"What a beautiful girl you are. You're in heavy purr tonight, aren't you sweetheart?" my husband Marc croons.
He's not talking to me.
He's talking to Dizzy. An eight-month-old silver-striped Maine Coon kitten with long silky fur and a lion's ruff around her sweet face. Dizzy chirps and trills right back at Marc. Then she fall over, stares into his eyes, and shows him some belly.
Jonathan, our 11-year-old, thinks that Dizzy is his cat. He is wrong. Dizzy has declared herself my husband's mistress, and the passion is mutual. "Eat?" Marc says in lilting, loving tones he reserves only for her. "Eat? EAT?" He insists he's teaching her to speak. Dizzy chirrups back. She comes as soon as he says her name; she runs when she hears his key in the door. When he takes a shower, she waits patiently outside, then follows him into the bedroom, leaps onto the bed, and with a languorous look, knocks over.
Dizzy is the only other female in this all male household. The air here is often heavy with testosterone and sports equipment, but Dizzy is relentlessly feminine. She hides behind bookshelves, peering coyly over the top, and trills invitingly. I have to admit, this other woman in my husband's life is a stunner. A glam cat. From the rear, she looks as if she's wearing a pair of furry harem pants. She's so tactile, so pleasing, especially that fluffy plume of a tail. Her favorite haunt is Marc's office. Every afternoon at precisely 2 o'clock, she mews at the door to be let in. Though she has grown too big for the chair seat, she somehow rolls herself up like a down-covered doughnut and snoozes there for hours. Marc turns on the electric heat, worried that she will feel a chill. Nightly she nestles on his pillow, lulling him to sleep with the sound of her motorized purr.
Though she has grown large, Dizzy remains a kitten. She dashes up and down stairs, leaping over chairs and beds, alighting on window sills and climbing up inside the balloon shades, to the gleeful delight of the boys. A thwarted hunter, she resorts to stalking moths and spiders, but dreams of larger conquests. Asleep, her limbs twitch; her eyes move behind closed lids, tracking elusive prey.
This pet was a long time coming. For three years Jonathan begged, clamored, pouted and sulked for a dog. I held firm. Then he resorted to tears. "Why can't I have a dog, Mom? Why?" he insisted, his big green eyes flooding over in a way that would make the most stalwart parent cringe. One night he stalked into my office and dropped $50 in wadded up one dollar bills on my desk.
"I'm going to use my own money to buy a dog."
"We'll have to see," I said.
He glared. "That means 'No.'"
"No, it means Dad and I will have to see."
Marc and I agreed: a dog was out. Ditto for hamsters, guinea pigs or ferrets, which are just fancy names for rats. But what about a cat? I'd had a cat once, long before I'd had children. But I'd been so devastated when we had to put her down that I hadn't wanted to get another pet. Perhaps this is also the time mention another problem: I am allergic to furry animals. The wheezing, choking, itchy, streaming eyes kind of allergic. I take an antihistamine everyday.
So I downed that antihistamine and braved the Cat Fanciers regional show at County Center. "Don't breathe on my cat," I was reprimanded by one breeder. "No, you may NOT touch her." Marc, Jonathan and I strode up and down the aisles, watching fur and tempers fly. "Remember, I don't want one of those snooty Fancy Feast cats," Jonathan said. Marc stopped to stare at a woman grooming a spectacular pair of silver Maine Coon cats.
"I though we said nothing long-haired," I hissed.
"Just take a look," Marc urged. "This breed is great with children."
And so, five days later, while Jonathan sat on the floor of the cat woman's bedroom, tickling kittens with a feather duster, I signed a contract. I swore to spay the cat, keep her indoors, never declaw her, and give her back to the cat woman if we became unable to care for her. I handed her a check.
"Here's your little lady," she said, and handed us our bit of fluff.
Jonathan and I sat in the back seat with the kitten in a carrier between us. She mewed pitifully. "I can't believe I have a cat," Jonathan kept saying, with as much reverence as if we'd just been to Lourdes. At 5 am the next morning he woke me up. "Mom, she's shaking all over," he said, a panicked first-time parent paging the pediatrician. I placed the kitten in bed between us, and we soothed her until her shaking stopped. I'd sworn I wouldn't get so attached this time, but already I knew it was too late: I was a goner, a sucker for her feline charm. Later that morning, Jonathan called all his grandparents to invite them for a viewing that afternoon.
"Oy. With everything else, what do you need a cat for?" Grandma Bev said. But she scooped the cat into her lap.
And as with a grandchild, we all tend to buy Dizzy too many toys, which she plays with briefly, then abandons. No matter how many novelties we offer, she returns to a tatty brown monkey, which she carries in her mouth from room to room, meowing plaintively until someone plays fetch with her. Sometimes, she'll toss Monkey through the banister railings, then tear down the steps in a frenzy and pounce on it. Other times, for reasons no one can fathom, she drowns Monkey in her water dish.
Dizzy has been especially good for Mickey, our six year old with autism. He is usually skittish around animals. When Dizzy first came to live with us, Mickey would scale a chair to get away from her. He was terrified she would climb under his bed at night. But gradually he warmed to her, and now he croons lovingly. "Hi my Dizzy girl," he'll say. "You're so cute." He snuggles with her, and tries to use her as a pillow. Dizzy, unusually gentle and forbearing for a cat, stares impassively, but does not pull away.
"She lowers my blood pressure," Marc says. He never fails to light up when he sees Dizzy. He talks to her in the same animated tones he used to use with our two children when they were babies. We had hoped there would be one more baby. A daughter. But as Mickey struggled to acquire even the most rudimentary speech, we came to realize that there simply wasn't going to be room for a third child. Having a child with special needs has a way of taking over the emotional life of a family. In those first few years after the diagnosis, I felt as if I were pressing my nose to the restaurant window, watching other people feasting while I stood alone and hungry in the rain. With time those feelings have lessened, and, without meaning to sound like a Hallmark card, Dizzy has helped us to feel like a more typical family.
And like a normal family, the children sometimes squabble over the family pet. Jonathan is preparing to leave for sleep away camp for the first time, and he confides his fear. "What if Dizzy forgets me?" he says. He fusses over her, making a nest of his clothes on the floor for her, feeding her fishy tidbits, brushing her impossibly soft hair. One day she begins teething, and the pink tip of her tiny tongue protrudes. Jonathan gently nudges it back in her mouth. "You can't let her look like a bimbo, Mom," he explains.
While I wouldn't call her a bimbo, she is a flirt. All of us are bonkers over this dainty, animated fur muff. Dizzy fills a need we didn't even know we had.
-- Originally published by The Feline Muse