CAT-SCRATCH FEVER - My Oldest Obsession
Updated: Aug 20
I may have mentioned that I can be obsessive. Occasionally? A little. Ahem.
It all started with kitty-cats. As a little girl, I always wanted to play kitties, dress up as a kitty, have a kitty. Heck, I wanted to BE a kitty. The only one of these desires I was allowed to fulfill to my heart's content was to play kitties, provided I was playing by myself. I drove the neighborhood kids nuts with how often I wanted to do this.
I was also continually upset that my parents refused to let me have a pet. I did not want a hamster. I did not want a fish. I certainly did not want a dog. I only wanted a kitten.
When I was about four, I found a tiny orange one shivering and crying against the neighbor's fence after a storm. I was so excited! (And heartbroken for the matted, bedraggled fluffball.) My mom taught me how to wrap him up in a towel, to warm him up, dry him off, and keep myself from being clawed to shreds until Pumpkin realized that I was not a threat but his new mommy.
Alas, my mommy and daddy wouldn't let me become a cat-mommy. I cried and cried and cried when a neighbor took Pumpkin far off to the other side of town where I would never see him again. For weeks, I mourned him, and there is still the echo of a tender bruise in my cat-mom heart when I think about that kitten.
In college, the moment I moved into my own place where I was allowed to have one, I got two. Forever thereafter, until I moved into a house with a dog who was notorious for killing cats, I always had at least a pair.
The Bitor & Loco-Bunny with the Pouncies
Okay, there were those few months after The Bitor and I lost his brother, Bunny. My fanged, pure-black bestie informed me that this solitary-cat thing was absolutely unacceptable by playing NasCat Racer all night and refusing to leave me alone. So I brought Dart home and all was well. When I knew that my beloved Bitor was on his last legs, we transitioned the family with Teensie. The teensie black fluffball learned from the Big Black Badass how to be a proper black cat, and she and Dart became fast friends. There was also Mickey and Mia, the cats of my two husbands respectively. And of course, there was the first. Thumbs.
I'll tell you about my cat sagas some other time. Some of those tales gut me to this day. On occasion, they level me, because I'm obviously still obsessed with kitty-cats.
I have no less than five kitty costumes, including four different sets of ears and the Catwoman mask. (The Michelle Pfeiffer version, duh.) Although I don't identify as a true Furry, I am absolutely Fuzzy.
I purr. I hiss. I meow. I swipe. I mess with AllThingsDangly. (Except spiders. Those fuckers can fuck right off with their dangling. It's a rule in this house where they are concerned: No Dangling. You Dangle--You Die. You may only dangle outside. Just not on me. I did, however, run face-first into a very fine orby web on the patio this afternoon and was instantly transformed into a screeching, chop-saki fiend.)
But not really. Because that screech was a cat-screech, and when I get startled, I become the human equivalent of the cat shivering with claws embedded into the ceiling--one of the pitfalls of being an HSP on PTSD. In my cartoon mind, my ears go flat when I'm hissed. (That's the catly manifestation of being pissed and hissing. Also: "catly." Usually an adjective, occasionally an adverb. You need to know this one.)
When wary or feeling really awkward, I have the catly Big Eyes. Often I call them my owl-eyes, but it's the same thing. I bask in sunbeams. I love window sills that are big enough for me to curl up in. I nudge and head-butt and nuzzle in catly fashion. I even jokingly knead biscuits on the people I love, although for me it's not completely a joke. This humorous presentation lets me indulge in my quirky self-expression while making it enjoyable rather than awkward for the recipient. (Usually. Those who are immune to my humorous charms don't last long around here.)
As for big cats, one of my favorite martial stances is tiger stance. For katas, I adored Little Tiger and Stalking Panther. I mean, c'mon. I AM Little Tiger and Stalking Panther. I have also been known to be both a jaguar and a cougar. One of my troupes was named the Silky Lionesses. My favorite dragon is Toothless, due to his feline qualities. Toothless is also one of my nicknames. So is Purrrrsephone.
Kitty-cats are my longest enduring obsession.
"We don't like to use that word. We call this a 'special interest.'"
Ohhh. Great. You go ahead and do that if it blows your hair back. This is one of my many special interests, and I call them my obsessions.
🎶This is flipping awesommmme... 🎶
Other fixations come and others go. Some have more longevity and develop the complexity to qualify as my Passions, while some are flashes in the pan. For example, in elementary there were the overlapping and shifting Jana of the Jungle years, the Star Wars years, the Fox & the Hound year, the Smurf years, and the Garfield years. Garfield had a much longer run than others. (Catly--duh.) I also inherited his Cool-Eyes just like I inherited Spock's eyebrow and the Cheshire Cat's grin. (One of these things is not like...well, I dunno. Spock is kinda feline in his own way. Standoffish, direct, non-fuck-withable, quiet...except when he's not. Hmmm...) 🤔🤔🧐
Unless you've ever lived with me or you know me reeeeeally well, you probably have no idea how much cat-shenaniganry goes on inside my head. Since this is not a socially acceptable obsession like gossiping, cigarettes, beer, boobs, small-talk, and dogs--yeah, while we're at it, why are dog obsessions acceptable but cats are not?
