They say there are cat people and dog people, and those handful of people who like both. I’m always suspicious of binaristic dichotomies, but I will say that I’ve spent my entire life with cats. And if you were to classify me with a dichotomous key, I’d come down firmly on the ‘cats’ side of things, with due apologies to dog people.
There’s this sort of enduring myth about cat people, that they’re lonely, sad people who acquire cats and cling to them as some sort of emotional affirmation, wearing sparkly rhinestone sweatshirts with tabbies on them and using cat-shaped pot holders. I don’t really see anything wrong with any of these things, but my relationship to cats isn’t that kind of relationship. They’re my friends, my housemates, my people. There’s nothing lonely about peoples’ relationships with cats — it’s like saying that parents are ‘lonely’ for having children and caring for them, or that being involved in romantic relationships is somehow evidence of loneliness. The cat has become this strange symbol of tragic spinsterhood, though notably the same isn’t true of single men with dogs.
When I lose my people, I mourn, no matter who they are and how they came to me. Mr. Bell and I spent 18 years together, a connection much longer than any other friendship I’ve ever had. As I grow older and my friendships lengthen, that will no doubt change, but for now, our friendship reminds the longest and the most intertwined. We lived together, we did so many things together, we played together, we watched and rewatched Buffy together, we sat by each others’ sides and offered comfort in dark times.
People like to claim that cats are cold or unfeeling, aloof and hard to connect with. Those kinds of absolute terms are exactly the sort of thing I’m suspicious of, but especially so when it comes to cats, because my experience has been anything but. Why else would I miss Mr. Bell so intensely through the intervening years? Why else would I still dream about him sometimes, or automatically reach out for him while I’m working, or accidentally say his name in the present tense? That doesn’t speak to an aloof or purely economical relationship, but to a connection that lasts through and beyond death, into something else, and I refuse to deny that — or be ashamed of it.
‘He was only a cat,’ they say, and those who say things like that are the cold, unfeeling ones with no notion of humanity and interpersonal connections. I hope that they never know the loneliness that comes with loss, and that if they do, the people around them offer better comfort than that.