I have a loving husband and thought I was secure. Then a cat came into my life

Philippa Perry on her struggle with total devotion to her cat, Kevin

Pets can highlight your mental health issues. Ask my late dad how he was, he would tell you, Fine. If you wanted more information, it was best to ask him how the dog was. Oh, the dog is depressed. My dad was doing what Freud described as projection. This is when you split off a part of you that is too shameful for you to own and project it on to someone else and you believe your stuff is their stuff. My father could not own his vulnerability, but he could dump it on his dog. I hope I would be far too self-aware to project on to my pet. Id hate to think I was that dotty, but the magazine has just asked if they can send a photographer round. Kevin isnt too keen on photos, I said.

Our cat Kevin had been a stray and came to us from Battersea two years ago when he was around six months old. His body was the size of a can of extra-strong lager. That tubular torso would press against me all night, sometimes stretched alongside me, sometimes curled up in my armpit. In the evening, he would start on a lap but his thin body would elongate itself from your ankles to your thighs like a furry tube. He was playful, affectionate and excellent at being a cat.

We followed the Battersea instructions of keeping him indoors for a month and then only let him out accompanied until he knew where to come back to. When he was ready for unaccompanied roaming, I tried to get a collar on him, but however tight I made it, he could spring it off. Even if he left the house with a collar on, he came back without it. Then one day he did not come back at all. The first time he went missing, he turned up at the Blacksmith and the Toffee Maker, a gastro pub half a mile from our house. He was returned to us swiftly by the landlord, who had taken him to the vet to get his microchip read. Getting Kevin microchipped was a very good idea. My fantasy is that he had chased the pubs resident cat all the way home and then did not know how to get back.

How to describe how you fall in love with a cat? First, the softness of their fur and their choice of your ankles to rub around makes you melt a bit. Secondly, you get used to their presence in your home and come to rely on it for company; and thirdly I think we project our love for ourselves on to our animals and believe it is coming back our way. I like to think Kevin really does love me. Whether he does or not, I love him. For most of my adult life I have lived with a cat, sometimes two, and once I lived with three. I came to appreciate their individual characters and the different ways they kept me company, amused and comforted. But my love for Kevin seems more intense.

There is a type of interaction adopted by cults and abusers when they want total devotion from you, called intermittent positive reinforcement. They start the relationship by heaping praise and appreciations on to you and then gradually begin to mock you, or ignore you, or dish out other types of cruelty so you try harder to win back that approval that you became addicted to. Kevin, having got me smitten, now occasionally ignored me, or bit me if his food bowl got as low as half-empty. Oh, sorry Kevin, Id say, and do his bidding. People who are susceptible to intermittent positive reinforcement tend to be those who have an insecure attachment style. This means they feel insecure in their relationships and compelled to work extra hard at adapting, being too nice or too paranoid, and check up on their significant other as they cannot assume, like a secure person does, that their partner will not stray.

I have been in a loving and stable relationship for 30 years I believed myself cured; thought I was now secure. My unhappy youth, when romantic attachment was about the pain of longing rather than the joy of love, was, I thought, truly behind me, yet Kevin had reignited the feeling of longing.

Philippa
Kevin reignited the feeling of longing. Photograph: Pal Hansen for the Observer

After the pub incident, I tended to check up on Kevin more. If he had owned a mobile phone, I would have broken into it. I followed him about. I may have scared away the wildlife he was stalking and he may have got irritated with me. People with an insecure attachment style can be annoying. He strayed again, this time he got himself stuck in a rear light well the other side of the square and was not discovered for two nights. His absences made me long for him more.

Kevin loved it when we went to the country. We followed the Battersea code again of not letting him out alone until he knew where to come back and where his food was and all was good. Well, it was fine for me not so much for the local rodent population but I love Kevin so much that even watching him crunch up the heads of mice, upsetting though it is, is wonderful because I am in his presence. Those with an insecure attachment style can feel they are nothing without their love object. I overheard my husband telling someone, Philippas mental health depends on where the cat is. He was probably not projecting either.

My daughter had taken a weeks holiday to spend with me in the country. On the morning of her arrival Kevin had still not returned from a night out. We were supposed to be enjoying a time of picnics, bike rides and swims but here was I miserable and ruining my daughters break. She and I asked everyone within a miles radius but no one had seen him. There was only one house we did not visit because the owners were on holiday. They came back the day my daughter was leaving. When they opened their front door, a speedy Kevin shot out and came straight back home. He was remarkably fit after his week living off flies and toilet water but I was a wreck. Next time, I told myself, I wont worry: a difficult resolution to keep because when he sees an open door he shoots through it into anyones house, shed or car. I have a dread of supermarket delivery vans those are his favourite.

A year later, hes missing again in London. I go to the pub, they havent seen him. I trudge about calling him. Days pass, nothing. My entire life is Operation Kevin. We tweet about his disappearance and the London Evening Standard picks it up. Hes on the front page (slow news day); I do posters; house-to-house enquiries; leaflets through letterboxes. Eventually the phone rings. Kevin had been spotted, stuck on a flat roof by someone who had a leaflet put through her door who had not realised he was trapped. I wept with relief. On getting him home we saw he had a nasty bite on his tail and required antibiotics for that to heal. Keep him in for a week, said Dale, our vet. Music to my ears. I hoped Stockholm syndrome would make Kevin love me. Stockholm syndrome is where a hostage develops a bond with their captor. Humans are pack animals and naturally create attachments and they may do it with whoever is around even when that someone is holding them prisoner.

Perhaps Stockholm syndrome is relevant to cats as well. To some extent, it seems to work: I am the recipient of many friendly head butts and sitting-on-lap sessions during his captivity. Can I keep him in for ever? I asked Dale when it was time for a check-up. That would be cruel, I am told. He is a wild animal that chooses to live with you. So Mr Kinky Tail, aka Bonzo Boots, aka Kevin (one cat can attract a lot of names) once more roams free.

Since the flat-roof episode, he has been relatively good. It is not that he is a reformed character, he will still make a dash for any open door. But Im delighted because in the night it is me he chooses to wake up so that I can admire his latest kill; it is my feet he wants to practise his biting on, and its my lap he needs to stretch out his tube-like body on when he is soaking wet. I weaned myself off indifferent men in my 20s and found a loving one, but a cat I adore whose affection and approval I must work for is a force I cannot resist. Now if youll excuse me, I must get the chicken livers to room temperature in case he comes home for lunch.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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