"You don't adore dogs? You must be a horrible person!"
Then I guess I'm horrible. Because too many of them are bullies or kiss-asses with shite boundaries and invasive, nasty tongues. Gak! And the aggressive territorialism when I'm not even in your yard. And the bark-bark-barking that shell-shocks my ears. And the smell. 🤢 I can deal with dirty catbox better than the scent of freshly bathed dog. Even good dogs. Yes, even your dog that I really do like. I just...cannot do the doggie thing at close, intimate range. Extended-hand petting range? Fine. On me, in my lap, slobbering my face?
Maybe the instinctual aversion I've always had is because I'm terribly allergic to most dogs, and my ears are allergic to the piercing yap of the ones who don't give me hives and asthma.
Probably didn't help that once the neighborhood kids figured out how repulsed I was by their licking, and how scared I got by them barking, growling, jumping on me, and knocking me down--heck, the sweetie Bear next-door could knock me down just with his wagging tail--the Mean Kid Pack started sicking their dogs on me, backing me into corners with the snarling, roaring, fanged versions of themselves in my face, or chasing me down the road with a rabid asshole snapping at my heels.
"Dogs are just what they're trained to be."
Exactly. So are most kids.
Which reminds me: Just because I am not struck with the overwhelming urge to grab and hold and cuddle all human infants does not make me a horrible person either. It doesn't make me a defective female. It doesn't mean I'm an ice-hearted bitch.
It means that, unless I have a reason to nurture a personal connection with said infant, I am disinclined to put one into my close proximity. Screaming or wailing directly into my ear short-circuits my brains and puts me under the table--and that is not Dain Bramage. TBI only exacerbated that reaction. Once that happens, my stress is contagious to the baby's stress and then we have someone who does NOT wanna be in my arms. Stressing out a new little child is the last thing I want to do. That's super stressful to me.
Then we have the stenches and squirts. Just like the slobber and scent of dog, many baby-smells and textures make me want to vomit. Again, we're talking about that HSP thing. Spit-up, full diapers, non-sweet baby food--these are all squick for me. I mean, I can very efficiently and even lovingly clean it up if there's no one else around to do it, but it's not something I want in my life. If I'm really attached to the individual emitting them, then I can only tolerate it in short bursts before I just gotta go home. Alone.
And that doesn't make me a horrible person. It makes me an HSP with sensitivities to those things and preferences for others. Like kitties.
I adore specific babies and kids just like I adore specific dogs. It's all about connection where they are involved. But cats? That's where you will see me struck with an overwhelming urge to lure-scritch-cuddle-purr no matter whose cat or what kind of cat they are. I even yearn to pet the ones who would maul me.
"Ugh. Cats are so stuck-up. No wonder you like them."
What, most people don't know how to inspire cats how to play fetch? My cats played fetch. They also came racing into the room when I called them and were some of the most affectionate creatures I've ever known. I'm pretty much a cat-magnet. Probably because I speak Cat. My Bitor spent several years after my big car wreck draped over my skull or lying with four paws vibing my back--wherever I was most in pain at any given moment. He just always knew.
I'm happy you're a dog person. We need dog people. And hamster people and fish people and parrot people and plant people and tarantula people and Victorian lampshade collectors who will tolerate no live creatures in their vicinity.
I've always wished I was a dog-lover, but I'm not, so I do things like write about Persephone stealing Kerberos from Haides and growing an extra arm so all three heads can be scritched amidst the flying slobber. I give my characters overwhelming urges to cuddle babies and I make them un-squickable by squirt-licious scents and textures. I give them children to combat the maternal urges that I really do occasionally have, and I make loads of art-babies. When I don't have the right setup in my life to be a cat-mommy, then I just AM the kitty-cat.
Okay, who am I kitting? I'm always the cat. It's just a matter of if I play NasCat Racer alone or with my cronies.
Anyway, you have noooooo idea how much I confine this obsession to the colorful little place I call my mind, because it had been made clear by about second grade that cat shenanigans were cute for a four-year-old, but not by seven.
That's all right. In 1982, everything changed because THIS happened:
I might have only loved Annie's stray dog Sandy with reserve because I was as averse to the stench of wet dog as Billionaire Big-Bucks, but that did not stop me from becoming even more obsessed with Annie than I was with cats.
