It was four years ago this month that Tungsten came to live with me. She’s been my constant companion since then. We’ve seen each other every day and she’s slept at least a part of every night on my bed - summers tend to have her seek cooler resorts. How does one calculate the effect an animal under those conditions has on a person?
To be honest, it seems hard to believe that I ever lived without her. I know I did, but those days are farther away than four years. Imagine walking about the house, not worrying about where I stepped; fixing myself a sandwich without seeing an orange shape sitting, waiting for a piece of food; going to bed without feeling fur in my face or up my nose. I have a good imagination, but even it barely extends so far as to encompass such fantastic scenes.
Tungsten’s arrival was the first time that I had another living being depend on me full-time and regularly for its subsistence. Common decency demanded that I provide more than mere sustenance: comfort, even luxury, was intimated - at least by Tungsten. I was hoping for a little companion who, as the term suggests, would keep me company. What I ended up with is a friend.
It seems rather silly that an animal can be a human’s friend. But she fulfills all the qualifications. We talk to each other; it’s true that I can’t have very deep philosophical conversations with her, but how many times do human friends have them? She tells me her troubles and I tell her mine. In truth, Tungsten knows when I am feeling discouraged and reacts; she will purr and jump on my shoulders - where she feels most connected with me - and meow. When she is feeling frightened after a nightmare or anxious because she’s woken and seems to be alone, I let her know that she’s safe and secure.
Early on in our association, I began arranging my life to suit my cat. I didn’t move to a different province or get a new job, but I would worry about being home at a certain time, or not being home at all for an evening. When I returned from being out, Tungsten would meet me at the door, glad that I was home. It made me feel guilty for being away at all, but pleased that someone was there to miss me. Now, she’s more complacent.
She is not a cat to follow a person about all the time. I have Renn for that when I’m downstairs and Tucker when I’m upstairs. Tungsten knows I’m not going to leave permanently (at least not of my own volition) and is aware of my routine. When I leave for work, she is usually curled up for a snooze and often barely acknowledges my departure. Sometimes, she’ll deign to raise her head, though it’s usually because I am rubbing it, and that feels good. She has her worries, but my abandoning her is not one of them.
We are used to each other, we know each other. We know each other’s moods and schedules. I am aware that when she drinks water from the tap but doesn’t get off the bathroom counter, she’s not done. She will eat more soft-food the second time I put the bowl in front of her than the first, and more the fourth time than the third. She realizes that I will no longer get up at five o’clock in the morning to run water for her. (Yes, there are concessions I will not make for her, few though they may be.) Now, she waits until I get up, though there is also now a shallow bowl of water in the bathroom basin for her to drink out of - surreptitiously, for she doesn’t like me knowing she does that sort of thing.
I know her meows and cries, each one different, each one telling me something. She knows my tones of voice. She knows when she can keep asking and when the answer is definitely ‘no’.
I thought that I’d damaged her world when I first brought Josie to live with us. Those two fought and, though the orange one eventually came out as top-cat, I think my Chubs had the better of the combat. Tungsten had lived with other cats before and had been near the bottom of the hierarchy. She probably had bad memories, not of where she lived, but of the situation. But I’ve been lucky in that all the permanent cats in the house have deferred to her seniority. She may not like Tucker, for instance, but she tolerates his presence, because he knows she is in charge.
My world has changed fundamentally in the last four years, but so has Tungsten’s. We’ve gone from living solitary lives - mine alone in my apartment, hers among many strange cats - to having lives that depend on us, and on whom we depend. It’s rather a startling alteration, one of the biggest for either of us in our adulthoods. Who would have thought so much could come from such a tiny cat?