What is this new appendage that has grown onto my body? Sometimes it is attached to my hip, shoulder, chest, or feet. Sometimes the attachment is not physical, but like an invisible thread that binds it to me and pulls it in sync with my footsteps, or ahead in anticipation of where my feet will next land.
This extra limb I seem to have is not of human nature, but of the feline kind. Her name is Fluffy, a moniker given to her by a niece or a nephew an undetermined number of years ago. There is much discussion over her age, no one really knows the facts. She was a member of my father’s menagerie, and she came to live with me five years ago after he died. That means she’s at least five, but if the truth be told she is probably more likely 15.
When she first came to live with me she was an outside cat, mostly feral, and she took to living in the wooded lot next door, and on the roof of my house, only to come to the porch to eat and lie in the sun on the cool pavement. I didn’t really need to feed her. She was quite adept at catching her own food. She brought me a rabbit once and ate it whole leaving only one foot on the doormat for luck. Then she ate that, too. I saw her catch a bird in flight once. She was an excellent huntress.
In time she allowed me to touch her as she passed, then a head scratch, and finally she let me hold a brush for her to rub against it as she wove between my feet. One by one she offered my husband and sons the same privileges. When we would sit down to eat we would open the dining room door and let her run in and out at will when her courage was strong enough. Once she made it all the way into the kitchen before her nerves failed her and she had to dash out in a mad escape.
Life went on like this between the family and the fluffy calico for a couple of years until one day she came up panicky and wild-eyed, dragging a hind leg. She would not allow me to handle her so all I could do was talk to her to try to calm her down. That night she disappeared for two weeks. Every morning I would set food out for her and call for her in the wooded lot and hope she could hear me. Every evening I would do the same. I came home from work one afternoon and my husband told me she had been to the porch and he fed her, but she was gone by the time I got home. At least I knew she was still alive.
Another week went by before she appeared again, this time she was emaciated and still a little wild-eyed. Despite her protests I did pick her up and shut her up in the garage so I could make sure she ate.
By the second night she was stumbling, walking in circles and not eating. I took her to our vet and resolved to put her down if necessary. He kept her for a couple of days and then sent her home with a grim prognosis. She, he said, had an inner ear or neurological problem and these are not satisfactorily treated in cats. He was gently trying to tell me that I would probably have to put her down. I took her home with medication for an ear infection and a timeline. If she wasn’t better in two weeks I would put her down.
I could not let her outside anymore because I knew she could not defend herself. I confined her to the garage for several more days until finally she came into the home as a full-fledged housecat.
When I came home from work after her first day in the house I found her on my bed, stretched out and comfortable. Her inner-ear disorder prohibited her from jumping so she would have had to have pulled and dragged herself to higher ground. But somehow, This Cat who had never spent any time under a roof before her garage days a few days earlier managed to find my bed and pull herself onto it.
This Cat, in her mismatched socks and fluffy ascot, who once only allowed a stroke as she passed, now sits on me, sleeps on me, and follows me around like a love-struck puppy.
This Cat, with her big golden eyes and black lip-liner, runs and hides at the mere sound of the doorbell, yet sits in my lap, licks my fingers and rests her nose on my cheek.
This Cat, whose two weeks were up three years ago, is perfectly fine and can readily jump onto my bed every night and purr me to sleep.
This Cat wakes with me at six a.m. every morning, but lets me sleep in on weekends because she knows my husband feeds her then.
I did not ask her to love me, but she does. I guess it’s because I rescued her, and she is beholden.
Years ago I listened to a wise man give a talk about unconditional love, and explain how God’s love for us is unconditional, and ours needs to be the same for Him. Unconditional love is what This Cat gives to me.
I get it now.
Thank you, God, for the fluffy cats of the world and the lessons you give us through them.