June 17, 2006

With claws

The seven cats at our house do not get along with each other. They are all former strays, which means – well, they have issues. Those of us who live here are used to the occasional hissing, screeching battles as a couple of cats fight over territory. Guests to the house are sometimes startled at the savage noises they might hear coming from another room. I grew up with cats like this so it never occurs to me that anyone else might find the spitting, hissing creatures at all frightening.

I remember the time Shaggy Hair Boy had his friend Quiet Kid stay over night for the first time. They were both about eight years old. Quiet Kid kept asking me all kinds of questions about the cats, which I answered kind of nonchalantly.

"Where do they sleep at night?"
"Oh, anywhere they want."
"They don't have claws, do they?"
"Sure, they do. I think it's cruel to declaw a cat."

His interest did not seem that unusual, since many kids love animals, although I did find it strange that he didn't want to pet any of the cats. I usually watch when kids new to the household are petting our cats for the first time, and I give them some warnings: "Remember, these cats are former strays. They sometimes scratch. Go ahead and pet them, but keep your face out of scratching distance." When I said this to Quiet Boy, he gave a startled look and moved about ten feet away from the nearest cat.

That night, Quiet Boy joined my boys in the bedroom, two of them on beds, and everyone else on the floor. Quiet Boy seemed nervous about sleeping over, which did not make sense to me. I went to school with both his parents, have known both of them since kindergarten, and so it's not like we were strangers. He'd always been fine coming over to play for the afternoon.

In the middle of the night, my husband woke me up. "You know, Quiet Boy is still awake."

I went down the hall to check. The boys' room looked peaceful to me. Two cats were scuffling in the corner, and one cat lazily leaped from bed to floor. In the dim light, the silhouettes of the cats looked kind of cool, like the jungle scene of an animated movie. Another cat was curled atop the legs of Shaggy Hair Boy as he slept.

Then I saw Quiet Boy standing against the wall, his whole body rigid. Even in the dark, I could see the look of terror on his face.

"What's the matter?" I asked. “Did you have a nightmare?”

He shook his head. Finally, he summoned a single sentence. "I'm afraid of cats."


Dr. Virago said...

Oh, the poor, poor dear! What did you do? I think I might have laughed even as I tried to comfort him, which wouldn't have done much good at all!

jo(e) said...

Oh, I chased all the cats out of the room, closed the door, turned on the light, and read to him for awhile. Once he was calmed down, I left -- making sure to shut the door as I went out ....

The reason I was thinking about this is that I saw Quiet Kid's parents at a funeral the other day, and told them the story (which they had never heard before). They both laughed.

kathy a said...

oh, poor boy! glad you chased the monsters away. i bet that helped them be less frightening, in the long run.

your story reminded me of a time when we had 4 pet rats in the family room, and an extra staying over. he heard rattling along the blinds in the family room, and woke me and my husband up because he was sure someone was breaking in. we called the police, and they searched here and there -- there were a couple young cops searching the hill behind us -- nothing.

later, we figured out that a wild rat had gotten into the house, and was curious about the pet rats in their cages. there is a fair amount of cognitive dissonance involved with wanting the wild rat out of the house, while nurturing 4 pet rats. it took a few weeks before wild guy went away entirely.

my cats were, of course, useless for the occasion -- they had decided the pet rats were mutant hyperactive kittens, best viewed from a distance, and wanted nothing to do with the uncaged one.

joanna said...

I, too, can never quite get that some people are afraid of cats, but . . ..
One thing I like about your writing jo(e) is that your unique background makes it seem like you're chronicling the history of your town and your family. So many of us today don't live and work in the same town where we grew up.

Tabitha Grimalkin said...

Awww...poor little fellow!

wolfa said...

Imagine if he had been scared of canoes, too -- your house could be a real house of horrors for him.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Oh, poor kid!

My 2-year-old tried to pet a cat that was hiding under a bed in the aftermath of a thunderstorm. It did not go well for her. I hoped the incident would teach her to be just a little more cautious of animals, but it hasn't!

Jen E said...

Wow, if that isn't a metaphor for how we deal with the things that frighten us. Not relaxing enough to coexist with the "wild things" in life and enjoy their presence. Not communicating our fear or reaching out for support, preferring to stand in the dark in terror for hours (or years). I read your post on a whole different level. I hope I will now ask and listen more for the places that I can offer some relief.

Actually, another strong woman and I had lunch not long ago, and she recounted an encounter she'd had with someone we know in common, who finds her intimidating. My lunch companion said, "We're scary, you and I." It really bothered me the rest of the day that there might be anyone intimidated by me. I think of myself as open, loving, responsive, candid, and transparent. But then again, there's someone out there who is going to stand in the dark in terror rather than find out that I'm harmless.

I like cats. And kids.

Yankee T said...

Younger Daughter was afraid of cats when she came to live with us-she got over it quickly when Little Cat curled up quietly on her bed the second night.

Teri said...

Ohhh, I can feel quiet boy's terror. Well-written post, as usual!