Out of the frozen battleground of divorce, détente and a revitalized friendship emerged between my ex-wife and me, thanks to Max the cat.
Divorce is never fun and is most often an endless exercise in pain tolerance and concealment. If anyone tells you otherwise, don’t believe them. They either had no real love to begin with, possess little self-awareness, or are masters at suppressing their feelings and great at living in self-denial.
What we all find out at some point — those of us who have gone through this growth and survival experience — is that in the medium to long run, all this negative energy is a colossal waste of time. Hate, anger and diminishing the other may give one immediate and temporary satisfaction, but ultimately and unavoidably it turns into a cancer that infects and destroys you. Important to remember that more often than not, the other person has little real awareness of these destructive emotions and actions. Each party has people in their corner for validation of all that is right and all that is wrong in this mess, assuring each separately that they are the one who is right, and that the other party is the one that is wrong. And being right, unfortunately, does not solve anything nor does it keep you happy, warm and cozy at night.
Patience, maturity and restraint (all in short supply in a divorce) are the keys to survival, healing and getting back to one’s true self, without which, there is little hope for the success of any future relationship. History does repeat itself if we do not learn from it, and is the best predictor of future behavior.
Things get exponentially more complicated when kids are involved. Like it or not, you are connected to your former spouse for the rest of your and her/his natural life, while having to engage on an ongoing basis for the sake of the kids (any of you out there who, going through a divorce has not silently and innocently fantasied–usually late on an anxiety ridden sleepless night–of an early unnatural end for the former spouse, speak now or forever hold your peace). A plethora of decisions, financial, philosophical, religious, educational, health and wellness related and many, many more, have to be made and mountains of issues resolved and dealt with. Building a good and civil friendship is key not only to facilitating each of these administrative issues of raising the kids, but also as an example of adult conflict resolution and working together while possessing different temperaments and worldviews, which is critical since kids do as we do and not as we say.
All that sounds like a good and admirable plan that all of us divorced parents should follow. In reality, though, it is very hard to get over the resentment and anger of the failed marriage. This is where, if you are lucky or willing to create your own luck, some unrelated entity or event can make all the difference. And that entity and pretax, in this personal case, was a slightly overweight grey cat named Max.
I will freely admit that I was never big on cats. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with them; I just still prefer dogs as pets. Thinking back at it, the only reason I liked the flawed 1982 movie version of “Cat People” was the alluring Nastassja Kinski, who was completely and utterly delicious in it, almost as much as she was in the 1979 movie “Tess”. (You would be better off watching the 1942 original “Cat People” with Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph and Tom Conway, if interested.)
In spite of my lukewarm feelings towards the feline species — especially the small domesticated versions — I did buy my wife a kitten to replace her cat who died shortly after we met, and bravely endured that cat’s litter box next to our only toilet in our first apartment (and yes there were occasions when both of us, kitty and I, went at the same time intimately side by side–toilet and litter box — the joy!). Obviously I did it for the same reason most of us do certain things when we are in a relationship. I did it for love and because I knew it would make her happy.
Now, back to our story. Max, the cat in question, belongs to my Ex wife’s second husband. He is a robust, slightly overweight grey cat of distinct personality and temperament. He is also unusually communicative and demanding. Having always been a dog person, I did not initially take to Max nor did I have occasion or need to do so.
Things started to change when my son agreed to take care of the cat when his mom and her husband were out of town. I, of course, was by default tasked with driving duties: schlepping him back and forth and such and assisting in the cat care chores and routine. To say that I was initially thrilled with this responsibility and resulting activities would be an overstatement of galactic proportions.
Although familiarity usually breeds contempt, things worked out very differently for Max and me. For one thing, it was a sign of trust for me to get the “keys to the kingdom” from Max’s parents to facilitate the awesome responsibility of caring for him. For another, Max turned out to have more personality than I expected from a feline creature. And perhaps most importantly, Max provided us with a neutral, non-threatening engagement and verbal intercourse subject, away from the usual common and inflammatory topics one tends to sinks down to in a post-divorce situation.
This kind of middle ground, or neutral zone if you will, is not easy to come by. For us it was a comfortable outlet for interaction and expression of trust and provided my son with a little extra pocket money to boot. It functioned as a catalyst on an existing path back to friendship, and I for one, cannot minimize or stress strongly enough the power of a good interactive pussycat to get people together.
And the progress did not end there. Last week my son went away as well and I volunteered to care for Max by myself, since they needed the help. Max and I enjoyed a daily face-to-face, and he made sure I did a good job cleaning the litter box, feeding him the right foods at the right times and making sure his drinking water was always fresh (the petting and cuddling was simply icing on the cake).
I can’t help but wonder if maybe we should send Max to visit Congress in Washington and hang out with our Democratic and Republican representatives. I can clearly see how this might just get those representatives to hop across the aisle, and work together for the excellent cause of the betterment of felines everywhere. Things cannot get any worst in Washington, and it just might get them working together for the betterment of us humans as well.
Photos by Marina Drasnin Gilboa