Yesterday, I decided to paint Norman. Norman is our new cat.* We went into the shelter on Friday because Luke had a four-day weekend, and we knew that it can take cats a really long time to peacefully cohabitate, so you have to give them lots of attention if you are going to combine them. Although secretly I knew that our new cat and our old cat (Puppy) were going to get along terrifically, because we were going to pick an affectionate or very small new cat, and Puppy has been so lonely.
It was one of those Norman-chose-us-not-we-chose-Norman types of situations. He was the fluffiest, quietest, and calmest of the boy cats. He was a little younger than Puppy and he was in a room with a lot of other cats his size. And then there was that thing that happens where you just know. We’d told the shelter about John, and they let us take Norman home for free. I cried because I was happy. The man in the Lyft who took us home said he was terrified of cats and he thought they were “demonic.” He spent the whole ride home talking about various small dogs he’d known that had tried to steal his girlfriends.
There are a lot of approaches when it comes to bringing new cats together. I secretly didn’t really believe we needed to be so cautious, but we did the steps anyway. You’re supposed to let your old cat smell a sock that’s been with your new cat. You’re supposed to establish a “safe room” for your new cat with his own litter and his own food and water. You’re supposed to let the cats see each other across a screen. The woman who writes “The New Natural Cat” insists that you have to totally ignore the new cat and not appear to be interested in him at all. She says you can’t even bring the cage in — you have to have a stranger do it.
I wracked my brain trying to think of a stranger we knew who would carry our new cat cage inside and then hang out with us for the several hours necessary to acclimate the two cats. I couldn’t think of anyone, and besides, I didn't want to totally ignore the new cat. I liked him.
At home, we sat on the floor and tried to come up with names for Norman. (He was “the new cat” then.) I walked to the pink bookshelf and read the first names of the male authors. Norman Donaldson wrote the fattest book on the top shelf: "How Did They Die?" It’s an encyclopedia of dead celebrities that explains what they died from, what their last words were, and, sometimes, where they were buried. I bought it as a kind of macabre joke from the Maple Street bookstore on Ponce de Leon Street the day before it closed forever.
For the second time that day it was one of those Norman-chose-us things.
Puppy is terrified of Norman, and if it is aggressive to actively not care about another cat, then Norman is aggressive. He’s more obviously aggressive when Puppy comes very, very close to him. He meows long, loud meows at Puppy that probably aren't meows but are actually Secret Cat Language for, “This is my house now.” Puppy does a lot of cowering and bulging her eyes out so they get totally black and round like a cartoon cat’s. It’s three days in, and I know they are more comfortable with each other, but it seems like it’s only because they like each other less.
This was how it was with my sister, so I shouldn’t worry. I mean, I hated her and I hated my parents for putting someone I hated so much in a room two doors down from my room. And now, of course, it's different. I slept next to her on the night after Christmas and touched her hair when I had a nightmare. So there’s still hope for Puppy and Norman.
But it’s sad anyway that they don’t like each other yet, and that the internet has nothing consoling to say about that. “Sometimes it takes weeks,” the internet says, and that’s kind of consoling. But then there’s always, “And sometimes cats never become friends.” Cats aren’t humans.
Have you noticed how when it’s darker longer things feel a little loose; a little wobbly? I think humans are supposed to hibernate. I keep having to give myself permission to be a smaller, feebler iteration of the person I normally am. I am crying almost every day right now, but what are you going to do? It’s January. They should make you do your new years’ resolutions in April, when the sun is starting to stretch out. That’s a much more inspiring month for that kind of thing. Having to do a resolution in January is being asked to audition for a musical with bronchitis.
As I sit here at 5 in the morning writing a few too many metaphors (that’s just how it is with early-morning writing) Norman has come over and has decided he wants to sleep on the computer. He has his paws on the track pad and keeps trying to push his head under my typing hands. He has a cold; his nose is wet.
In the winter, I have to believe in signs or I won’t make it. I thought, “Norman won’t really be a part of this house until I make him sit still and try to get him in watercolor.” That could have been anything — “until I buy him a ceramic food dish;” “until he eats pizza with us and watches Parks and Recreation reruns;” “until Luke makes a music video about him.” But I decided on the painting because I wanted a ritual — a way to move forward.
Here are the process notes for the paintings. I like taking these pictures because it reminds me how far you can come with a thing if you give it some time and you don’t give up.
*Listen. I understand that I have somehow come to the place where I am keeping a blog entirely about cats. I don’t know how that happened — I once vowed NEVER to write about my cats unless it was an EMERGENCY. But it has happened. I’m sorry. I really am.