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  • "We have had forbidden conversation; we have had oral intercourse; we are bound in telling story upon story with nothing but the facts. We are training each other in acts of communication we barely understand. We are, constitutively, companion species. We make each other up, in the flesh. Significantly other to each other, in specific difference, we signify in the flesh a nasty developmental infection called love." ~ Donna Haraway, Notes of a Sports Writer's Daughter

    He was your classic grey tabby with the characteristic "M" on his forehead. He behaved in many ways like any other house cats---aloof and noble--enjoying the languor of watching the world through the window, warmed by the afternoon sun. He would let me sprawl out next to him and seemed to enjoy my silent and still presence as I observed his catness. An outsider wouldn't have recognized the tacit communication taking place between girl and cat. But for me and Bud, the knowing gazes passed back and forth was a significant ritual, connecting human and animal. There was an understanding we shared, an acceptance of the other in this particular space.

    Bud was my first love. My first experience of feeling the warmth and an affection for another spill over. And because it was the first time I felt a significant connection to another being made it unique even though everything about it--a grey tabby, a young girl in love with her cat--would later seem like it was taken from a stock script, a generic story arch. But for me, it was discovering the purest form of affection without yet knowing the burden of indebtedness that tends to drag down human love affairs. We didn't owe each other anything for stealing these moments of contentment on lazy afternoons. This simplicity was lost as I got older and outgrew the worldview of a little girl.

    My parents would like to tell their friends the cute stories about me and "my cat." They relished the profound insight of me as a six year-old when asked why the family cat would seemingly obediently follow me to bed: I would respond, "I don't command him, I invite him." And so he would accept my invitation as I would send my catspeak gaze across the TV room when I would get up and excuse myself for bed. He would rise and stretch while I waited by the stairs.

    Looking back, I now see why my parents found this point-of-view from a child so profound. Expectations for adult relationships often assumes that they are complicated--many coming of age films relish this theme. But why do we have to add complicated layers to simple affection and love? It isn't enough to find joy in taking a moment to enjoy a shared pleasure--like laying in the warm sun--and then allowing the other to go on being the other. As a child I was curious what the world through Bud's eyes was like. But I also enjoyed maintaining the mystery of our separate existences--he would disappear for hours outside and when he would return I never asked where he had been or what he was up to. I wanted less to impose my ownership on Bud than I wanted to make sure I didn't behave in a way that would limit his independence. (If only I took this to hear in my adult relationships). I longed to be autonomous, self-sufficient, and go bravely face the outside world and it was exciting to imagine the freedom couched in the protected life of a suburban house cat.

    And as I gained my own freedom and sense of self in my teenage years, the fascination with my cat's life began to wane and his domesti-cat life got smaller in my eyes while my world was getting bigger. My friends started getting their driver's licenses and we would go "places." We would drive around on warm summer nights with the windows down and I would lean back in the passenger seat with my eyes closed as the warm breeze kissed my cheeks. My new love. It felt like freedom.

    On the weekends I stopped having the patience to sprawl out next to bud. He would curl up on the couch in the living room without me. I never thought that he missed my companionship; it never occurred to me, probably because I stopped believing that it was possible for an animal and human to share affection. I was now too practical for that kind of thing.

    Reflecting on my past opportunities at love, from my first boyfriend in high school to the tumultuous affairs in college, I realize that I knew better what love was when I was six than when I was sixteen or twenty-six. Coming to this realization is like the moment in the Wizard of Oz when Glinda helps Dorothy go home simply by telling her that she always had the power to go home, she just had to believe in it.

    Bud, of course, has since died and I no longer consider myself a "pet person." But looking at this picture of me, on the cusp of my teenage years, filled with affection and adoration for my love, my cat, I am reminded that it has always been up to me to believe in the possibility for sharing in a pure and simple love with another. This story then, I suppose, isn't about my first love; rather, it is about my first blush with coming to know love.
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