I’m sorry but I’m going to write about my cat again. Last time I concluded that if I could just improve myself, become a more generous interpreter of his needs, respect his boundaries, then we could cohabit without friction. I was wrong. His violence, I’ve learned, is his attempt to control me. He attacks as a way of demanding something, or more commonly, to stop me from doing something that annoys him. He doesn’t like it when I watch TV at night because it forestalls feeding time. The other night he leapt up and dug his claws into my ankle as I watched an episode of Euphoria. I pulled him off so he dug his teeth deep into the webbing between thumb and forefinger.
The next morning I searched: “aggressive cat behavior”, “why does my cat attack me without warning”, “my cat tries to control me through violence”. I found an article written by a man named Dr. Dodman, a “cat behaviorist” and author who has written books including The Cat Who Cried for Help and If Only They Could Speak. He proposes that there are certain cats that are “natural leaders”, who “refuse to be led and attempt to take charge of practically every situation”, who “rebel when admonished”, and who, when they don’t get their own way, “bully and pressure you into immediate action.” These are “alpha cats” and the only way to deal with such cats is to dominate them in turn—to show them you control almost every aspect of their life and that “nothing in life is free,” as Dodman puts it. As I read the article I felt the shock of recognition and then a small heartbreak. I realized that fixing our relationship would require seeing him in a new way (an enemy that I love). And I would need to come to terms with how he sees me (an obstacle to his desires).
In my resistance to accepting the truth about my cat I was reminded of an article I recently read while researching an essay I’m working on about the midlife crisis. The article was published in the 1960s by a psychoanalyst who first defined the midlife crisis as an event coinciding with the full adult engagement with death, decay, and evil. He describes a patient whose life was thrown into crisis at the age of 37 after his adolescent son violently attacked his wife. Beforehand, the man was uncritically grateful about his life. He nurtured only the “good” parts of himself and believed everyone in his life to be essentially good, too. If they displayed bad behavior, it was because he had in some way failed to extend to them a type of care and love and generosity that might enable them to flourish. The son’s violence destroyed these illusions. The man was forced to confront an essential ambivalence about his love for his own son, how he loved him but also hated and feared him, and maybe always had. He fell into a profound depression. Suddenly, he could see no good in anything. Only falseness and fear and evil. The therapist tried to help him see that he had, in his need for everything to be good, split apart love and hate, life and death, instead of seeing them as inseparable.
The following evening, again watching Euphoria, my cat sat in the armchair opposite and looked at me with intense fury. I took a picture and posted it to Instagram. “Any advice on how to dominate an alpha cat?” I asked. One person wrote back: “if you have to ask, you are the beta. The sooner you accept this fact of life the better.” Another person wrote that cats are by nature evil creatures with little capacity for genuine attachment. The evidence, she said, is that when a cat’s owner dies it doesn’t take very long before the cat eats the body. I read the message on Instagram while lying on my side in bed and wondered to myself, but what would you do if you were a cat, hungry and alone? There is something awful about this image of being devoured by your cat, but tender, almost loving, too. I would finally by fulfilling his needs, finally able to give him precisely what he most desires.
1. Black Venus Fly Trap, poetry by Jeanetta Rich
2. Selected Cronicas, by Clarice Lispector
3. I Feel It, a story by Paul Dalla Rosa
4. Art Scene: Melbourne, criticism by George Egerton-Warburton