the black cat, precise and sleek, represents my stepmother, a woman of dark hair and olive skin, a beach-lover who could be distant from me at times but was always in control of her surroundings. And Ciccio represents my Dad: kind, inquisitive, genial, and loving, he tends to be the center of attention of the three, not unlike the current situation where my stepmother has passed on, and how my Dad is the primary caretaker of the home.
At night, the metaphor rings true, too. The two females make themselves scarce (I sometimes have no idea where they go to sleep, and it’s as if they’re phantoms that have morphed in to the ether.) Ciccio, however, makes it clear that he is going to sleep with me or with my father, making his presence known before you turn out the light.
During the day, Lana is always near me, much like my birth mother’s spirit, at a distance, but always watching over me. She refuses to be held. Lana has a perpetual sadness in her heart which I attribute to the trauma of being declawed and to feeling abandoned by her previous owners. I can equate this to my birth mother’s regret in leaving us at such a young age. But both Lana and my mother’s hearts are kind and loving.
Bella’s affection is much more erratic. She can be very independent and aloof, much like my experience of my stepmother, Annette. Serious in her demeanor and wise from her years as a stray cat, Bella is self-reliant in many ways. But when she wants to give her love, she is total love.
Animals help ground us and keep us living in the moment. So, for whatever the future brings, I am thankful for all three of these souls in my life, for their reminder of three very important human counterparts that mean the world to me.