We were talking about my getting used to being alone (I am in the process of being unmarried) and I mentioned getting a cat to keep me company.
"You must get a tuxedo cat," my friend Megan told me solemnly.
Yes, she only said six words on the matter, but she said them in such a way that she would later apologize for being bossy. I explained that she made the classic mistake, among strong, intelligent women, of calling herself "bossy" for behavior that, among men, is simply called "stating a belief." Being a librarian--which means I've had a lot of female bosses--I've learned that when a woman gets serious about something, it's best to listen, as she is probably right.
Hugo was terrified when I brought him home from North Shore Animal League (the largest no-kill shelter in The United States, I have you know). For two days, he hid in closets and underneath my futon sofa. He couldn't even figure out that the doghouse-looking thing in the bathroom with the swinging door was his litter box, so I had to scrub my bathmat for reasons that require no elaboration.
Then however, came Friday.
Perhaps Hugo's breakthrough was due to the energy my dad send out. He is, as my friends who've met him will tell you, one of the kindest, most easygoing people on the planet. As if someone had switched on a current, Hugo came out from underneath my futon sofa (another safe haven) and started winding around my father's legs.
What had happened, obviously, came after a great deal of deliberation on Hugo's part. I had, after all, placed a great deal of responsibility on Hugo, as does anyone who takes a cat into a dwelling, particularly when that cat is to be the sole resident.
The reason for this is quite simple: the cat must accept their appointment as Emperor of the Dwelling.
I've had cats for over 40 years. I feel very old writing this, but there it is: over 40 years. Having this sort of experience I can tell you that the whole thing about them having no concern for humans is just...not true.
Cats never quite let themselves be domesticated the way dogs did. Dogs became social in exchange for human protection and contact, and in return became a creature in which they have several jobs: herding, hunting, home security, tracking. Cats, meanwhile, looked at desperate Ancient Egyptians whose grain supplies were under attack from rats, and said "take care of us and we'll kill for you and hang out with you...but that's it, and we work alone."
Thus if you own a cat, you don't own a military recruit who's going to play saxophone in the USO...that's a dog; no, you have a sniper on your hands. They will be solitary. They will stare out the window a great deal of time, sighting prey with a quiet, almost autistic focus.
Yet they are, most of the time, fair and just rulers they take their job seriously. They feel a debt to the person or people over whom they govern, who do such trivial things as provide food and shelter. Consequently, they develop that sixth sense of coming to you when you need them.
Granted, they often come to you when you don't need them. According to The Book of Lists or The Book of Lists 2 (I forget which one), a writer--I think it was Georges Simenon--called his cat "Madame Secretary," because she would be on whatever particular piece of paper he needed at any given moment.
Still, though, Hugo just knows when I'm really feeling down. And I feel down sometimes; it's not easy having a marriage fall apart. It doesn't matter how it happened, it doesn't matter who did what; the fact remains that you're now both alone, and more than a bit scared as to what's going to happen next.
And somehow, Hugo, always aware of his duty to his loyal subject, and always well-dressed, knows exactly when to glide up to me, sit on my lap, or lie down right next to my head when I'm in bed, and ask what the problem is. Then, in exchange for little more than scratching behind his ears, he tells me, in a language of purrs and body language that includes a great deal of stretching, that everything's going to be all right.
Of course, he eventually leaps away, off to the easy chair or ottoman (Emperors of Apartments and Houses require many, many thrones). He is, however, simply digesting his session with me. He needs time to formulate followup sessions to remind me that there is only the present, and that life, indeed, goes on.
I have often thought that if the Hindus are right and that life is a quest through many lifetimes in order to find Nirvana, then a cat was a really good person in the last life who, in this life, is getting a ten or twenty year rest. Ascension to Nirvana is hard work, after all, and Hugo deserves a break from his travels.
Hugo clearly was a gentleman in his past life--he even took his best clothes with him into this one--and rules my apartment with a just and loving paw. For this, I am eternally grateful.