My cat, Hathor, and I have a lot in common. We’re both morning people who enjoy waking up with the sun. We both like houseplants and watching the birds out our back window. We hate the sound of plastic bags, and are sensitive to loud noises. We both get anxious when it looks like people we love are about to leave, and we both flinch when someone moves in a way that reminds us of our ex. We both left him five years ago.
Hathor was not a companion I ended up with by choice. Five years ago, I would have said I was a dog person; I found cats rude, cold, and selfish. I wanted a companion who would love me unconditionally, not just because I fed them. Plus, I found cat people particularly difficult, and I didn’t want to be like them. John* was a cat person. He wasn’t just someone who liked cats, being a cat person was part of his identity. He saw himself as more of a panther than a house cat — a predator with killer instincts.
John and I met in high school, when I was a Sophomore Nobody and he was a Senior Somebody. No one ever paid attention to me like he did, even though his attention was hot and cold and would be gone in a flash of anger if I said the wrong thing. He felt magical and enigmatic, and I was drawn to the mystery. I saw him as the love interest in my teen fantasy novel where I, the unsuspecting heroine, would soon discover my true destiny. To him, I was just one of many girls in a massive game of cat and mouse.
John liked to control people. He did it with everyone: his friends, his family, his enemies, and his girls. He controlled us by preying on our deepest insecurities and dreams, and dangling what we thought we wanted in front of us, only to pull it back and withhold it until we gave him what he wanted.
From me, he wanted sexual control. He was constantly pushing me into sexual acts I wasn’t comfortable with. He would demand I send him nude pictures of myself, and would dictate his desires for each. As we got older and our lives more complicated, his requests would escalate. When he went off to college and couldn’t be there to do things to me himself, he demanded I go find an older man to have sex with, and record it for him to watch. I did it, because I thought this would make him love me.
He was, of course, collecting blackmail. With everything he had on me, I felt like I couldn’t say no to anything anymore. He would drop thinly veiled threats about being able to ruin my life, and what my family would think of me. In hindsight, I realize that this was an adult collecting child pornography. But I didn’t know any better at the time.
When I went to college, I went through periods where I would manage to separate from him, but, in the end, he always drew me back. He would say things like that he knew he was going to die on May 5th — so leading up to May 5th I would have nightmares about what he was going to do. Eventually, I would cave and check-in. He was always fine, but with some big dramatic story, like having just nearly survived a car crash. I knew it was lies at the time, but my curiosity brought me back time and time again. You know what they say about curiosity.
At the time, he was living in a group house in my hometown. He had adopted a beautiful Siamese cat named Loki, whom he trained to be a vicious hunter like himself. A couple of years later he got bored and adopted another cat, a girl this time, whom he named Hathor — after the Egyptian goddess of femininity.
John liked to watch the two cats fight. He would goad Loki into attacking Hathor and watch her cower in a corner and try to escape. Loki was his prince, and Hathor his punching bag. The two cats served as a microcosm of his entire worldview where males are strong warriors, and females are their helpless victims which exist solely to be conquered.
I wasn’t there for a lot of the time John and Hathor spent together, about two years total, but on my occasional visits from school I would watch this unfold. At first, I felt resentment for Hathor — why had he gone and gotten another cat anyways? He clearly didn’t even want her. I wished he would leave her alone but was too afraid to say anything. One time, I saw him kick her across the room when he got angry. I tried not to think about it, or about her, at all.
I graduated from college early in December of 2013, with no place to go. I ended up back at John’s place for a couple of months until I saved up enough money to get my own apartment. I didn’t pay for rent in cash, but I did pay for it.
A year later he decided to move to Virginia, where his family was. He mentioned he wasn’t sure if he could travel with both cats, and I saw an opportunity.
I convinced him to leave Hathor with me. “You can visit her any time, and I can send you pictures and keep you up to date on how she is!” He agreed, and suddenly this poor, abused, broken cat whom I had tried not to think about was my responsibility. I cut off all contact with him soon after that, and Hathor and I were alone together.
It was December when Hathor first arrived at my one-bedroom apartment. She was scared of everything and hid behind the couch for an entire week, sneaking out only at night to eat. It wasn’t until I set up the Christmas tree that she came out of hiding. She liked the lights and their reflections on the shiny ornaments. She abandoned the back of the couch and laid under the Christmas tree for hours at a time. I slept on the floor next to her out there in the living room for three days, hoping she would eventually learn to trust and like me — even though she had no real reason to.
Eventually, she did learn to trust me. We started sleeping on the bed rather than the floor under the Christmas tree, and five years later she has even learned to trust a new man in my life. She rubs her face on his beard and sits on his lap while he tries to work. With love and time, an abused, beaten, and anxious cat like her learned to trust again — and so did I.
And just like me, she still loves the Christmas tree.
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