-for K.B. and her cats
This is the first disappointment: We learn that the kitten stays a kitten only as long as the summer lasts. Other things befall us, worse things, but it is the appearance of a full grown cat that stings the longest: We see a creature of pure joy become one of disinterested lethargy. Some say that kittens sleep nineteen hours a day, but they always appear to be in motion. The cats they become move only to evade you, and they insistently sleep in your field of view. This, at least, is how it feels when you are a child. This is how it feels when you first lose a friend.
How many of us spend our lives reenacting this small trauma? In romances that spoil, jobs that turn sour, parties that go dark. In all these things and more, we once again watch the kitten become a cat. Each time, we tell ourselves that we have lost something, but the unbearable truth is that we have gained too much: Call it a sense of texture – a more specific understanding of that which we once merely loved.
Roland Barthes claims that the word “adorable” names the inarticulate excess of every love and every desire. When something makes us happy and we don’t know why, we announce that it is adorable. Tautological from the start, “adorable” can only describe itself. The adorable, Barthes writes, is what is adorable. And what could be more adorable than the kitten? Why do we love the kitten? Because it is the kitten.
The kitten is that which is not yet formed, that which we do not yet know. We do not yet know it because it is not yet formed, which is to say we do not want it to grow. I have known what it is to know that something still shapeless is growing. I have also known what it is to adore such a thing: Three weeks after my thyroid cancer diagnosis, I came home from a trip to the West to meet a kinder unknown. He emerged from behind the couch as I set my bags down, such a small thing that I could have held him in the palm of my hand. His eyes were as huge as they were empty, and I loved him for them.
For three days, the kitten danced as I wrote. While I lost myself in anticipation, he chased phantoms around the living room, outpacing his tomorrow and mine. Someone said, Tell him that he is not allowed to get any bigger. Like children, we dreamed that he might not. Like children, we pretended he was not taking shape before us every day.
When I returned from the hospital, he would sometimes launch himself onto my chest to paw at my neck as I rested. Teething, he took to nipping at my fingers and nose. Irritated, I would groggily swat him out of the way. Inevitably, he would move to the coffee table to plunge his face into the copper mugs of water I kept close. He is not drinking, Catherine said, watching him. He just likes to dunk his face in there. We were coming to know the kitten a little more each day. Or maybe this: Maybe the kitten was becoming something we could know. Still, his fur was soft, and seemingly thicker than he was. If he was growing beneath it, we could not tell.
When we speak of loss, we mean that something has gone missing, and usually it has. But sometimes we lose what we have loved because it is surrounded by something else, by a knowledge that spreads like moss on an aging tree. As the kitten becomes a cat, we must remember that we do not love it any less, we simply know it a little better.
The kitten is resting on my lap as I write these words, purring out a lullaby. Our mid-August sun is setting. He will be a cat soon.