I have two cats, Boris and Thomas. Or rather, to give them their proper names: Boris Badanov “Blackie” Bighead McCaffrey and Thomas “The Cat” McCaffrey.
We found Boris as a kitten when he was all meww! — cute and cuddly. Little did we know that Boris was part-Siamese and a (ahem) cat of very small brain. So Boris’ cute and cuddly grew into large and squat, his meww grew to Mreowwww! in the deep, long and not loved (by me) Siamese grate. He also grew to have just about the largest head I’ve ever seen on a cat, hence the “Boris Bighead” nickname. Boris weighs in at around 20 pounds — which makes him “some cat” (to paraphrase Ms. Charlotte of web fame). Boris is a cat of small brain. Or, perhaps because he is fed when he wants, petted (mostly) when he wants, and has his waste disposal needs conveniently taken care of, he is a genius and just doesn’t see any need to exert himself — take your pick.
Thomas was found at the pound. We had recently lost marvelous Lynx to a heart attack and my daughter was anxious of a replacement. I wanted a cat who was able to put up with anything and when I discovered that Thomas would let me turn him upside down without batting an eye, I was quite pleased and amazed. Had I been a little more alert, I would have recognized that the pound’s form describing him as “Cat, tom” was a reference to his gender rather than his name but I didn’t and he became Thomas cat, the first for many decades to bear that honorable name (for more info on his predecessor, check out Dragonholder).
Because he was a pound cat and there was something infectious that had just started going around, we could take him home but we had to keep him in isolation for the first two weeks. In practice, this meant that the poor guy was locked in the second bathroom and only had me for company when I had the free time. Thomas was naturally grateful at being rescued from the pound. I did everything I could to make him feel loved and wanted when I visited, petting him mightily in my lap. And, it turns out, he is incredibly smart and loyal. He bonded very tightly with me.
In fact, Thomas pretty much follows me wherever I go in our apartment (I’m almost fearful of what I would discover if I ever set up a camera to see what occurs when I leave). He loves curling up in my lap and shedding all over everything. He has some of the finest cat hair I’ve ever touched and, being a giving sort, leaves it pretty much everywhere. He actually loves to play fetch. His is very quiet, his meow is pure soft Tabby, and he feels it his bounden duty to keep me in top grooming — he grooms my head when there’s enough hair (and I, having memories of Berke Breathed’s Bill the Cat famous cat sweat hair restorer, take this stoically). He also has the raspiest tongue I’ve ever felt on a cat (which may explain his soft fur).
Now, I mention all this not just as a proud and doting cat owner but because Boris and Thomas are excellent examples of any number of things, most particularly of love and what it means to love.
Thomas is sweet, not over-demanding and obviously affectionate. He is loving and easy to love in return. He makes it absolutely clear that he loves me.
Boris, on the other hand, displays his affection by kneading with his sharp claws. He Mreowwws in a most unappealing manner, petting him always involves, at some point, his attempts to position his rear end in your nose (“All the better to smell you with, my dear!”) and he tends to drop his massive 20 pounds wherever he pleases. He is quite annoying, obnoxious, and demanding in his love. But for all of that, Boris never stops making his love known. And, invariably, it ends when he just can’t resist — no matter how often warned — digging his claws into the object of his affection.
He means well, it’s obvious. He’s gotten better with his claws. In fact — and quite a surprise to me — Boris has learned from watching Thomas (Thomas, for his part, views Boris as a giant chew toy). But, for all that, Boris makes it clear the true meaning of love. Because, not so much because he means to but because it’s the way he’s wired, love always ends up with a painful, clawing climax when dealing with Boris. And then he rushes off with a grating Mreoww and, sometime later, comes back and tries again. Because he loves and he’s really trying his best.
And I let him. Because I get that he loves me, I get that he’s trying to rise above his own nature, I get that he’ll fail and I get that he’ll never stop trying to show his love for me in a manner that works for the both of us — even if I understand that he probably never will.
So between Thomas and Boris I find myself looking at two very different aspects of love — one kind, caring, and undemanding; the other demanding, painful, and relentless — but both still love all the same.