My Relationships with Women and Cats

Read about one author’s intertwining relationships between women and cats.

| March 2013

Imagine that the two loves of your life are both creatures who you fervently aim to please but continually disappoint. One is your temperamental cat; the other is your unpredictably moody wife, who has made it clear you are the source of her unhappiness. In Another Insane Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons (Da Capo Press, 2012), author Peter Trachtenberg frames his turbulent love affairs with both wife and cat with loss. In telling the story of this dual crisis and the search that ensues from it, Trachtenberg explores the mysteries of relationship, both human and animal. Trachtenberg revisits past love affairs, with both women and cats, in this excerpt from chapter 1. 

I first saw her a week or two after some friends had rescued her from the woods across from their house, a small, matted thing hunched miserably on a tree branch in the rain while their dogs milled and snapped below. She was very sick with a respiratory infection, and for a while they didn’t think she’d make it. By the time I came over to the barn where they were keeping her, she was stronger, but her face was still black with caked-on snot. I sat down on the floor beside her, and the little ginger cat rubbed against me and a moment later clasped my hand between her forepaws and began licking it. It wasn’t the grateful licking of a dog; it was proprietary and businesslike, the rasp of her tongue almost painful. She was claiming me.

F. and I named her Biscuit after the color of her fur. She never completely got over the respiratory infection. Even in total darkness, you could tell she’d entered the room because of the snuffling, a sound like a small whisk broom briskly sweeping. Every few months she’d start sneezing with increasing viscid productivity until it got so gross we had to take her to the vet, which she didn’t mind—she’d stroll into her carrier as if it were the first-class compartment of an airliner—and put her on antibiotics, which she did. She hated being pilled and would buck and spit and slash until you got the message. You can see the scars she left on my forearm. Once, when we were still living in the village, Biscuit wandered into a neighbor’s garage and came back with half her muzzle and one forepaw white with paint. Three people had to hold her down while a fourth shaved off the painted-on fur so she wouldn’t be poisoned while trying to clean herself. It was the angriest I ever saw her. But only a few hours later, she slid into bed with us, snuffling and purring.

This was our marriage bed, my wife’s and mine. In it, we had made love; we had quarreled; we had exchanged secrets the way children exchange trading cards. (When I was a kid, these were mostly of baseball players, but there are now cards for WWF Superstars, Star Wars characters, and the members of England’s royal wedding. Wilfredo, the boy who used to visit us in the summer, had decks of Japanese anime figures.) We had sat up reading by lamplight while the world slept, sometimes silently, sometimes aloud to each other. During the early years of our marriage, the books we read included Charlotte’s Web, Oliver Twist, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and the entire Lord of the Rings, which aged us like grief. We did the voices of all the characters: guileless, bumptious Wilbur; manly Oswald, bluff as a little Winston Churchill; Templeton rubbing his hands—or I guess his paws—together in anticipation of an all-you-can-eat buffet of purulent midway garbage; unctuous Fagin, his ill will barely concealed by a façade of mocking courtliness; hissing, sniveling Gollum.

Lately we don’t read to each other much.