By Francie Lora
My mother was queen of expressiveness. She could modulate her voice so that one knew in an instant if she was pleased, tickled, intrigued, curious, perplexed, upset, furious, or in agony. You get the gist. And her facial expressions matched the vocal tone. She could screw up her face in disgust, beam as if to burst, or look as if she was carrying the weight of ten worlds. She was a magnificent feeling force, and there was little left to the imagination.
One of the areas where I was critically imprinted by her was her dislike for cats. I’m not sure if it was because she was a champion of birds or because cats are unpredictable and she needed her “knowing”. The bottom line was that “We” didn’t like cats and this came with a distasteful smirk and particular vocal tone.
So here I am decades later, having had many cats tiptoe in and out of my life, but I honestly have never gotten to know one intimately due to this hefty cat imprint wounding.
Right now I am house-sitting the most exquisitely perfect house. It isn’t lavish, it isn’t sparkling new, it isn’t huge and it isn’t one block from the ocean and it speaks to my soul. There is light and flow and curved doorways with warm colors and bursts of bright through every one. There are stories of travel and a spirit of adventure and spiritual questing behind and in front of each artifact and painting. There is a water fountain and fish pond and flowers and trees and tiled roofs, and there is a cat named Che.
Che is the heart’s desire and dearly beloved of the owner of this home. I have been given immaculate instructions on his preferences and care. I welcomed this opportunity whole-heartedly as I take my responsibilities seriously. My intentions were in earnest to comply body and soul with Che’s owner’s requests. Little did I know that within the walls of this new nest Che’s self-confident, matter-of-fact, snuggly, humorous, brilliant little self would come face to face with my lifetime of wariness around cats, and my heart would open honestly towards one.
After retrieving my bags and books from the car, turning on the lights and looking around I heard the soft clunk of the cat door at the rear of the kitchen. In swept Che, all sleek and black, and he sashayed directly over to my right leg with a rub and a purr and a glance up and then “Meow”. “Oh! Che!” said I as I fumbled to scratch him under the chin and in the ears as I’d been coached. He seemed to adore whatever I did and so the little voice inside my head which said “Cats are not like dogs at all and I don’t know what I’m doing,” began to calm down and I got into a flow. Oh my gosh, as I did, he melted and his purring shifted into a whole new drone. I was enjoying myself with no reservations and yet I kept thinking “It’s just a fluke that he likes me and I’m pulling this off, any second he’ll know that I’m new at this and change his mind.” But no. We could have stayed there all night.
Then I decided to run a tub for myself as baths are my favorite thing on earth and this tub was most inviting. It was dusty earthy rose colored and at least six feet long and it came with a potpourri of bath bubbles. I couldn’t wait. So as I ran the tub, Che hopped up onto its edge to watch. I paused for a second as I undressed, as bath-time is most private for me. A sacred, alone time to be with myself and my day. I was feeling a bit “watched” by Che, but I slid into the mass of fig bubbles and closed my eyes anyway. For a few moments I forgot all about Che. I took in the feel of the water and the smell of the figs and I let the water wash away the cares of the day while I luxuriated. I casually opened my eyes and there was Che! He was six inches from my face watching me. He had perched himself on his haunches on the edge of the tub and was totally settled into spending my bath-time with me. “Oh no, what’s he doing? What if he falls in? How can I relax with him r-i-g-h-t there?” He twitched his tail at me and meowed, stood up and moved down closer to my feet. He heard me thinking and accommodated me. Hmmm. I LIKE this cat.
The next morning I fed him his watermelon (yes, watermelon) and sat down to my computer and in one silent move he leapt up onto the table and then to my shoulders. He rested his head on mine and we sat. He purred and I sat. I giggled to myself. I thought about my mother. I thought about my Obie. I thought about the gift of this little being.
I do not know how much Che knows. I do not know if he knows that he is secretly here to teach me or not. I do not know if I will ever be a cat person. But Che represents something special to me now and I believe he will forever. Our thoughts imprison us and mold us. My mother did not like cats, hence I have never welcomed them. This week, I choose to change this thinking. I welcome Che and all of his foreign isms into my world. I, a woman in sync with golden retrievers, am taking a wild leap here. Che? Che? Come here Che! I want to snuggle with you now! Whoops… he will do things when he wants and I need to learn to not anticipate one single thing but be open at the same time. Interesting little teachers, these cats.
Oh Mom, are you watching? And what is your face doing? I love you.