I started to feel like I was living two different lives: One as the committed mom and one as the jet-setting photographer, all the while seriously doubting I was doing either well.
My boyfriend has a kind of jealous look in his eye whenever he sees the background photo on my phone. His background is a picture of me, blonde hair lit up by sunlight, taken at a mini-golf course in North Carolina. Mine isn't a picture of him and he knows it may never be; it's a picture of my cat. He knows that he'll always play second fiddle to her, though he begrudgingly accepts it.
This is to all of my boyfriends, girlfriends, and partners; past, present, and future. To anyone that will demand my love to be undivided and unconditional. It is as the headline reads: I will never love you as much as I love my cat.
I do love people, sometimes too much, and sometimes even if it kills me. I've loved until it broke my heart, and then spent years trying to forget what that level of devotion felt like. The humans that I've loved are intense, sometimes cruel, and always complicated. They take all of my energy and they leave me questioning myself.
After I love one of my humans, I'll always question if they love me back. Even if they give me everything, I'll never be able to know for sure; humans lie, and humans fabricate, and humans convince themselves of what they want to believe. My insecurities are often unfounded, but are never totally out of the realm of possibility. I examine human flaws through my own, and I have enough to make me lose faith in others. I am just like the humans I love: unnecessarily complicated, manipulative, and cruel.
But never my cat.
Her name is Suki, and we have the same color eyes, bright blue. Sometimes she walks up to me while I'm in the bathroom and meows before running a circle around the room. She comes back to meow again and her tail sticks up. My mother says she must be hungry, but I know she just wants me to pick her up. When I finally do, she purrs loud enough to be heard on the other side of the room, and she latches her front claws into my shirt at the shoulder. If I try to put her down, she just pulls herself closer again.
My dad gets annoyed if she does this to him (though she does tend to do it to him somewhere around 6 a.m. every morning). But when I'm subjected to it, I always feel very flattered. Cats are notoriously indifferent to human affection, and to think that she'd search me out just so I could hold her makes my day a little better.
Suki never has any trouble expressing her need for affection and attention. She is always transparent and confident.
She slips into my room somewhere around 11 p.m. every night, jumps onto my twin bed, and stares at me until I make room for her to curl up next to me. She always sleeps on my right side, always facing me, totally trustful in my arms.
I talk to her before I fall asleep, sometimes telling her about my day, sometimes just babbling in high-pitched baby-voice nonsense about how cute her little whiskers are.
Most of the time, I cry to her. I cry, and I talk about how scared I am that everyone I trust is going to leave me when I need them the most. I tell her that I'm scared for my mother's health after all the pills she's been taking, and how I feel that my boyfriend of three years doesn't love me anymore because I'm such an anxious mess. I tell her about how terrible I feel that I somehow don't have a full-time job yet, that I'll never be the famous writer I dreamed I'd already be by now. Sometimes I don't talk. Sometimes I just weep.
Suki only blinks at me and stretches her back paws closer. The pink pads under her toes are cold against my stomach in the winter. She never breaks eye contact, instead she just blinks at me while I cry to her.
My cat's brain is at most the size of a walnut, so I know that she doesn't understand anything I say. But there's something sympathetic in the way she gently purrs when she watches me. She never looks anywhere other than my eyes.
The way she looks at me feels like someone who's rubbing my back and telling me that everything will be okay. It's a silent communication that she loves me — unconditionally, unwavering, without question and without hesitation.
Suki loves me only in the way that a cat can love their human. She loves me innocently and fully. My insecurities don't scare her, my flaws don't make her think less of me, and my fears never tire her out. That's because she'll never understand any of them, and she will never need to. To her, I'm just a big, strange, leaky human that she likes to curl up next to at night. That's the simplest form of love.
Every time I think about how short her life is and how old she's getting, I start to feel dread like a knot in my stomach. I know I'm going to outlive her, because that's a fact of life. But I know that when I lose her, I'm going to lose a part of myself that I still haven't learned to retain. With my cat is the only connection I have that I know will be with us until death. There's no fear that she'll lose interest, and no possibility for me to mess it up with my flaws. She doesn't hurt me, intentionally or not, and she will always be there when I'm in the bathroom trying to brush my teeth, unabashedly demanding to be picked up.
I will never love a human as much as I love my cat; never in the same way, never at the same intensity, and never without the fear of being left behind. I love my cat because she loves me in a way that none of my humans ever can.