I love pussy

My parents already had a cat when I was born. The both of us would snuggle up together underneath my dad's hideous fetching green, orange and white fluffy jumper together, like two warm little peas in a pod. I have a photo of her when she was a bat-eared ginger kitten with a white underbelly, marked on the back as 'Wiggy - 1978'. Big wigs = big ears, hence the name my parents chose for this strange little critter. We were inseparable. When I got a cabin bed she climbed the ladder every night to get in and jumped from the third rung down in the morning. I still sometimes hear that familiar thud she made as she landed, it's one of the auditory hallucinations I have - along with the crunch of the gravel as someone came up to the house, and the sound of the back door closing. I hated leaving her to go on holiday - once when we did, I wasn't even that cross when we returned to find that she had eaten my gerbil - I remain convinced that another cat came in and did it, because she was a terrible hunter and barely went outside. 

She was my world for the first decade of my life. My best friend. I didn't need to find the right words to explain myself to her, it was just instinctive and she'd comfort me without expectation. I was cat-obsessed and I methodically catalogued all the cats in my neighbourhood, noting everything I could observe about each one on a clipboard; recording their routes to and from home, where their territories began and ended and even how they meowed. I thought I could talk to them and it wasn't pretend to me - I spent hours staring out of my bedroom window watching them and I felt we understood each other in a way that other humans never would. Whenever I saw a new cat I would smile and narrow my eyes, the way cats do when they're relaxed and they smiled back.

When we moved in with my step family, who already had a young boy cat, Wiggy hated him so much she decamped to the garden for weeks and we had to buy her a litter tray with a lid on to put on top of the composting bin so she had shelter. I would stay out there in thunderstorms and pouring rain trying to coax her in - it was a horrible experience for me because nobody else seemed to care - to them she was just a cat. My friend's dad had a special machine that could laser cut stickers and he made her name in yellow for me to put on her tiny hut. She and I were going through the same period of adjustment and I felt detached and alone in a house full of people. I wanted to be part of things but I couldn't be and it never got easier - I was the odd one out and I just got better at keeping myself to myself. I had a loft conversion room made at the top of the house so I didn't have to share and the day I was moved in felt like the dawn of a new era in my melodramatic 13 year old mind. I remember the way the 'newness' smelled, how the sloping roof made me feel protected and the funny shaped cupboards backing into the eaves. I had Velux windows with special blinds, but often at night I would open them and look into the stars, wondering when I'd find out what my special purpose was. She stayed up there with me and we had our own little universe, just the two of us. Up there I could grow mould on a tomato and save a few scabs and hamster poo to squash on to a slide and inspect under my microscope without judgement. I could arrange my ornaments and rearrange them at will. I was very attached to all these objects and I still have a few of them because I'm afraid of what might happen if I throw them away. I often imagine them wondering why I've abandoned them, or picture a small ceramic animal, lost and alone in a rubbish dump somewhere. I remember waking up in that room during the night a few times to an awful smell and realising Wiggy had left a very smelly present on the end of my bed, but deciding to leave it until morning because I didn't want to get up and go all the way downstairs in the dark. I was still scared of the dark well into my teens and listened to story tapes so I could relax enough to sleep when night times were the hardest. She never judged me for any of these quirks, she just loved me unconditionally.

She'd barely ever been to the vet and when she did have to go for vaccinations we'd have to allow 24 hours to just get her into the travel basket. She'd stick out her legs like a starfish and attach herself by her claws to the rim as we tried to lower her in - always a two-person job. All the way in the car she'd howl as if daemons were trying to break out of her soul from another dimension. Sometimes she shat everywhere whilst we drove - the smell was indescribably awful. 

Wiggy slept with me every night until I left home and even then I felt horribly guilty and visited almost every day. Eventually she became incontinent and unable to walk without falling, and the vet diagnosed a brain tumour. Soon she wasn't able to move and we knew it was time to do the kindest thing. When she died, unbelievably aged 22, I was utterly bereft. I didn't go with my mum when she had to be put to sleep - I couldn't - I didn't want to acknowledge that it was real and she'd finally be gone. She'd been the one constant thing in my life, she'd never let me down but I couldn't be there with her at the end and I don't think I'll ever forgive myself for that. Maybe that's why I still dream about her regularly; in the dreams I go back to the house and look for her; every time she's there and I marvel at how she's still alive. 

Animals have always mattered to me and they seem drawn to me too - I'm the person that the cat at someone's house - who I'm assured hates most people - will immediately come and sit on, purring loudly, and once that happens I'm no longer a part of whatever human interaction is happening any more. Animal communication is so beautifully simple; no unwritten rules, no politics, no undercurrents or reading between the lines - all the things I've had to practice much harder than others to get to grips with, yet still failed to get it quite right. Animals are simple in a way humans never are. The careers I wanted when I was a child involved animals - paleontology, marine biology, zoology, RSPCA officer - and I've always maintained that if I were to be eaten by a shark I would be happy that it got a decent meal. 

14 years after Wiggy died I now have a new feline companion - a handsome boy called Leo who was being fostered and who immediately chose us by leaping on to my husband's shoulders as soon as we went into the pen he was in. He kissed my face and we narrowed our eyes and I knew he was ours. Sounds sickeningly sentimental, but that's just how it happened. Since he moved in he's wanted to be near me all the time, draping himself across my lap, patting me and making puddings on my belly and playfully gnawing on whatever part of my body moves most like a mouse. I'm not relishing the idea of letting him outside once his three weeks' quarantine is up. Whatever else is going on in my life, he's just happy to be with me - not many humans value such a simple connection.






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