It's no secret that Oscar and I have had a difficult relationship.
Adopted as a tiny kitten one Sunday morning from the Larchmont street farmers market in Hancock Park, Oscar has been with me for 9 years. He was indescribably cute and fierce in his early days, whether locking his jaws onto a feather wand like a little piranha or cuddling with an ugly doll. He used to curl up into a little ball by my neck when we were sleeping, or ride around inside my shirt when we had to go some where. To this day he still loves sleeping in my clothes.
Adolescence changed things between us. Unlike other cats I've had, Oscar and I have an unusual bond. He follows me from room to room, sits near me, and sleeps with me every night; but he generally does not like to be held. Intimate affection makes Oscar very uncomfortable. It seems I'm always trying to pet him passionately and he's always tiptoeing away from me like a coy feline, keeping himself just out of my reach. If I had paid closer attention, none of this would have come as a surprise -- Oscar has been watching me with suspicion since the beginning...
While Oscar still manages to go limp and purr if I scoop him up and immediately put him inside my shirt, every other time I pick him up panic flares in his eyes while his body goes stiff and an urgent struggle to escape ensues. This has come as a huge disappointment to both of us, creating a steep learning curve for our relationship. In full disclosure, Oscar is my second meezer; his predecessor Winston and I had something of an infatuated relationship with each other that was passionate and fiery. He would pee on anyone else he found sleeping in my bed (my mother) and wanted me to be touching him at all times. Winston left me the night I moved in with Mylo's father, and after a few months of desperate searching and grieving his disappearance, I adopted Oscar, hoping to fill a void.
But as everyone who's ever attempted to fill the void left by one relationship with a new relationship learns, it never goes according to plan. Everyone is their own special mystery, no one can ever replace anyone else.
This is not to suggest that I am dissatisfied with Oscar in anyway -- he is unequivocally the most polite cat I have ever owned. A true gentleman. Oscar is very quiet, not just for a siamese cat, but any cat. Instead of meowing, he uses psychological techniques to make his wishes known. Usually he just stares at me, critical eyes filled with emotion, reprehension, condescension:
I have often compared Oscar to Count Dracula, due to his anti-social behavior and strange habits. For many years he would sleep in my closet during the day, only to come out at night. When people came over they had no idea I had a cat and would be startled by his sudden appearances in the room. Once I started to learn about behavior intervention and began rewarding Oscar with treats every time he interacted with the world, he became less of a wall flower and started coming out during the day.
In 2014, I had a revelation in the bathtub (where all my best revelations appear). While I was soaking, Oscar came to watch the human show (humans in hot water = confounding). Sometimes he watches me take a shower too, standing on the edge of the tub, between the curtain and the clear plastic liner.... Anyway, that night I noticed him watching me from the edge of the tub, and I realized that I had never really made a committed effort to pet him on his own terms, so I held out my hand and let him come to me. As it turns out Oscar likes affection very much -- just very soft, gentle, patient strokes on the top of his body -- almost like a nerve stroke that you'd give a lover. Oscar also wants to call the shots by keeping himself at the safe distance of an arm's length away. The more I tuned in to his style of affection, the more he wanted me to touch him.
Then it occurred to me that the act of loving is a lot like this -- to really love someone you have to appreciate the other enough to learn their needs and meet them with the kind of attention they like best. If the relationship is reciprocal, then a great mutual love is possible, in which both parties feel "loved" and the giving of this love to each other is its own gift. This may be obvious to some, but it came as quite an epiphany to me that day because though I've had the experience of being "in love," I had never loved someone with this sort of attuned awareness. The lessons Mylo has taught me have been of the same order.
Oscar has been great with Mylo. He was present in the room when Oscar was born, so I think he has primal understanding of our parent-child relationship. Oscar also seems to have a sort of protectiveness of Mylo, often wanting to be in the room with Mylo when he is asleep, even preferring this watchful post over the one he likes to take by my feet. During the day, Oscar darts in the other direction when he sees Mylo coming, or simply freezes until he releases him from his grasp...
... which makes it very clear that Oscar likes us best when we are asleep and motionless. I cannot tell you how many nights I have woken up to Oscar curled in a ball upon my chest, purring with wild abandon, only to have him slink away as soon as he knows I am awake.
Aloof though he may be, Oscar is not without empathy. On countless occasions Oscar has come to comfort me in a moment of need, nourishing my emotional state with tender curiosity. While he hovers and observes me with interest, sometimes he will touch me with his paw. One paw, that is all.
As any pet owner will tell you, the companionship of an animal provides a solid source of support; despite the language barrier, animals commune with other beings at the level of existence -- as if to say, "I am here with you. I am alive too. The struggle is real." Oscar is someone in my life who I can always count on to be furry. A feline guardian watching over me. When my sister died suddenly in 2014, Oscar was there for me in my moment of need (along with my childhood bestie April Mercedes Hart Garcia).
Oscar has another strange tactic that I haven't quite figured out: he likes to put himself in the foot path; whether by running directly under moving legs or placing himself like a furry stone to trip and stumble over on the floor. People often stop and comment on his placement, and pet him in consolation for nearly punting him across the room. Lately I have begun to wonder if it isn't intentional -- like, maybe he enjoys this conciliatory form of attention?
Oscar is 9 years old now, and my constant companion when I am at home. He is almost always in the same room with me, sitting about a limbs length away, or snuggled against my legs when I am reclined. Even as I write these words, he is close at foot. In the last two years, we've made tremendous progress in our relationship, as he now will jump into my lap while I am awake! These moments feel hard won and as fleeting as a butterfly. For months I subjected Oscar to affection followed immediately by kitty treats in order to encourage this behavior. The kitty treats have stopped, but nevertheless now he occasionally jumps into my lap, and lately I've felt he's been getting as much out of it as I have.
During these encounters I have to sit very still, and I have to pet him softly and very carefully. If I don't pet him enough, he gets annoyed and leaves. But if I pet him too firmly he can't help but bristle. Occasionally he will bite my hand as a sort of a self-defense reflex, which seems to surprise both of us. Twitching and unnerved, he slinks away in a state of inner conflict, retreating to a safe distance to compose himself before returning to my side. He seems to especially enjoy it when I pet him with my feet -- maybe because he knows I cannot pick him up with them.
About once every year and a half or so, Oscar will crawl under the covers and have an affair with me -- purring madly he snuggles up against my body and lets me run my fingers through his soft furry fur, even letting me pet his belly. The next day, it's suspicion and business as usual; but during such moments of rare intimacy, I try to snap a picture as proof that I didn't imagine it!
What do other's say about Oscar?
I didn't think you had a cat!
“I saw something furry on the bed, but it was so still I didn't think it was a live animal. Out of the corner of my eye I saw it twitch. I turned to get a closer look, but before I saw it was gone!”
— Latoya, OT
He doesn't bark!
“He goes anywhere in the house an irreverently, unapologetically, he finds a place to lay down and rest… He's like a dog, but he doesn't bark!”
—H.B., Speech Therapist
He did the weirdest thing…
“He wanted me to pet him, so I did. But I guess I wasn't doing it right because after a minute he stormed off and frantically scratched his basket. I’ve never seen a cat do that before.”
— Liz, ABA Therapist