Moby on the sofa this morning, so I sat beside him and stroked him very slowly from head to tail, massaging along his spine. Relaxed already, he settled deeper under my hand, a closed eyed expression of pleasure on his face. I have this effect on animals, especially since learning massage myself, all those years ago. Especially since I've been with D, and happy in my life.
Moby really seems to luxuriate in being petted, when he wants to be touched at all. But it's been a long process. When we first got him he needed some socialization. We watched him closely and never pushed him too far. While he allowed belly rubs, the back leg would come up, and we backed off, taking that as a "that's enough" gesture. Last night when I got home, I scritched his tum for quite along while, and he purred. We gradually taught him that being picked up was safe, by holding him until he squirmed, one moment more, then very gently placing him on the ground. Now, he actually wants to be held and given a hug*, about once a day. This comes in handy when he's gotten out in the hall, or we visit the vet, or when we flew here and had to remove him from the bag going through security. He's ok with our holding him, so in a moment of crisis, it's a familiar, even reassuring, motion for him.
When I was little, I loved animals, as most children do. And it hurt a great deal that they didn't like me back. Our cat Midnight was fond of me, and let me carry him on my shoulders piggy-back. Gigi, Aunt Alma's poodle, adored me, mostly because I'd throw her ball for her as much as she could ever want. But I didn't inspire trust in any other animals, so my aspirations of being a new St. Francis were dashed. I wish someone would have told me then that it wasn't me, it was that I was a child. And many animals just don't like, or trust, children. For good reason.
I've often thought that so much of my misery would have been eased if only I'd been told a few simple truths early on. From, no, your father is crazy and mean, and the stupid is annoying but not the real problem, or yes, you will find love, but it will take a long time and you have to be patient, to don't marry that jerk. I honestly think I'd have re-written my internal stories to include these, and tortured myself less with harsh judgements.
More simply, if only I could have told myself when I was very small, two animals do love you. That's a great start, pay attention to that. Maybe I did, clearly remembering, knowing it to be important, meant I would eventually understand. And we can't save anyone from the pain of learning, lest we take the lesson away. 'If only', like wishing and praying, rather than working and thinking and living through the hard bits, is worse than useless. I can't wish a crossword puzzle solved, I have to actually do it. I couldn't pray myself loved, I had to learn how to love well.
I rest my hand gently on a sleeping cat, and he curls around until his head is upside down and one foot stretches out, claws extending then retracting. I'm sure he knows he's loved, in his cat way.
*It is a hug, back feet supported one forearm, front paws over opposite shoulder. No cradling. No sitting down.