I have a veiled ceiling in my bedroom, it makes me feel like I live in a harem. I also live out in the country in a converted barn. There are lots of drafts, and lots of mice, spiders, cats, squirrels, toads and birds that find there way into my house. About six months ago, while lying in bed, I heard a stirring in the fabric swagged across my ceiling. I figured that some mice had found their way in and that it was time for me to set some traps.
After a few days of this stirring happening at night, something literally fell down onto my bed through a part in the draping overhead; it was a little black kitten. As soon as the kitten, well, she was more like a teenager, fell into my room, I kicked her out. Now this routine went on for a few weeks. She would find her way into the draping on my ceiling through a vent or something, fall onto my bed and then I would kick her out.
Finally one day, when I was very sick, she fell down and I let her stay. She cuddled me on the bed and I was comforted by her. I’m not a cat person, but she had the kind of personality that you normally find in a dog. She can just lay there all day snuggling you and pretty much not make a nuisance of herself. I started to fall in love with her. I thought she was the perfect kitty.
I noticed that she starting to get fat, and quickly figured out that she was pregnant. I named her Madonna. She had her kittens on Mother’s Day and they were sweet and healthy.
Then a few months ago, Madonna got into a fight and the skin and fur on the lower part of her face was ripped off. No one could figure out what had happened. I’d never seen anything like it. I took her to the vet, they gave her antibiotics and she was sent home for us to wait and see.
I caught myself caught. The cat wanted attention, but I was repulsed by her and found it hard to forgive it. I didn’t want her in my room, her hanging flap of fur dragging across my things or rubbing up against my leg. Yet, Madonna couldn’t possibly understand why she was being turned out all of the time, why she was being ignored when all the animals would gather around me at feeding time to get petted.
Her face healed, though now she is permanently disfigured.
Maybe I’m turning into Colette, but watching my little kitty had given me pause for reflection.
I find it more difficult to pet her now. Her face looks weird and in some way it frightens me. Maybe its hardwired into us, maybe its biology that makes it so that we are immediately repulsed by injury or deformity, that it’s in our nature to turn away from any display of genetic error or physical weakness.
If we were part of a nomadic tribe, would I be thinking to abandon her because she is showing signs that I’ll have to care for her, that she won’t be able to pull her own weight?
Is it native, or is it more of a social thing? Did I always find insects repugnant, or was that something I learned over time. When I was eight or nine and couldn’t keep pets in the section 8 housing complexes we were always shifting around in, I would collect snails in jars. I was obsessed with their soft bodies. the eyes at the end of the barbel stalks that sprout from their tiny heads. Even the weird smell of their shells.
I watch Madonna now, with her weird healed face. I can pet her. She can even rub her naked jaw against my hand and lick my fingers and I don’t mind. I watch her, I watch the way that she conducts herself as she always has, like the cat she’s always been. It seems she doesn’t even notice that her face is now different. There is no adaption in her behavior for the way the tiny pink ribbon tip of her tongue always sticks out of her maw.
It reminds me of the time I was on the beach in Honolulu watching a little girl with deformed legs, they were short and folded in on themselves in an odd way that preempted walking. She was building a sand castle, and she was no more than three or four. Too young to know that her deformity was anything to be self-conscious of, any cause of discomfort in others, any thing that warranted her attention.
I looked around and saw that many other grown-ups were staring at her too. We were all looking, all repelled and compelled at the same time. I could see it in their faces like mirrors. I think we were all full of that weird sorrow, knowing that some day this blissful time, this precious ignorant moment of innocence would end.
It’s weird. We are taught to never notice mutations, illness, disfigurements. We are told this is the polite thing to do, but sometimes it feels like a more insidious and primitive thing. We turn our backs, because instead of ignoring the “handicap,” we tend to ignore the person altogether.
They become invisible.