Several weeks ago, Casey and I were on the couch in the living room, winding down for the evening as we so often do with a drink and a selection of short clips on YouTube. While we mainly stick to clips from various late night shows and commentators on the news, we do occasionally find something else that looks interesting or funny enough to watch.
On the evening in question, a video about the different sounds cats make popped up and while I honestly don’t remember what prompted us to watch it, we did.
Heimdall (these days his name has been warped into Memers) was on the couch with us and as the video went on, I noticed him move. He did so gradually, rising from where he had been settled with Casey, and slowly, slowly made his way across Casey’s lap, headed towards the edge of the couch closest to the stairs. As he moved, his gaze was locked onto the wall-mounted television.
Then the video ended and in a blur of motion with the sound of scrabbling claws on the floor as he tried and largely failed to gain purchase on the hardwood flooring, he was gone, puffy-tailed and obviously freaked out.
We laughed. Of course we did. Both because of the suddenness of it and because Memers is still pretty small and because our interpretation of events was that he had just seen some kind of giant monster-cat who was somehow perched above the whole room and who had recently been saying something that was perhaps in some way menacing or untoward.
Immediately after laughing, I felt a little bad, but figured that he would soon be over it since nothing ever seems to keep his adventurous spirit down for long.
It being late, we turned off the television and began to go through the stages of our bedtime routine. It was then that I noticed Talisker on the landing of the stairs, crouched low and half hidden around the bend of the stairs. He had caught Memers’ terror and I immediately felt far worse for him than I had for Memers, since Tal is nothing if not perpetually jumpy. We often wonder what happened to him in his early life to make him so wary and the caution that we noticed in him so early on has not left him in the 18 months we’ve had him. I don’t think it ever will.
I’ve learned, over time, that Tal does not find it soothing to have human contact on any terms that are not his own, so I simply sat on the other couch, where I could watch him as he crouched on the stairs, obviously torn between his fear of whatever had just taken place downstairs and his desire to come down and take advantage of the fact that part of the bedtime routine is feeding the cats and Casey was even then refiling their bowls.
For his part, Memes was hiding behind the other couch, between it and the wall, giving me a clue just how spooked he was. Memers is nothing if not a little pigger come feeding time.
Because I somehow ended up being the one to completely fall in love with these two cats, I delayed going to bed for a while, even as Casey concluded filling their bowls and headed upstairs to brush his teeth. Talisker disappeared for a while, running away when Casey started up the stairs, clearly convinced that he was the motivation of a human heading in his general direction.
I called him, pointlessly, because he never comes when called unless he can see you have a special treat for him.
Memes continued to hide behind the couch, only his face barely visible, his entire posture somehow expressive of his readiness to retreat further, should any giant demon cats emerge from nowhere.
Eventually, Tal had gotten so brave as to make it down to the penultimate step before hitting the main floor. He paused for a long while, grandly ignoring me as I made small coaxing noises. With aching slowness, one paw touched the ground and then another, both back paws remaining on the step while he ascertained what he could of the room.
And then? Then my sweet little Tal Tal, who so often seems afraid of his own shadow, crept into the living room. He circled to the left, still ignoring me, but craning to get a good look at the rest of the couch I was sitting on. No demon cats there.
Staying low, he continued past me, scoping out the various new angles of the room as they came to him. Nothing under the coffee table. Nothing on the coffee table. There was a long hesitation as he tried to see the top of a tall cabinet that sits underneath the television, but he kept going until he had circled around the coffee table and back to where I was.
I understood as he made this circuit that he was simply gathering information for himself. Was the room safe? Was he safe?
He seemed a bit more relaxed as he came back to where I was sitting, and didn’t bolt when I moved to scoop him up. From my arms, I showed him the top of the tall cabinet and then took him past the stairs and into the kitchen, where we circled the island and then I put him back down.
No demon cats here, buddy. It’s safe. You’re safe.
I sat back down on the couch, watching as Tal went to where Memes was still hiding behind the couch. They sniffed at each other cautiously, they way they sometimes do, when there’s apparently some need to verify on an olfactory level that their eyes don’t deceive them and that other cat is who it appears to be.
I told Casey all about it and I am telling the story here, because I was so moved by it. Living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as I do, I have often said that if I were a cat, I would be Tal – or that if he were a person, he would be me. He gets scared and runs to hide whenever he hears someone coming down the stairs (even though it’s always just me or Casey) in the same nonsensical way I get scared of trying a new food (even though I have never shown signs of having any allergies to anything other than pollen in my entire life).
To see him confront the danger of the unknown in such a practical way was another kind of parallel. I often badger Casey to Google things on my behalf (hypochondriacs shouldn’t look up medical information on the internet, I’ve found), and it’s for exactly the same reason. I need to understand the lay of the land and have information so I can have some assurances I am safe. I need to clear my mind of my own demon cat fears.
And I think there was good lesson in there for Casey, as well. It doubtless seems ridiculous to him that I am, in Talisker terms, afraid of him coming down the stairs, even though every time I run and hide it’s always for no reason at all.
“I can’t control this,” I told him. “But I can be brave, like Tal was brave, and I can seek out information until I feel like I know enough to feel safe.”
Just because something doesn’t appear to be brave doesn’t mean that it isn’t.
Just because someone doesn’t appear to be brave, doesn’t mean that they aren’t. You never know when something that may seem ridiculous to you is, in fact, something that requires great courage on the part of the person – or cat – doing it.