4: Karmic Lessons from the Cat

4: Karmic Lessons from the Cat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Cat

Karmic Lessons from the Cat

Not-so-fun fact: Thirty percent of older cats develop kidney disease.

What do you do when you are stepmother to a cat that despises you? Even worse, how do you come to terms with that hatred when the feline is named Karma? This was my dilemma years ago. It felt too ominous to say, “Karma hates me,” so I made it my mission to win over the cat and get Karma on my side.

Karma was a street kitten that decided to follow my boyfriend Andrew home. That same night, Andrew had found fifty dollars on the street and had discussed his views on kindness and karma with a co-worker. He decided the evening was fated and named the cat Karma. Initially, Karma was wild, tearing up the apartment Andrew kept meticulously clean with his sister, with whom he lived at the time. Karma would bounce off the walls, a crazed ball of hair that leaped like a ninja and yowled like a banshee.

Karma’s love for Andrew was intense. Of all the humans on the street, he had recognized something special in him. He would lie on Andrew’s chest, relentlessly licking his shirt until it was soaked, no matter how many times Andrew pushed him off. He followed him like a shadow and leaped into his arms to nestle in like a baby, adoring and possessive. It was a love story for the ages.

When Andrew’s sister realized she was allergic to cats, I adopted Karma. Naively, I thought it was a perfect solution. I could have a handsome cat as a pet, and he and Andrew could still see each other. Little did I know that Karma’s love was exclusive, reserved solely for his savior. He was a one-human cat, and anyone else was an interloper, an intruder, an unwelcome competitor for Andrew’s affections. I was instantly public enemy number one.

Karma despised me with an all-consuming hatred that no amount of kitty treats and catnip would appease. He would sit on top of my bookshelves and swat me on the head every time I passed by. I could see him visibly cringe every time he heard my voice. Friends were startled by the way the cat glared at me with a look of pure contempt.

Karma would regularly chase me around my apartment and wrap around my ankle, biting and scratching until he drew blood. More than once, I would cower in the bathroom like Shelley Duvall from The Shining and see a furry paw clawing under the bathroom door. It was a reign of terror administered by a seven-pound mound of fluff. Of course, when Andrew would come to visit, Karma would leap into his arms and gaze adoringly at him. Between purrs, he would throw a sideways glance in my direction as if to say, “See? I am capable of great love. Just not for you. Ever.”

Despite Karma finding me despicable, I found him irresistible. He had emerald eyes, a pink nose, and a magnificent tail he held like a flag. He sported puffy tufts of fur around his legs so he looked like he was wearing bloomers. What woman hasn’t gone through a phase of loving a handsome bad boy, convincing herself that if only she loved him enough, he would change his ways?

Once Andrew and I married, I hoped that Karma would soften his stance against me. After all, we were a family now. He and Andrew were under the same roof again, and I could no longer be blamed for taking him away from his love.

No such luck. Karma reluctantly accepted me as his servant, but nothing more. He would wake me up in the morning by slapping my face with his paw and demanding his breakfast. He decided that water bowls were beneath him and instead took to waking me up in the middle of the night so that he could have a fountain drink from the bathroom sink. More often than not, he would finish slurping and then chase me back to bed, biting my ankles. I began to suspect that these late-night rituals were a sinister plot to exhaust me and hasten my demise. He was obviously playing the long game, and I had to grudgingly admire his persistence and cunning. I knew that if he ever learned how to operate a can opener, my days would be numbered.

“If something happens to me, it was Karma,” I warned a friend who happened to have Karma lounging on her lap at the time.

“Of course, it’s Karma. Karma will get us all. That is the beauty of the karmic wheel,” she replied, scratching Karma’s ears as he purred.

“No. I mean if I am snuffed out, it was the cat,” I insisted, pointing at Karma. “He’ll make it look like an accident, but I know it’ll be him. Remember this conversation if something happens to me.”

My friend scoffed and looked at the cat, who was innocently licking his paws, pretending he hadn’t just flashed me a dirty look moments before.

Perhaps I could be considered pathetic, continuing to hope that one day Karma would find it in his heart to love me, just a little. I tried to convince myself that I had enough love for the two of us. I grasped at any crumb he would toss my way: a look that was indifferent rather than pure loathing, the times that he let his paws touch my lap on his way to Andrew, his acknowledgment of my presence while he was waiting for me to fill his food dish. I still believed that I could win him over in time.

When Karma was around seventeen years old, he developed kidney problems. He became skinny and listless, his bony body feeling more like a fragile bird than a cat. I could hold his frail body on my chest and stroke his head, and he wouldn’t try to escape. That’s when I knew he was really sick. At that point, I would have given anything for him to give me a vicious scratch or bite. When we took him to the vet for his final injection, Andrew and I stayed with him, crying and stroking his fluffy bloomers until he closed his eyes.

It may seem strange that I could be broken hearted by the loss of a cat that never liked me. I still expect to see him trotting toward me when I use a can opener or wait to feel his sharp little teeth attacking my ankles when I get up in the middle of the night. At the time, a friend suggested that maybe I was heartbroken because now I knew I would never have a chance to win over the cat. I don’t think it was that. I think I finally understood that it was possible to love a crabby cat for who he was, not who I wished he could be. Our ability to love is bigger than we realize. Karma taught me that I could love without ego or expecting anything in return. Perhaps this was my Karmic lesson to learn, delivered in the form of a grudge-holding, glaring cat.

~Kristine Groskaufmanis

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