Beauty and the Beast. Who is the beast? How can it happen that in a few seconds, you lose all the trust you built in years with someone you love and who loves you?
Yesterday I cried for two hours because I hurt my cat. I didn’t do it on purpose, of course.
This cat and I have always had a special connection. He just …happened in our lives. We were still living in Montreal, and I was keeping an eye on a colony of feral cats living in the alley behind our condo. The matriarch was pregnant, and one evening we heard a newborn kitten crying. I was sure the matriarch had just delivered the kittens somewhere close to our building.
But after one hour of unstopped crying, we (my son, a neighbor, and I) decided to go take a look. We found a desperate newborn and still-wet kitten who was clearly dropped by his mom, who for some reason didn’t come back to pick him up. The night was coming, and I knew that the kitten couldn’t survive the cold - one hour of crying was enough for him. It’s not the first time I rescued newborn cats so I know that the most dangerous thing for them is the drop in temperature: they need to stay warm, in touch with mom and siblings. I made a pouch and tried to sleep (no way…), sitting, with the newborn kitten on my chest, careful to not hurt him.
The following morning I started feeding him with kitten formula, and until he was big enough to survive without my body heat I kept carrying him on myself, feeding him with the bottle, cleaning him, and even training him to use the litter (that was the most challenging thing lol). He developed a strong bond with all of us - me, my husband, our son - but with me, the connection was a little stronger: he has clearly always thought of me at me as “mom”. His “safe place”. I never “humanized” him, but he learned some human behaviors by looking at us, like “kissing” people on the cheek, and “caressing” our faces with his (big…) paws. He has been always my feline shadow. When I go to sleep, he usually comes beside the bed and makes a kind of “trilling sound”, a chirping-like sound that probably means: “Can I come on your bed and sleep on your shoulder”? Because as soon as I say “Come!” he jumps on the bed and settles between my head and shoulder, otherwise he doesn’t. If he feels I’m sad, or just tired, or in pain, he comes and gives me his version of “massage”, or tries to lick my hands and face, as a dog would do, and you might bet he feels proud of himself in these moments, like he was the only one taking care of me. I could say that there is some “loyalty” he would never betray.
But he is a cat, and cats play hard with their moms: so sometimes he “attacks” me, and usually we play hard but in a respectful way.
Yesterday I crossed a line.
I was too tired, and it was late, so when he attacked me I yelled at him and I took him as a mama cat would do - by the skin of his neck. He is no kitten, he is big, so I was supporting his body with my other hand - but something didn’t work and in some way, I hurt him. He meowed in distress, hissed at me, and he ran away, hyperventilating. He kept staring at me like he couldn’t believe at what I did to him. It was such a weird experience - because I kept trying to not project human emotions or behavior on him, but his gaze was a mix of pain and disorientation.
I felt as if in a few seconds I destroyed a trust built in years. For two hours he kept hyperventilating, hissing and growling at me, and running away from me. He was clearly in distress, at a certain point I was able to touch his paws, he was burning.
I cried for almost two hours. I felt horrible - for the pain I caused him, and for “my” loss. I felt I lost a companion, a reliable and trustworthy one - because I betrayed him.
He looked so disoriented and conflicted and in pain. I was his safe place, and in a blink, I turned into the one who hurt him. He kept just looking at me - at a safe distance - and meowing in distress, and hyperventilating and hissing, and growling… with this sad, incredulous expression in his eyes (and ears… cats, you know). I felt like he was scolding me, his eyes and all his body like a big “why?”.
And I kept crying - because I understood how easy it is to do something irreparable… in a blink. Something you cannot fix. And not just with your beloved cat.
It can happen with anybody. It can happen with someone, a human, who we love and who loves us. It can happen with our partner. It can happen with our kids. It can happen with a beloved one: a relative, a sibling, a dear Friend. It can happen in a blink, really.
I felt I was the beast. Not the Beast from the Fairy Tale. Just “a” beast, someone who didn’t care enough about the consequences, someone who just reacted without caring enough. He was just playing as a cat would do and as we usually do, expecting me to play prey-and-predator.
I know that I didn’t hurt him on purpose. But how could I explain it to him, a traumatized cat? How I could explain I was sorry? How I could ask for forgiveness? It’s so true: when you break a glass, you can glue it - but it will not come back as before.
Sometimes we are so involved in “our” feelings and reasons that we don’t realize who is it on the other side. And we could break something precious without even realizing what we are doing.
I kept crying, thinking about the great lesson he was teaching me. And finally, at 1 am, I went to sleep, feeling I didn’t deserve to be trusted. At least by him.
And I made peace with this mistake, but still thinking about how many times I did - or I could do - the same thing with some beloved human.
And then, as soon I was falling asleep, a “trilling” sound chirping-like from the floor. I said the magic word: “Come!”
And he jumped on the bed and started purring on my shoulder.
He is a cat - and in some way he understood, or maybe he felt I can still be his “safe place” but also a “mom” who plays very hard.
Believe me, I will be much more careful from now on.
And I invite you to do the same with all those who you love.