Unfulfilled: Cats, Autism, and Family.

Unfulfilled: Cats, Autism, and Family.

My family have a little tortoiseshell cat named Jynx. Jynx is not the kindest cat, but she didn’t have the kindest start: she was kept secret for her early kittenhood, trapped in a room with someone who treated her like a toy.

This means that some part of Jynx believes that the only way to enforce her boundaries, the only way to say ‘no’, is to attack. Hard.

She’s easy to love. You just have to respect her boundaries.

The person who did this to her has long since moved away, and since then Jynx has softened. She bonded with one of my siblings who had been bullied by the same person. A patient sibling who never held it against her that she would suddenly and fiercely attack and not let go. Who loved her in spite of her trauma.

She got gentler, under the love and care of that sibling and the rest of my family. She went from a cat that was mostly in attack-mode to a happy little lapcat.

But a lapcat who will, the moment she stops wanting pets, attack without holding back.

I love Jynx. I also fear her a little; my own cat, Merlin, does not bite or scratch and has near infinite enjoyment of cuddles. I’m careful not to slip into the habits I have made with him around her; you can never pet Jynx while looking elsewhere. You can never pet Jynx from the front. The moment she turns her head, you need to quickly pull away.

But she’s also incredibly sweet. Her tail is forever up and quirked in the question-mark tail of family greeting. She’ll jump into anyone’s lap. She loves to play, and will brush herself if you hold out her brush. She’s tiny and chatty and when I visit my family, I can just pick her up on my way in and she lets me carry her without a problem. She’s an older lady, too—something like 13 years old now.

She just isn’t fulfilling what I need from a cat.

She’s easy to love. You just have to respect her boundaries. And if she enforces them sharply—because she’s easily over-stimulated, because she doesn’t completely trust that they will be respected—then I think that’s reasonable. She is only a very small cat in a house full of giants.

For a long time, Jynx lived with other cats and the family dog. Those other cats were incredibly affectionate to humans and not at all aggressive. They also bullied her, alongside the family dog. They co-existed, but only so long as she knew she was on the bottom rung of the ladder.

She recently became the only cat in the household, which was absolutely devastating for my family, but Jynx…Jynx has flourished. She’s spending more time inside, more time with her humans, more time in laps. It has been so good for her that my family decided they wouldn’t be adopting any more cats for as long as she’s with them.

And I gradually realised…my mother is very unhappy about this. I had thought it was because she wanted more cats in the house, but this wasn’t so. ‘She just isn’t fulfilling what I need from a cat,’ she told me recently. ‘I want a cat that I can hold and cuddle.’

‘But you can hold and cuddle her,’ I said.

‘Not enough,’ said my mother.

She’s our cat.

I didn’t like to think of Jynx not being ‘enough’ for her family.  I understood what my mother was saying; Jynx is definitively not a teddy bear cat. Her moods change so quickly. And sometimes, she just walks up to people and bites their face. Never badly; just to get their attention. It’s just how she is.

But I knew she was enough for one person, at least. ‘Could she live with Favoured Sibling?’ I asked. The one that had bonded so closely with Jynx and had since moved out. Someone who loved her even at her least affectionate.

My mother cheered up immediately at the thought, but another sibling walked in. ‘Of course she can’t live with Favoured Sibling!’ they said, scandalised. ‘She’s our cat,’

‘But she’s not cuddly,’ said my mother.

‘She’s our cat,‘ said Indignant Sibling. ‘And she is cuddly!’

Other members of the family agreed. They had never thought of her as ‘not enough’. She’s just Jynx. Kids that had learned to be very wary of her nonetheless adored her.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. As the only autistic kid in the first ‘batch’ of kids in my family (bear in mind there are seven of us), I saw a marked difference in how my allistic siblings were treated. I was affectionate, but not in the right way.  When I got overstimulated and had no escape, I would snap. I have found, among all kinds of family but my current household, that I am considered blunt or embarassing or weird or ruinous or simply don’t smile enough.

I’m no longer the weird one who doesn’t smile enough. I’m one of the weird ones who don’t smile enough.

I cannot help but relate to this small cat. Healing but still carrying her early trauma. Full of love and sharp when enforcing her boundaries. A happy, sweet creature deserving of love. Easy, I think, to love. But not for everyone.

It means a lot to me that most of my family would not even entertain the thought of her living anywhere else. And with more autistic siblings in the second ‘batch’, there’s a lot more understanding and acceptance in my family than there was. I’m no longer the weird one who doesn’t smile enough. I’m one of the weird ones who don’t smile enough, and that’s no longer considered a lesser category of person in my family.

But I know that to a lot of people, and even other parts of my family, a cat that sometimes bites you hard on the face would not be loved the same as the ones that don’t.

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