When do you fall in love? Is it instant, love at first sight? Or is it a more gradual process, a series of small steps that eventually lead to something great? I don’t know, but I’m leaning towards the latter. I can’t recall, in any of my relationships, a moment where I said, okay, it’s now official, this enters love territory. But I can recall sudden paradigm shifts, where I instantly realize that I’m doing something right now because I love the other person, and hopefully that’s reciprocated.
Today, I share the process and the exact moment I realized I loved, really loved, my little Smithy kitty.
Some people might think it odd to use ‘love’ when describing a relationship with an animal. These people are likely not animal owners. That said, I did not love Smithy at first sight. Again, my first impression of him consisted of a kitten hurricane destroying my living room … and also purring louder than some motors. I am a cat person, and it takes a lot for me to dislike a feline, but that was a pretty poor first impression.
At first, the cat largely stayed alone, keeping to the shadows, leaving a room if someone else were to enter. He liked eating, though. He liked that a lot. Both mother and son had spent a considerable time outside, and so having constant, every-day meals wasn’t just a luxury, it was heaven. As Smithy learned the feeding schedule, twice a day morning and night, he became used to human interaction. At first you could pet him for a minute or so, but then he would scamper off and be alone. These minutes stretched out, and before long he would even fall asleep in your lap.
And he ate. And ate. And ate. Holy moly, he could eat, and in eating grew. Within a few months kitten was the same size as his mother, and then he kept growing and got bigger. I joked that he must have some wild cat in him, like a lynx or something, but every passing week it became less a joke.
This wasn’t fat, either. This was muscle. Pound for pound, Smithy was the strongest creature in our house. He liked to sleep in a side room, a place we stored our firewood for the winter. He also frequently made a mess in there, knocking over logs, playing with the bark, tracking dust and dirt around the house. We placed a sturdy log in front of the door, barring his entry. It took Smithy a bit to figure out what was wrong, but he then pushed the log out of the way and entered the room regardless. My six-year-old sister could barely move it, and my cat did it. And he wasn’t finished growing.
A hilarious side-effect of such rapid growth is that, much like a suddenly lanky teenager, Smithy lost his coordination. He frequently under- or over-jumped obstacles. He also stumbled, tripping over his own paws. I vividly recall the time he fell down the stairs, landing in a heap, then standing up quickly, looking around, wondering what happened.
This made it incredibly fun to play with him. He chased balls and sticks, leaping around, displaying the incredible agility of a cat … and then randomly fall over, still swiping at the ball and as it rolled past. Whereas most cats I’ve played with need two max tries to grab a rolling object, Smithy frequently needed … more than two. He played less when he got older, but I have to assume his coordination got better. The leftover mouse bits found all around the house certainly attest to this.
After such a play time, it was frequently nap time. Smithy eventually slept in four main areas: the aforementioned woodroom, my sister’s room, the living room couch (if he could get away it) and my bed. You could always tell where he was sleeping because he left a metric tonne of white fur. Somehow he was always shedding. He had a beautiful, brilliant, sleek white coat. His fur is among the smoothest I’ve ever felt, and he never had a lack of it. We gave him a good diet, we combed him when he let us, but still he shed every time he sat down, even for a moment.
The only thing that helped was giving him a bath. How can I put this … Smithy did not like this, and yet he did like it. The after-effects, being clean, he did like. He seemed to strut a little, sauntering around, holding his head up a little higher. Doing the bath, though, was far less liked. Seriously, we should have recorded these biblical fights. He would jump and splash and muscle his way out of the tub. We tried our best to hold him down. Here’s where I found out that he was stronger than I was, because I could not contain him. Only my stepdad could.
Finally we reached a point of acceptance, where Smithy calmed down a little and let us have it with his voice. Smithy had a horrible meow. It sounded like pure despair. Not just during baths. I mean all the time. He only sounded happy when he purred. So there he sat, in the tub, definitely not purring, getting gently cleaned and massaged, the water filling with discarded hair, and he serenaded us with pathos. Ohh, Smithy. Everything will be okay.
Once he was dry, which he mostly did on his own, refusing a towel or, heaven forbid, the hairdryer, we all went to bed. After a bath, we were all exhausted. Within twenty minutes I would hear my door opening slowly. I always left it a touch open, just enough for a cat to slink in. I would feel my bed shift as 20lbs suddenly leaped up onto it, and then I would hear fantastic, out of this world purring. I have never and I doubt I ever will hear a happier or louder purr.
Smithy would position himself by my right arm and curl into a ball. He essentially became a furry, purring pillow, as I could just rest my head on his backside. He loved that position, and to be honest, so did I. Sometimes, though, he would shift his weight too far over, and instead of being cradled in my arm he was on my arm, stopping me from moving it. I don’t just mean because he was heavy, which he was. I mean I didn’t want to move it, because that would disturb my sleeping friend.
One time, he passed out cold, and I still had my reading light on. I tried to read with one hand, but it proved too awkward. I tried to turn the light off, but it was too far. So I just lay there for nearly an hour, staring at the ceiling, a cat in my arms. I felt slightly silly, but I also knew I would not move until my cat moved first. And that’s when I realized it.
I loved this cat.