As I get older--I turn forty-one Monday--my inability to sustain a relationship grows ever more troubling. Specifically, why am I so drawn to messed-up women. My own mother said I might as well have a sign on my forehead that says "Emotionally troubled women welcome." Why is this? Is it me? Is it them?
The answer came from my cat Delmar.
Delmar is troubled. He has a scary mean streak, okay when directed at toys or stray bits of paper, but sometimes directed at me; he's ripped my flesh on numerous occasions, and I frequently show up at work with gashes on my face from where he's attacked me in my sleep. When I'm sad and I need the simple comfort a pet is supposed to provide, he usually avoids me, and sometimes is openly hostile. He has a weird yowl and frequently wakes me up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason.
He's also amazingly intelligent--for a cat--and I've watched as he's actually opened cupboard doors and put his toys away, then shut the doors behind him. And he is affectionate and even loving, but his attentions have to be earned. He's hard to read, but when he does hop on my lap and purr it feels like it has meaning.
Delmar is the coolest cat I've ever known.
He's not a blandly cute, fuzzy-wuzzy, pet me-pet me-pet me cat. He's not a fade into the background like a piece of furniture cat. He's never just there. Hell, he's barely even a pet. He's complicated. He's been in my life for nearly four years now, and I still haven't figured him out. I probably never will.
I could sleepwalk through my life. It's easy for me to let things happen, to shut myself off, emotionally, intellectually, and drift, living my life the way it's always been. Delmar won't let me do that. Engagement is necessary here. I don't own a cat, I participate in his life, and his life enriches mine.
So it is with most of the women I've dated. Whatever issues they had, they've all been living their lives on their own terms. And they've forced me to become part of their lives, to enter their madness and look at the world in new and exciting ways. They've allowed me to see that certain things that I thought mattered to me really carry very little meaning at all.
But it's tricky, because inevitably the very things that attract me to them are the things that drive me away. Their dark sides tap into my own. The nature of their lives dictates that relationships can't be sustained, so confrontations are forced, and everything falls apart.
Delmar sits on my lap as I write this, purring but glaring every time I shift my weight. He'll stay here for a few more minutes, then I'm sure he'll leave. He lives his life in my apartment, but it's his life, not mine. There's an owner-pet bond that we just don't have. We don't choose to be solitary. We just are.