On separation anxiety
When my cat was a kitten, I wiggled my fingers as if they were little creatures and he’d pounce at them. He is the first cat I’ve owned and I didn’t know that this is not a good thing to do with cats. Now he associates my limbs with something to be hunted. If he wants to play or if he is frustrated, he will launch at me—sometimes in ambush from behind a half-closed door—and sink his strong, sharp claws into my flesh. The scars and constant little cuts on my hands have become embarrassing. I recently decided things needed to change. My technique has been to try and understand and respect his boundaries, desires, worldview better in the hope that in so doing he will come to respect mine. I try to refrain from picking him up or move his body from one place to another unless completely necessary. When he is grumpy and agitated, I either play with him with a toy or let him settle himself. I no longer make eye contact with him unless he initiates. Like he does early in the morning after I’ve just woken up, when he wants to reconnect, so he stares in my eyes and presses his nose against mine, walks in a small circle around my body as I stretch, and comes back and repeats it. After doing these things, he stopped attacking me almost right away. Except at night. When I start brushing my teeth, or even before, he begins to get anxious. He whines and hides underneath the sideboard in the living room, as if anticipating cruelty or embarrassed by his own fear. His little eyes flash in the darkness. Then as I’m going to bed, he will get in between me and the bedroom in the corridor and attack my legs as I’m going past, not playfully though. He’s vicious in these attacks. One night he attacked with such ferocity that I had to pull his clamped jaw off my calf with such force that I could hear his breathing become restricted under the pressure of my hand, and still he hung on. I’ve read in cat forums that I now frequently visit that this behavior, caused by intense separation anxiety, is more common in cats who were abandoned by their mothers before the age of 2 weeks, as he was, with his brothers, all but one of whom died. This is a trauma I will never really understand so instead I’ve found that the only thing to do is give him treats that he loves called Milky Hearts just before I go to sleep. “Treats” I say in a high-pitched voice after brushing my teeth. He runs to his bowl. I give him six, one by hand, and five in his bowl. As he eats them, I quickly turn out the lights and go to the bedroom. And then he faces the night alone, with all his unknowable terrors.
1. Two Girls, Fat and Thin, a novel by Mary Gaitskill.
2. The Case Against the Trauma Plot, criticism by Paul Sehgal.
3. Grief, a poem by Raymond Carver.
4. The Life of Henry Brulard, an unfinished memoir by Stendhal.
5. Three poems by Rachel Glaser.