The first time happened when I couldn’t get husband number one to have sex with me. This was particularly troublesome when he came home one day and admitted he was sleeping with someone else. My response: her or me? He chose her. After all, he said, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever loved me, leaving me wondering if he only married me because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings by breaking it off. I suppose I should’ve known when he was a half hour late to our nuptials three years earlier.
It happened again during the natural course of my second marriage, along about the eighth year, when I was so focused on myself that I wondered whether I’d be better off alone. Husband number two said he wanted me to think more about him. Turns out he meant he wanted us to have more sex. My response: Sex? Pshaw! Sex distracts from all the student essays needing grades and graduate school work I ought to finish. Where are your priorities, Man? (Besides, I certainly wasn’t going to allow another man to hurt me by way of sex.) Then I ignored husband number two and began plotting an exit strategy. Unbeknownst to me, he was doing the same.
We had a choice to make.
So how do cats change the charged sexual and relational tension that is marriage? They don’t, really, except cats are a fitting metaphor for an exploration of what love is, given that the loyalties of cats are as elusive as love. In his latest memoir, Another Insane Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons (Da Capo Press, 2012,) Peter Trachtenberg uses braided narrative to weave observations about his cats, literature, art, philosophy, psychology, economics, science, and religion within the context of his marriage to F. to finally nail down the nature of love, once and for all.
Or not. Unlike the sloppy fidelity of dogs, a cat’s attachment appears subtle and fleeting, based more on whim than any defined affection. One moment the cat lets you stroke her chin and the next she hisses, sneering defensively for some undetermined insult. Love cannot be characterized by the nature of dogs, lest it simply be degraded into a sort of sentimental understanding of loyalty. I have three dogs—they’re always happy to see me. I used to own cats. I gave them up.
Using his missing cat, Biscuit, to drive his precise observations about the dissolution of his marriage, Trachtenberg writes, “One morning I woke up and was no longer in love with [F.]. Then she was gone, and I was left wondering what happened to everything I’d felt for her, where I’d lost it.” He also uses his curiosity, as exacting as his prose, like a microscope to map the development and boundaries of love and marriage. Of his missing cat, he writes, “A cat is a wild thing whose nature has somehow grown around human beings and become entwined with theirs, but that nature is still wild.” While Trachtenberg calls Biscuit “his cat,” he discovers she’s not his any more than F. is his (or that he is F.’s) or that love endures no matter what. Love has a life cycle, like any natural thing, so that ultimately, marriage and love become a choice—“not just once, but again and again, a day, an hour, a minute at a time. When a choice has to be repeated so often, it falls subject to the same odds that govern the tossing of a coin. Sooner or later, the choice will be no,” Trachtenberg tells us.
While admittedly cynical, my own experience tells me he’s right. Husband number two and I chose marriage. We celebrated ten years with a vow renewal ceremony and a trip to Hawaii. Since the afterglow of our second honeymoon has dissipated, we’ve discovered that choosing each other time and again may also be a matter of endurance. Trachtenberg might agree: “…desire breeds love, which in turn breeds obligation, and the obligation makes love stronger.”
Jennifer Ochstein holds an MFA from Ashland University and an MA in English Studies and Communication from Valparaiso University. She teaches writing at Bethel College in Indiana and Bluffton University in Ohio. She’s published work in Connotation Press and The Lindenwood Review, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s currently working on a memoir about what happens to us physically as children ultimately drives the people we become.