It is raining in Hong Kong today. It was raining yesterday too. Not too unusual for this time of year, really, but I am watching the rain more than usual. Matilda and I sit by the window and look out, apparently unaware of the passage of time – not unusual for a cat I guess, but for me… very unusual. Since I have been back, Matilda has not ventured very far away, and her normally preposterously precocious self has been pensive and sedate. People often say that animals have no sense of time and that they do not have emotions like humans. That is probably true, that they are different from humans. Thank god. I don’t know how animals track time, but I am certain that they track emotions. I mean just look how they behave when people freak out or get sick or show rage. They know. I know my cats always know when I am leaving… they get so clingy (I say I hate it but, I lie) and I know that they can sense good people and not-so-good people; they have a sense about them. They know when I am coming home and often meet me at certain points in my walk to accompany me back to their food bowls.
But I should stop talking about my cats in the plural. Where once there were two, now there is one.
And I must begin in the middle, and say I am so exceptionally grateful that Matilda is still here, because without her, the absence of life in this house would be simply unbearable. I have lived in this flat since August of 2006. Matilda and Norman joined me in the first week of November in that same year; tiny, weaned-too-early, rescue kittens. Their mom had been adopted, and for those of you who know about animal rescue, you know how rare it is that people will take older cats, so when someone wanted the momma she went straight away. And so I got M & N.
From day one, they have been such completely unique little beings, connected by their sibling rivalry, green eyes and matching striped right front legs. Adopting these two cats was one of the best decisions I ever made in Hong Kong, even though right now… it’s a killer. I have the extreme good fortune of living near people who love animals and are willing to look after mine when I travel, which is sometimes not so often and sometimes a lot. I worry off-handedly about the kitties sometimes when I am gone, but always I am assuaged with a quick email home… er, not to my home exactly, but to the surrogate human hosts who take care of things while I am away. I just got back from five weeks in India, you probably know this already. And though I had been warned that Norman had been missing for at least a week prior to my return, it took the return to make it clear that he was gone. This is not the fault of anyone, though I keep wondering how things would be different had I stayed home, had I done this one thing differently or that other thing. I had not been in touch so much, maybe if I had… I thought about them a lot while I was away, all my Indian friends new about my “children” – Didi and Bhaya. I thought about how I had texted Frenchie from the ferry as I was leaving on May 1 asking her to say good-bye to Normie for me since he had been out when I finally made the break and left. The text is, of course, still on my phone.
It is most likely that the nature, which Norman pillaged quite regularly, got him in the end. Most people who are willing to admit that he will not come back think it was probably a snake. [My friends who so desperately want to help me feel better remind me – inadvertently – of the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You” as they all have stories of cats who came back after weeks, months, etcetera… Would that I was the exception and not the rule…] Somehow, the idea of nature being nature makes me feel a tiny bit better, like perhaps it really just is the circle of life and whatever. Yeah, it is a miniscule modicum of relief, but one takes what one can get after watching Matilda go from place to place looking for her brother. She sleeps in the chair right beside me as I type unwilling to leave the cushion covered with Norman’s fur. And my helper washed all my bedding and cleaned the house before I returned so the places with Norm’s scent are few, but Matilda has found them all. She went crazy in my top drawer where he used to sleep, when she starts to do her normal run for the window to go out in the morning, she stops short and just sniffs the edges of the window that Norm rubbed against as he went in and out, she has wandered to the hedge behind which they often would wait for me, and she just sits, waiting. She smells all the flower pots he used to lurk around. She sits under the patio table where he would lay in repose. And all the time she is just looking around. Waiting. Watching.
It is fucking heartbreaking.
But Matilda needs to do her thing like I do to readjust to an overly yin household, suddenly absent of its yang. We all have to do our thing. Maybe tomorrow I will even go out. For now, sitting here salting my wounds I decided to re-read my journal from the days (not so far removed) while I was sitting in Kerala wondering about Mr. (Nor)Man:
No news of Norm. Re-read Tracey’s email… “Holding out hope” and still can’t work out this feeling I have. Why I am not absolutely beside myself is mysterious to me. Is it because, as Joan says, he has done this before? Is it because my subconscious knows he is okay (or not okay)? The thought of him not there is off-kilter, it feels wrong. I don’t know. It seems like he is too savvy to get gotten by dogs, snake? Could he really be lost? Did Chinese people steal him or eat him? I guess once I’m back the not knowing will really be killer – from here it remains distant speculation. All I know is that he is not back because they would have for sure told me after having to send the email about his disappearance. It’s been more than a week though… WHERE IS HE? I wonder why he would decide to leave me now?
