Cats

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Growing up, I spent a lot of time alone. I was the youngest of my siblings by 10 years, so by the time I was 8 years old, my brother and sister had both left for college
and had begun their adult lives. My father worked long hours as a physician, and my mother stayed home with me, but was mostly busied by the daily tasks of keeping our household running. If I wasn’t otherwise engaged with a friend, I would sit quietly and work on my art projects or write poetry. Although I was easily fascinated by such activities, and would often lose track of time perfecting each poem or clay sculpture, I felt the weight of silence around me. Often the only sound I would hear was the quiet “tap, tap, tap” of my two cats’ footsteps as they roamed the house. This sense of quiet stayed with me through my childhood into my adolescence; I rarely voiced my opinions and often took the role of an observer during social interactions. While this tendency made me an easy target for bullying and manipulation, it also made me a keen listener, and for that I am grateful.

When I experienced childhood angst about hard assignments or problems with friends at school, I would come home and sit with one of my cats. Their silent glances and nods spoke to me, and I felt that we shared a common understanding. I could tell when they were in an affectionate mood or wanted to be left alone, and could sense if they were scared or feeling playful. In turn, my cats often intuited when  I needed some extra company, and would sit by my side and fill the room with the sound of purring. I never felt as though I owned them, because they were as old as I was. We took care of each other, and to this day I prefer egalitarian relationships where care and love are mutual and reciprocated. Growing up alongside my cats taught me to be pati
ent and helped me feel that I was not alone, even if the house was quiet.

Unfortunately, since my cats were born around the time I was, by the time I graduated high school they had both passed away. Each time I visited home from college, I expected to see them there, but was greeted only by a new kind of silence: when I was home alone, the house was truly empty. I wish my cats had been alive in the aftermath of my first heartbreak. The loneliness I felt my sophomore year of college, living in a 9×11 dorm room experiencing the burn of unrequited love was more than I could bear. I embodied my suffering by exercising heavily and refusing to nourish my body. I began to disappear, and was silently crying out for help. I wore my loneliness every day, hoping someone would notice and lend me a hand.

When the signs of my eating disorder became far too visible for anyone to ignore, my friends urged me to seek therapy. After three years of learning how to be introspective and pushing myself to reconnect with my body, I feel that I have gotten my life back. I get to live in my body and nourish it, and in return my body gives me happiness and the strength to eat delicious food, walk to work, and pursue the sports I enjoy. The relationship I have achieved with my body mirrors the relationship I had with my childhood cats. I do not try to control my body, and it does not try to control me. I work with my body. I am patient with my body. I listen to my body and receive its tacit communications. And most importantly, I am comfortable being alone with my body. Just as I would sit in silence with my cats, I can sit in silence with my thoughts, experience my feelings, and feel connected and in peace.

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Ashley Barad is a recent graduate of Vassar College and works as a legal assistant at a special education law firm. She finds every opportunity she can to spend time with cats, and is a frequent visitor at her local Cat Cafe. She loves to sing, and is a member of the Young New Yorker’s Chorus Women’s Ensemble. In her free time, Ashley enjoys practicing aerial silks, playing piano, and exploring new restaurants.