I know. Impossible, right? Well, I was also a writer so in my mind I tended to rewrite Sandy into Pumpkin, the stray kitten I-as-Annie had saved. So it's not that cats disappeared from my special-interest list. They just had to share space and let the redheaded orphan take the spotlight for a few years.
Something I've noticed in writing about my earliest obsessions: they were not merely my fixated interests or my inspirations for how I wanted to express myself. They were also my safe place and the way I coped with my environment.
I was one of the youngest and smallest children in both my neighborhood and in my family. As such, "Go play with the other kids," was one of the most dread-inducing sentences I ever heard. Except for Johnny, who was even younger and littler than I was, many of the other kids were intrusive, not hypersensitive, aggressive, and sometimes downright cruel. Rampant alcoholism, broken families, and child abuse will do that to kids, and our neighborhood was rife with it. Thus our children were, too.
If I hadn't been an HSP, I probably could have become bomb-proof like the kids my age who were even smaller than I was. Of course, some of them ranked among the biggest bullies, so I do thank my hypersensitive empathy, compassion, and neurological wiring for saving me from that fate.
I didn't want to be mean or aggressive any more than I wanted to be licked by dogs or hold screaming babies with full diapers, so that meant weathering the stress of being low nerd on the totem pole. To me, that was far less stressful than becoming a bully.
Pretending I was Jana's Big Scary Jaguar was one of the only ways I could feel safe enough to leave Mommy's side and venture through an overpacked room of strangers, or to make it past the pack of loud, mean, older kids and that scary dog who was taller than I was in order to get to the equally loud, mean kids my age with that ferocious ankle-biter.
If I pretended I was bigger than that dog and had both jaws and claws, I could walk and breathe (enough). If I pretended that nobody could see me as I slunk between the trees (the big kids' legs), sometimes they didn't. If I meowed, purred, and hissed, I didn't have to voice all the feelings I'd get in trouble for speaking, all the questions people wished I'd quit asking, or all the thoughts that branded me an alien. Or stuck-up. Or too-honest. Or...
Playing kitties was one of my oldest survival mechanisms.
Interesting sidenote: when I'm under extreme duress like surviving a tornado, a car wreck, or a tournament where the wind has been knocked out of me and my body is convinced it's dying, my adrenalized survival-self suddenly transforms into its most Spockly, efficient, ferociously devastating feline.
So obviously I've always loved kitty-cats, but I also needed them.
On handling your HSP kitten who has been chased by mean doggies, grabbed and flung around, roared at, and gotten lost outside in the storm:
Also. How to handle--and unfortunately how to mishandle--your PTSD-laden Sky-Bison after a cycle of cruelty, isolation, and terror. And yes, I bawl and rage every time I watch this episode...and Momo's Tale:
FYI Avatar: the Last Airbender is not a little kids' cartoon. It is Life Lessons Extraordinaire. At the moment you can see it either on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Or you can get it for your own. (Ignore the atrocious movie, please.) If I had to pick one TV show forever and ever, this would be it. (My next choice is Netflix's Sense8, and it was super close.)
All of this brings up a question I've had since I was very young: why are so many humans deeply affected by tales of animal cruelty but when we talk about our childhood traumas--those things that happened to us when we are our closest to this innocent, instinctual, reactive state--some of those same people ridicule, brush us off with eye-rolls, tell us to "get over it," and further abuse us instead of meeting us with compassion, help, and extra patience?
What would the world be like if we were all as gentle and caring as Suki upon encountering somebody whose insides resemble a pincushion and who has been terrorized by torches--whether or not they show it on the outside? What would the world be like if we all looked into each other with Guru's insight and healing touch upon the places where trust has been replaced by fear?
Some of us react to it by becoming the fire-bending circus master, the cruel dad, or the scared farmer with a pitchfork. Some of us, like me, react more like Appa and Momo.
But it's all the same thing.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: TOMORROW...MAYBE - My Obsessions with Annie, Acting, Singing & Dance
--OR: if you like tales of kitty-cats, prrrrrowlers, and the way characters and stories shape us, you might like these tales about THE SHE-ROES, VILLAINS & SIDECHICKS THAT MADE ME.
--OR: if you want to delve more into HOW I BECAME (silent), you'll learn more about why I needed to find other ways of communicating and expressing myself than speech.
SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER ABOUT TRAUMA:
5) Those of us with Highly Sensitive neurology experience sensations, emotions, and stimulatory input at a significantly higher magnitude than those without. This means that reactions to what neurotypicals experience as "a little stress" can register to us as trauma. There's not something "wrong" with us. We're not damaged. We're certainly not weak--quite the opposite. We simply have a different type of nervous system and the world isn't set up for us because we're in the minority among human populations. Some of us are in the extreme minority. Like...1-2%.