CATS ARE ZEN
From the kitchenette window of my small studio apartment, the morning sun reflects off my window-pane and casts a warm yellow square of light onto the house next door. There’s a smaller window there, where a big orange cat likes to sit in the warmth of that secondhand sunshine. She starts out scrunched-up in the right-hand corner of her window, and then gradually softens, un-scrunches, and lengthens a little bit at a time as the morning progresses. As the sun moves, the warm square widens toward the center of her window, and she relaxes into it. She likes to sit and nap there every morning.
000 When I come to the sink at the window to rinse my coffee cup, her eyes instantly blink open with a look of melodramatic shock and surprise. She sits frozen, staring at me with those incredibly wide unblinking green eyes. They are so large and round, she looks like a stuffed-toy cat, and I have to laugh. I wave to her from my window. She stares at me totally incredulous, as if offended. I step back from my window and she goes back to sleep. How did she see me here with her eyes closed ? Did she feel me watching her ?
000 Cats are very zen. They would have to be, otherwise they would be bored to death. They sit around the house all day with nothing much to do except meow for breakfast, or take maps on the porch and yawn at butterflies, and in the evenings, creep stealthily through the under-bushes in the yard on pretended, or perhaps real, hunting safaris.
000 Cats have a rich fantasy life. I know this on good authority from several cats I’ve been acquainted with. One of them was my own Kitty Olson, who was as white as a porcelain cat, and very vain. She liked to practice fancy steps on the kitchen floor, doing graceful little leaps and scampers, for no reason, it seemed.
000 I would always ask her, “Are you dancing?” And Kitty would answer me silently, in her mysterious way,
“I’m being Dame Margot Fonteyn.”
I always responded with something like, “How lovely.” and when she was satisfied that she had been noticed and properly appreciated, she would turn and gracefully walk away on her tiny perfect pink feet, flicking her long slender tail the way a Geisha girl flicks her fan, and for the same reason: to remind everyone how very fine and elegant she is.
000 Other times, she played out fantasies of being a skilled and daring circus performer. She did balancing tricks on the ladder-back kitchen chair and all sorts of flying acrobatics up and down the long hallway between our living room and the bedroom. Her favorite trick, mine too, was wall-walking. She would suddenly dash from the kitchen into the hall, leaping up onto the wall about three feet up, run a few quick steps horizontally, then spring from the wall into the opposite direction, through the living room doorway onto the couch. This made a little row of implausible, impossible paw-prints halfway up the hallway wall. Jim and I left them there because they were an interesting conversation piece when our friends came over.
000 I lost her in the divorce. Jim got custody. Even after I’d made the decision to leave, I stayed another week because she was about to have her kittens. Jim was gone all day at the school, and I couldn't let her face that alone.
000 Sadly the pregnancy changed her. It curtailed her dancing, and ended her dream of a circus career. It forced her to realize that she was a woman cat now, and not just a happy young girl any more. That was so hard for her. Devastating. Life-changing. Just as it was for me too, just as it is for all of us. We know we can never go back.