I stumbled upon this picture a month ago, during the beastliest summer heat. It was a funny reminder why I was so eager to leave Michigan winters behind me. Just looking at it, I can feel the frigid drafts wafting around that Victorian duplex. I know the absolute necessity of that hoodie and those two little quilts stretched over my lower half. And I can feel the relief of that warm cat resting atop my legs. I bet I was so happy when she hopped on my lap. She probably tried to lay her belly on my hands, like she always does whenever I’m writing. And I probably enjoyed that for a minute, but then scooted her down my legs so I could get back on the laptop. Over the years we’ve learned to compromise so we can enjoy the mutual benefits of body heat.
Physically, I’m a warmer-than-average creature. I remember being a little girl, trying to nap with my mom on muggy days and driving her out of the bed. “Oh Tara, I have to move. You’re too toasty!” When my best friend bought a Hypercolor t-shirt in eighth grade, I was the one who could turn it from purple to hot pink with just the lightest touch. My husband refers to my hands as “hot griddle cakes” which may or may not be something you want pressed on your body, depending on the season.
But I don’t think there was ever a time when my cat didn’t want a piece of these hot griddle cakes, which is probably why she’s always been partial to me. I’m the best radiator. She’s napped countless hours on my belly and chest, or even on my hip as I rest on my side. On warmer days she might opt instead for the “car wash,” in which I hold a hand around the top of her head and she walks back-and-forth so I can pet her from her noggin to her tail. She’s always been game for cheek rubs and gentle noogies between the ears. Sometimes she head-butts my hands until I comply, and before I really notice what’s happened, I find myself petting this creature perched on my lap. She’s a sneaky snuggler.
One of her more annoying snuggle habits is when she finds me doing a front plank hold and uses my flattened torso for her own fun version of “car wash.” Nothing like a tickling tail swatting against my abs to add a little spice to my core workout. On the other hand, I’m so grateful for every time I’ve had menstrual cramps and she laid her fuzzy, warm belly against my lower abdomen. She’s like a hot water bottle in mammal form, seeking comfort from my loving griddle cakes.
When we had a tumor removed from her belly earlier this summer, we knew the cancer would likely spread to her lungs. We watched for troubled breathing, but that never arose. It was her appetite that became a concern. Then came the limp. The night I finally decided I couldn’t put off the doctor’s visit any longer, I sobbed as she rolled on her back, exposed her belly, and let me lay my hand on the spot where they’d cut her open. The next day the vet found several more tumors in that very spot, growing toward her leg. He gave her prednisone for the inflammation, to make her more comfortable. She hid under my daughter’s bed for two days, until I started serving her CBD oil mixed with mayonnaise (her favorite treat).
I’ve never done palliative care for a creature before. The passage of time reminds me of the first few days of new parenthood, and how you’re constantly trying to read signals from this beloved little thing that cannot speak. When she was hiding under the bed all day, I couldn’t imagine allowing her to live that way much longer. But pain relief has made her more social, and now she frequently emerges from her lair in search of her snuggles. I’m heartbroken that she can’t climb upon my lap or chest anymore, but it isn’t her responsibility to comfort me. Rather I must bring to her the griddle cakes of solace.
A couple days into her CBD treatment, I set myself up for a yoga session. As I unrolled my mat, I thought of all the times she’d bugged me while I was planking and sighed wistfully for this unexpected sense of loss. She’s not that old for a cat, just eleven years; I thought she’d be irritating me with that bit for at least a few more years. But as I held my core aloft — forearms and tippy-toes to the ground — I heard the patter and drag of a four-legged limp, looked between my feet, and saw her approaching. She was determined to cause trouble. Her body wouldn’t let her crawl beneath me, so she just rested her rear paws and tail in an inconvenient spot directly beneath my knees, as if to say, “Sure would be a shame if you fell out of position, Mom. You wouldn’t want to smoosh an injured cat, would you?” As long as she’s being devilishly difficult and demanding snuggles, I know we’re not at the end of the line quite yet.