I have a lot of time to think. It’s my shift as a feline companion at the Animal Rescue League of Boston and I bring Clark*, a three-year-old male cat, to the feline suite: at first, I stand by the exit, afraid he, who showed his teeth and meowed maniacally from his cage, might want to hold me hostage as Denny did. I watch warily from the doorway as Clark perches himself on the window ledge, his back to me. He looks out at the world, as if he’s suddenly at peace with it.
I have been advised it’s best to not look an unfamiliar cat in the eye, as it may provoke him. So, I open the latest issue of Creative Nonfiction magazine and try to bury my attention in it. Soon, however, I grow tired of standing. Tentatively, I sit down on the couch, keeping my focus on the page, not on the cat. This is when Clark takes his risk: he leaves the window, climbs up onto the couch, presses the tops of my thighs with his wide paws as if to test their durability – this tickles – gently turns around and around, and around, settles down, and falls asleep.
For the next two hours (for this is how long this cat sleeps here), I think about trust.
I look at this animal’s body curled up so innocently in my lap. He is so quiet, so content, to be there, with me. He feels safe. He does not think that I, a much bigger being, will do him harm. He does awaken with a start when he hears a noise outside, more matter-of-factly when he simply wants to shift his position, but he always lets his body relax once more into my lap, nuzzles an ear into my hand, and falls back into a sound, contented sleep.
He trusts me.
I think about Clark and I think about Denny, and myself, and I wonder, how does one have an easier time sitting with trust than the other? It’s true that none shows immunity to the fear of abandonment or the devastation of betrayal.
When our world is turned upside down by trauma, it becomes hard to trust. Yet there’s Clark, in my lap, doing it anyway. As I lightly comb my fingers through his soft dark brown and black fur, feel his body rise and fall evenly in the palm of my hand, I consider the way he was abandoned by his owner, taken from his home and placed in a cage (what one of my fellow volunteers calls “the cat’s last indignity”). The desire to bond with a human (me) has not been destroyed, or even weakened – it is, perhaps, even stronger than ever. He knows what he wants; he reaches out for it in no uncertain terms.
And when I arrive home from my shift, Hannah greets me with a meow and sprawls out on the living room floor: this cat, who four years before would rarely let me touch her, now wants her belly rubbed as long as my arm and hand can last.
Maybe it’s that, as survivors, we no longer take connections for
granted. These moments are not only precious, they are essential. Connecting with other beings – trusting, bonding – becomes not only important, but, like a meal for sustenance or a salve on a wound, necessary for healing, for meaningful living.
(*Clark’s real name has been changed.)
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