Underneath my yellow skin

That’s Just the Way I Am

nom nom nom!
Shadow lovin’ his almond milk ice cream treat.

Ian is here visiting, and I asked him if he thought Shadow was talking more than usual. I know he is, but I was wondering if it was just a little more or a lot more (my choice). It’s hard to tell when I live with him, even though it was pretty extreme in that it started after Raven died. Ian said yes, a lot more, which just confirmed my belief.

Shadow rarely meowed when Raven was alive. Shadow was also more aloof and liked to spend a lot of his time alone. I used to call them Shadow and my Shadow because Raven was my Velcro cat while Shadow was more paws off. Raven didn’t meow a ton, but he would sometimes get in a chatty frame of mind, and he would meow at me for several minutes. His voice always sounded cross, even when it wasn’t, and he was a very affectionate cat.

When Raven died, Shadow underwent a complete personality change. He became clinging and would be anxious and unhappy if I were out of his sight. When I went to the back porch to smoke, he would reach his paws up on the sliding glass door and meow piteously. I had explained to him what happened to his brother, but I don’t think he really understood. What I can tell you is Shadow definitely changed after his brother died. Instantly and startlingly in some ways, and more slowly in others.

The talking thing has gradually grown over time. I’ve realized it’s his way of making sure he gets his treats because Raven used to be the one to inform me of eating time. I don’t think either of them ever realized that I was going to feed them regardless, or they were just trying to ensure they would get their food. Either way, Shadow has taken over that duty, and he’s pretty definite when he thinks it’s time for food.

He also has a relatively new habit of biting my face when he wants breakfast. Not hard, of course, but just gentle nibbles. If he doesn’t do that, it’s just his face in my face when I open my eyes, or him walking on my face. He’s seemed to have lost his sense of boundaries, at least when it comes to me. He wasn’t a lap cat when his brother was alive, but now, we spend most nights with him warming my legs.

In the past few months, he’s slowly become more independent again. He’ll disappear for hours as he used to do, but we still have our nightly ritual of chilling on the couch together. It’s been a year and two months since Raven has died (has it really been that long??), and I’d say his personality now is a blend between his old personality and his more recent one.

It got me thinking about personality changes in general and how we act differently around different people. Shadow was buffered by Raven and never really had to advocate for himself while Raven was alive (not that he has to now, but he feels he does). Raven did all the politicking, and Shadow benefited from it. Without Raven, Shadow stepped up and did it for himself. The other change is that the minute I go to bed, Shadow starts crying mournfully. I still haven’t figured out why, but my best guess is that that is when he misses his brother the most. I’m sure they got into some quality shenanigans after I went to bed, and maybe the hours of solitude stretching ahead of him doesn’t sit well with Shadow.

Don’t get me wrong. He likes his alone time, but on his own terms. He stays away for hours on end and then suddenly materializes out of nowhere. Sometimes, he’ll have cobwebs on his whiskers and a studiously innocent look on his face as if to say, “What? I wasn’t up to something nefarious!”

It’s fascinating to me how Shadow’s personality has changed since his brother had died. Previous parts of it that had been dormant have emerged, and it’s like he’s a different cat. Not completely, but there are elements of his brother in him. He’s also lost a bit of fluff (Ian has confirmed it) and is trimmer than before. His face looks thinner as well, and from certain angles, he looks like Raven.

My BFF had a similar situation with her cats (also brothers) when the more gregarious one died, and I wonder if it is just a thing. I also think about how we humans do the same thing (act a certain way around a certain person). You know how it is. You go to Xena when you want to defend a village, Gabby when you want to sing and dance, and Callisto when you want to, well, destroy the universe. I know different parts of my personality comes out around different people, which is completely normal. It’s one reason I think it’s weird to be in a monogamous romantic relationship in which you think your beloved should be everything to you, but that’s another post for another day.

It can be difficult to change the dynamics of a relationship, especially when they have become more entrenched overtime. It becomes a habit how you interact with each other, and as we all know, it’s really hard to break a habit. I tend to be the listener for several people in my life, and sometimes, it reaches the point where I’m fresh out of patience, but I feel trapped in the listener role. Because of the history of the relationship, suddenly refusing to listen feels like a betrayal.

The thing is, though, if one person changes her behavior, the other person has to react in response. I realized that with my parents. Five years ago, we had a relationship that was fraught with negativity. I couldn’t talk to them for five minutes without wanting to slit my wrists afterwards. I’m not being hyperbolic; I often felt suicidal after any interaction with them.

Fast-forward to last summer when they were here for a visit. I was able to keep my chill 90% of the time, which amazed the fuck out of me. It wasn’t something I deliberately tried to do, but I just was way more patient and didn’t feel the weight of the interactions as I had in the past. I’ve said it before, but it’s taiji. It’s helped me become more confident and more able to deal. It’s not a conscious decision, but a side effect, much like me now having an ass is a perk from ten years of taiji.

What I’m trying to say in my convoluted way is that it’s possible to change your behavior–even when you think it’s innate or ‘just my nature’. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. I’ve learned that from watching Shadow over the last year and from my own behavioral shift. I’m actively working on a few aspects of my personality that bother me, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

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