The structure of a catfight
Flatten everything. They flatten their ears, flatten their backs, burrow themselves into the hardwood floor, preparing for a leap. Preparing for danger.
I often dream of doing the splits. Usually it’s a front splits, but last night it was a side splits. In these dreams it always surprises me how easy it is and how glorious it feels. I think to myself, today’s the day, and it is. Is it really this simple? I always think. Why did I wait so long? I drop myself to the ground and feel my legs perfectly align as the world aligns in tandem, and think, this is what a body is for.
There is a stranger in our apartment. A long-haired elder cat, who prowls and yowls and paws his litter for twenty minutes before he poos. We understand why he’s here, but our kittens are confused. They flicker between all the emotions: fear, adrenaline, anger, and a comforting quiet, before they land on: play. But for now they follow the stranger around as he swishes his long, majestic tail like a mouse on a string. They climb to the apartment’s peaks; the kitchen table, the cat tree, the tops of the couches; and leap between them as they follow around the stranger, always staring down, maintaining the upper hand. They stare at him from above, and when the tail swishes, they reach. And sometimes, he reaches back.
When it comes to my body, I have two goals: doing the splits and holding a handstand. The beauty of the handstand goal is its unattainability. The world record for a handstand hold is twelve minutes and eight seconds. After three years of practice, I can hold a handstand for a couple of seconds on a good day.
It curves; the fur stands up; two orange mohawks slice around the room. Their nerves have become enjoyable to them; they push books off the shelves and pounce on their new victims. They surround the elder cat, who walks warily between them.
The doctor told me I have scoliosis, a curve in the spine. Sometimes when I do handstands, the spine curves too much, and the weight of my legs makes it pinch. The body must be treated with care. I now have two cushions on my office chair.
Kittens fight to learn: they learn how hard to bite and when to retract their claws. Elderly outdoor cats, like our visitor, fight to kill.
When I read books on the couch, I forget my body, until it reminds me of its existence with a tweak in the spine or a soreness in the seat. How does one sit on a couch? The soft ones suck you in. The hard ones make you lean. The alternative is to lay flat on your back, which feels like a defeat. I tried reading on the floor, left leg extended, and stretched. Suddenly I remembered: the body still exists.
As much as I wanted our visitor and our kittens to get along immediately, there were centuries of bodily instincts to be overcome. The internet says it can take months for new cats to get along. These are friendly cats, though: after a week of separation and controlled interactions, their hisses have become sniffs. Their claws stay in their caves. And then, when our two orange teenagers feel safe, they attack each other with renewed force, making sure they remember how to lunge. Their bodies become one rolling ball.
The world is made of physical things and we move through it thanks to our muscles and bones. This is important to remember. I’ve been seeing myself hunch lower and lower in photos in a way I don’t recognize. Now I am utterly devoted to fixing my posture. When I wake up in the morning, I cat-cow with the kittens. Whenever I use the toilet, I remind myself: pee tall. At night I walk with my hands clasped behind my back like a buddhist priest. I read on the floor. There’s a whole new view from down here.
This is an appeal to remember your body. Please, when you wake up, take this stretch: reach your arms up high, reach towards an impossible goal. Be aware of your limitations and reach to surpass them anyway. I promise if you can hold your weight on your hands for just one moment, it feels like you’re flying.