There are these two cats that live in my house. They sleep here; they poop here; they store their possessions on shelves, in shoes, under furniture here. They seem to have little to no notion of me as an authority figure—in fact, I’m fairly certain in their eyes, we share a pleasant and mutually beneficial roommate relationship.
The longer we live together, the more similarities I find between my relationships with the cats and those with former roommates. There are times I start to think they look up to me—as when I demonstrate how to unwrap cheese products without inadvertently eating some of the plastic wrap. Other times, the reverse becomes true: they are, for instance, totally indifferent to my success at repeating entire passages of Edward II not only from memory, but in a passable Christopher-Eccleston-as-the-Ninth-Doctor imitation.
We share our requisite tense and embarrassed roommate moments, too, of course. Times when the cat feels his need to sit on the toilet seat is at least as pressing as my need to pee. Times when they mistake my glasses for cat toys. Times when I brazenly enter a room without knocking and interrupt important butt-cleaning time.
It seems to me—and this is where I think my cats differ from my roommates—that the most important part of our friendship is the snuggling. Perhaps humans could learn a thing or two about how seriously
cats take snuggling. Wherever on my person the cat needs to lie down, she or he will devote five to fifteen minutes simply preparing the surface thoroughly with her or his front paws. It feels like they’re tenderizing me.
Any surface is fair game when it comes to cat snuggles. My back, my butt, my face—all are equally probable sites of cat massage. In particular, though, the cats like my stomach. I’ve gathered that lying down for more than forty-five seconds constitutes an open invitation to set up camp on my tummy and to ignore all interfering entities (such as books, laptops, my arms).
As a 23-year-old, pop-culture-watching American, I initially found the power of the kitties’ love for my middle disconcerting. Such forthright affection for it really throws the ol’ midsection into a different light than one gets used to seeing. The cats have no idea—and, for the record, they could not possibly care less—that for many in this country (and others), belly fat is a terrifying, insidious demon. It hovers in every aisle of the grocery store and slinks between the pages of every menu, threatening every perfect, mechanically stitched waistband in the windows of every American Apparel, H&M, and Urban Outfitters.
The cats, unlike the trendy waistband police, devote admiring care to the choicest, softest part of my stomach, kneading, headbutting, kneading again. Their feelings toward it are simple: This is nice. I like here.
Makes me realize how overdetermined our body parts are. No roommate of mine, no matter how close we were, could ever have touched my stomach the same way one might massage my shoulders. The human who has touched my stomach the most is probably my doctor—and that totals something like two hours total stomach-touching time in 23 years? It’s the very center of our bodies, and we do everything in our power to pretend it isn’t there.