Purrs

Let’s start with what you want: cat pictures.

Jiku decided to spend enough time on my shoulder so I could take his picture.
The first day after the kittens left the bedroom (see the video caption below), Shuba decided to fall asleep in my lap.


The video above shows 95 seconds of the kittens wrestling in my bedroom. During their first week in my apartment, I restricted them to that single room. This let them get used to an environment that was much larger than their cage at the vet. I should add: While Shuba is more aggressive than his buddy when they wrestle, it is Jiku who initiates most of the wrestling matches.

Content warning: The rest of this post, in addition to containing no new pictures, contains thoughts on life and pets and meaning. It might be depressing. Or it might be elevating. You have been warned.

This morning, I was awakened at 2:30AM. Jiku had nestled into my left shoulder and was purring loudly. That took me back…

The year is 1985. Pepper, my first kitten, arrived at our home. Taking care of her was supposed to be a family project, but within minutes she decided that I was her human. She followed me all over the house. That night, our first night together, she jumped into bed with me and nestled into my left shoulder.

Then the airplane engine started.

I had no idea that kittens could purr with such volume. I lay there, paralyzed with uncertainty and delight. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. 14 years of taking care of a dog (a Lhasa Apso named Trudy) had not prepared me for this.

Eventually, she fell asleep. An hour or so later, so did I.

Everything wasn’t all roses and perfection those first weeks. As I said, I didn’t know what to expect. My legs became scratched by her attempts to climb up my leg. I had mixed feelings of resentment at the bloody violence versus delight when she finally reached my shoulder… and started licking my face.

What got us through that time was her utter trust in me.

I knew I had to take her to the vet, but didn’t know how. The vet was a mile away and I didn’t have a car. So I walked. I didn’t know any better, so I carried Pepper in my arms. She did not resist or complain. She was calm during the entire trip there, while in the office, and on the trip back.

Two years later, I took her to my thesis experiment at Fermilab near Chicago. A year later, I brought her to the apartment where I lived now. Throughout all those adventures, she was content as long as I was around.

Unfortunately, I got the impression that all she was doing all day was waiting for me to come home from work. I wanted her to have company. So I got a new kitten, Ginger, from the local animal shelter. I screwed up the introduction. The two of them took an instant dislike to each other, one that lasted the rest of their lives.

Pepper still wanted to be near me, but it became harder because of the continued and justified fear that Ginger would jump on her.

Three decades passed. The two other cats I had during that interval, Shadow and Mist, started close to each other, then drifted apart after about six months. They were pleasant enough company (at least Mist was) but they simply were not as attached to me as Pepper had been.

It’s 36 years later. Now there are two kittens who, to be fair, are not as completely devoted to me as Pepper was. They’re buddies, more interested in wrestling each other than following me around.

Yet they do come to me once in a while, giving the tiny kitten “mew” to be picked up. They both occasionally snuggle up to me, as shown in the pictures above. Two days ago Jiku spent a couple of hours in my arms, alternating between purring and cat naps.

I’ve had to re-learn a few things. My legs are covered in scratches again. Though the summer weather is warm, I’ll have to wear pants or pajama bottoms to protect my legs until the leg-jumping stops (if it ever does). This adds quite a bit to my electric bill for the air conditioning.

This time, I’m more patient. There is no resentment. Just delight at the times that Shuba decides it’s time to lick my nose.

This is a benefit to still being forced to isolate due to the pandemic: I’ve got more time to enjoy being with the kittens. If they wake me in the middle of the night, I’ve got plenty of time to recover my sleep during the day.

I know this won’t last. Kittenhood gives way to the responsibilities of being a cat.

Until then, I’ve got my shoulder purrs.

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