Today is Bess' birthday. She is ten. That's a pretty long time to have been around. The day I turned ten (which was longer ago than I care to reveal here), I received a red ten-speed bike from my grandma, got mugged for some of my leftover birthday cupcakes in the stairwell at school and felt as though I had passed into some wondrous new metaphysical realm: double digits.
I'm not actually sure if today is the actual anniversary of Bess' birth. The auspicious September day we met and fell in love at first sight, the volunteer at the Chicago Anti-Cruelty Society informed me that she was four months old, so I just counted back to May.
The following summer, hiding out in a local bookstore to avoid the heat, I found myself reading a book on cat astrology (I had no air-conditioning, which makes a woman kind of desperate, all right?) which revealed that though the birthday I had given Bess made her a Gemini, her personality was really more like that of a Taurus: not fickle and indecisive, but calm and unflappable and very, very fond of sleeping. (Though she does rouse herself to kill the occasional roach every now and then, for which I praise her lavishly.)
Moreover, Taurus cats and Virgo humans are said to make quite a harmonious pair. Gemini cats and Virgo humans do not.
But by then Bess had already had a birthday, and I had made a very big deal about it, and since Taurus cats are bound by routine, it seemed silly to introduce such a big change.
The sad fact of the matter, though, is that Bess is generally indifferent to birthdays. If I give her wet cat food for dinner, she will eat it appreciatively. If I buy her presents, she will accept them graciously and then, particularly if they are little toys shaped like mice, promptly lose them under the couch. But if I sing to her or tell her what a big girl she's getting to be, she will just look at me quizzically and run away.
Abandonment Time happens when I am gone for four days or longer, when I need to pass on the responsibility of feeding Bess to someone else. Around Day 5 AT, Bess becomes fretful and paranoid. She snaps at her visitors and glares at them menacingly, as though they are responsible for my sudden disappearance. Then she grows quiet, clearly plotting vengeance.
When I return, she berates me for several hours and then worries excessively. I am not allowed to leave her sight, and if I sleep too long, she wakes me up to make sure I'm not dead. This is always a difficult period for both of us.
Two weeks ago, I had to leave town abruptly to go to a funeral. One moment, Bess and I were napping together happily, then the phone rang and then I was gone for 8 days AT. I came back with a bag of Evanger's and a long explanation, but it was no good. It would not be that easy to buy her forgiveness.
Fortunately, her birthday was coming, a time for happiness and reconciliation. And her tenth! (In cat years, this would make her 56, which is not quite as auspicious a number, but whatever.) Obviously the occasion called for a major blowout. It was not a time for experimentation. It was a time for the cat equivalent of chocolate cake: something reliably and comfortingly delicious, though obviously not chocolate because cats are severely allergic.
Google was once again efficient and helpful and produced a recipe for cat birthday cake, which I modified slightly: Savory Salmon Fancy Feast atop a puddle of Nutro MAX Cat Gourmet Classics Senior Whitefish & Crab Platter. It even looked sort of cake-like.
But later, as we were sitting on the couch and I was petting her, she let loose with a terrible "Rawwwwll" and bit my arm and then slapped me for good measure.
I had just read her her latest horoscope: "You model your life after David Hasselhoff, leading to a complete nervous breakdown." Clearly she did not find it as amusing as I did.
And, clearly, the process of forgiveness in cats moves at a far more glacial pace than I had anticipated and definitely something not to be taken for granted. And so I must feel, quite literally, the pain of Abandonment Time.