I have six cats, and the reason I have six cats is that they found me and never left. Matty was a rescue kitten only a few days old. Amazing, the lightning speed at which a person can learn things on Google. Common sense things, really. Put them in a crate with a heating blanket. Bottle feed them every two hours. That wasn’t from Google. Matty’s soprano despairing cries let me know that one. Then burp them. One thing I didn’t know was that the mama cat will lick their nether regions after feeding to stimulate their soon-to-be-learned cat box agility. Now, I admit as much as I was rooting for this kitten to survive, licking said region was not something on my bucket list. Nor would it ever be. Thanks to the older cat already living here, and a bribe of a lifetime of treats on demand, Matty learned just fine.
At first, Matty was, well, unidentifiable as far as what sex he might be. Even the vet said he was a girl. So, for months, Matty was Madeline. Maddy for short. I admit I showed favoritism. This was my girl. However, at the six month check-up, it was determined that Maddy was indeed a boy. That was further confirmed when he was neutered. It felt so strange to gaze into the little green eyes behind the black mask and white face, that I’d learned to love as a girl, and admit she was no longer there. She couldn’t be bridled with any other name. And I’m not entirely sure if it was because the other cats treated him differently that his mannerisms changed. Did they mock him when he returned from the vet? Maybe his twin brother disowned him as though he actually had a transgender alteration. It happens. Do they now give him gag gifts of girl clothes on his birthday when no humans are home? In any case, Matty’s not the same. He’s kind of inherited a personality that seems to reflect his confusion. He still appears to have a sleek feminine sachet to his walk. When he sits, his legs are together - like I was taught but never did - he’s a little too stand-offish and submissive so he hides behind my bed a lot. It took weeks to gain his trust after that. This month, he’s three years old and he knows he owns me. He sleeps at the foot of my bed but on cold nights, tries his best to work his way under the covers. If it weren’t for the cat hair to deal with, and not wanting it to spawn as an Appalachian scandal that my cat spoons me, I’d have him cozy right up. Oh, yeah and if he were Johnny Depp, even better.
Sometimes, owning cats and figuring them out is more like playing a daily game of chess and slowly but surely each night I'm down to a rook, a pawn, and one nerve away from a checkmate. As I’ve said, I identify with Matty in many ways. It isn’t the big things in life that thrill him. It’s the small things. Give him a shoebox and he'll sleep in it till it splits at the seams. Leave your drawer open just a crack and you'll find everything on the floor in a heartbeat. Park your bike in his sunbeam and he'll chew on the tire. Turn your back on a glass filled with water and you'll never know he's been playing in it till that grain of cat litter hits your throat. Forget to latch the bathroom door and while you're in the shower, he'll hide inside the flood he's created with the new white toilet paper roll. And Matty isn’t big on meowing, but every morning when he awakens to find me stretching, he saunters over, stretching his own back with each step, sits in front of me, stares at me with those human-like green eyes and gives me a dainty meow. It could mean anything. “‘Good morning.” “Pleeease feed me.” ”You forgot to empty the catbox and I had to pee behind your bed, but you won't smell it for days.” “By the way, I may or may not have rubbed my ass on your pillow.” I think if Matty could talk, he’d have a lot to say. He’s been through some serious crap as a kitten so I try to listen. Everyone wants to be heard. My attempts at deciphering each meow may not be perfect but at least I try. Is he hungry? Sick? Did one of the other cats do him wrong and I need to kick some cat ass? Did I mess up and get the wrong food again? (You can’t buy just any brand with cute tiny shapes or ‘new’ fish flavor. You’re not the one eating it, after all. And the piles of regurgitated food spaced through the house, ironically right where you step or stumble to get your coffee, will drill that memory in tighter than a dry wall screw in a two by four.) I do want to please him. Why not, he pleases me. Even made it to my blog.
I’ve learned Matty needs constant reassurance that he’s appreciated. Number one rule of owning a cat is never ever ignore them or you'll lose your queen in three moves. When they come to see you and rub their head against your leg, I don’t care what you’re doing. Peeing, cooking, eating, watching porn, it’s imperative that you drop everything, make eye contact, rub their backs or heads, and damn it, not stop till they’re satisfied and have walked away. I’ll be honest, I’ve ignored him once or twice. Once was when I was at my computer writing, really in the groove of a character sketch, and he nimbly jumped up on my desk and stared at me. I gave him a corner glance but kept typing. He rubbed his face on my hand but really, I'd lost a pawn. I kept typing. He tried to step between me and the computer screen at a glacial pace, but I looked over and under him to finish what was in my head. Because, you know, that’s what you gotta do. Then Matty sat down, his expressionless masked face almost joined with mine. Affirmation that he was noticed and needed my attention. Obviously, the reason didn’t hold nearly the importance as what I was doing. And the fact that my keyboard was there as his ‘chair’ was coincidence. Or was it? In trying to get him off my desk somehow the entire passage was highlighted and no amount of expletives or demands could stop the computer from doing what it was asked. As I said, lost my queen in that game.
I keep reiterating how much I identify with this cat even though he obliterated an entire piece of writing. There are five others, why this one? To be honest, I can't put my finger on it. I think part of it, perhaps, is that behind all the hiding he does, when he gets the courage to come out and meow – his agenda is simple: what shall we play today? It’s your move.