Today, I sat on the beach a lot and thought about Norman a lot. I am trying to maintain some kind of perspective, but on receiving a reply from Eric as to my query if he was dead, Eric said it’s been over a week, no sign, be prepared. And I know it is just a cat… and in this big wide world of tragedy and suffering and the Israelis and BP and horrible abuses of all sorts, perhaps Norm is not even really all that consequential – But he’s my cat, and to him I gave my unconditional love. And every minute was worth it, but it sure hurts to think he may be gone forever. Perhaps my sadness comes from the fact that it is only my cats to which I have ever given my complete and unyielding love. Maybe I am really a total defective, and this is some sort of lesson…
Just. A. Cat.
Is there such a thing? Watching Matilda I am amazed at the emotional load that our pets take on for us. I have no idea what her emotional reality is like, but I am sure she is very aware that her brother, from whom she has never been apart, is gone. This of course, allows me to project all of my sadness… I mean come on, misery loves company and I am not really having anyone else around at the moment. It is me and my girl. I keep thinking about really stupid shit, like, do I call Cathay Pacific and tell them that I am only bringing one cat now? Do I take all Norman’s paperwork to the HK authorities and pretend I still have two cats on the outside chance that he resurfaces? These are not the things that matter, I know. But they are manageable.
Maybe I would be better served to spend some time considering my other question: Am I a defective because I have been able to love my cats better than my boyfriends? [Some may say the cats were more worthy, but no matter the possible validity, that is not the point I want to explore at the moment.] I have always had an affinity for animals, cats in particular. I understand them. I appreciate their irreverence and their air of detachment that is betrayed by their ridiculously affectionate tendencies. I love that they make you work for it unlike dogs who just pander to anyone for anything. I love how they move and that they are likely the most hedonistic creatures to walk the planet – and without a shred of self-consciousness about that. Cats are so completely comfortable being cats. I have an old friend who I have not seen since I left the US who said he knew my animal alter-ego (dæmon as the fabulous Mr. Pullman said) was a cat. This was probably not a big revelation, but thinking of it now, when I consider what the separation of the human from their dæmon was like, it seems to make sense:
One distinctive aspect of Pullman’s story comes from his concept of “dæmons”. In the birth-universe of the story’s protagonist Lyra Belacqua, a human individual’s soul manifests itself throughout life as an animal-shaped “dæmon” that always stays near its human counterpart… Dæmons usually only talk to their own associated humans, but they can communicate with other humans and with other dæmons autonomously. During the childhood of its associated human, a dæmon can change its shape at will, but with the onset of adolescence it settles into a single form. The final form reveals the person’s true nature and personality, implying that these stabilize after adolescence. “A human being with no dæmon is like someone without a face, or with their ribs laid open and their heart torn out: something unnatural and uncanny that belonged to the world of night-ghasts, not the waking world of sense”… Dæmons and their humans can also become separated through intercision, a process involving cutting the link between the dæmon and the human… This separation entails a high mortality rate and changes both human and dæmon into a zombie-like state.
Well, that sounds about right.
Why has it always been so much easier for me to give unconditional love to animals? [I am sure there are lots of reasonable and ridiculous reasons.] What then is the lesson to be learned here? Why do we keep doing this to ourselves when we know that, save for acquiring a tortoise, an elephant, or [god forbid] a parrot, we are likely going to suffer the loss of our pet because we will outlive them? Right now I certainly cannot fathom a reason. Still, I know that the energy my cats have always added to my life, my households and my environment is unquantifiable. Maybe if we all acted a little more animal-like and a little less “human” the world would be a better place. I mean, to err is human, and we have really fucked things up. Should we consider being humane rather than human? I think maybe. And I might be a total defective when it comes to more traditional human relationships, but I definitely know how to pick cats.
Perhaps that is good enough.
I do not know how long it will be before I stop looking out the window, expecting to see him. Or for that matter, when Matilda will stop. It is unnatural for him to not be here. I guess it is okay that I will always keep an eye out, just to remember that Norm did good work while he was here (and some not so good work too…) Wherever he has gotten himself to, I hope Norman is also, somehow, keeping his eye on me.