From Shrinking Violet to Alpha Female
A decade or so ago we had a bit of a “mouse situation” in our house in Connecticut. Not exactly an infestation, but they were definitely there. And they were brazenly bold little rascals, totally unintimidated by people – and too agile for traps. “We need a cat!” I announced to no one in particular.
So we called The Little Guild of Saint Francis, an animal shelter in West Cornwall, Connecticut, that specializes in dogs and yes! CATS.
“Well,” the director said, “we have one cat available at the moment. He’s all black and the little girl who was going to get him decided at the last moment that she didn’t want an all black cat so…”
“But that’s exactly what we’re looking for,” I gushed, “an all black cat! Can we come down and…”
“Yes,” she said, “but he has a sister and they’ve been together since birth. They’re totally devoted to each other. They can’t be separated, they…”
“Well actually,” I interrupted again, “we were looking for an all black cat with a sister! That’s perfect! Can we come down and meet them?”
“Well, okay,” the director said cautiously, “we’ll see.”
The Guild is impeccable; the director runs a tight ship. The all black cat and his sister were adorable. When we met them they were curled up together just waking from a nap. “We’ll take them!” I said, stroking their fur.
“Okay,” Madame Director said, “but you must sign a document stating that they will not be allowed outside, that they will receive the remainder of their shots and that they will not be separated.”
We signed the document happily, made a donation to the Guild and drove off with two lovely, would-be “mousers.”
We named the all black cat Sebastian. He was incredibly handsome, a real knock-out, and distinguished by having, among other things, six toes on each paw. He was also, as it turned out, a great showman. He was all things charismatic. He owned every room he walked into, loved people and assumed they would love him back. They did. In short, he was unforgettable.
His sister was gray with tiger markings, a white face and beautiful eyes. We named her Violet. (Remember Suddenly Last Summer? “Violet and Sebastian, Sebastian and Violet…everywhere they went it was always the same. And then suddenly…”)
To the degree that Sebastian assumed the best, Violet assumed the opposite. When guests came, Sebastian came out to meet and greet while Violet bolted down to the basement to take cover. Not surprisingly, everyone knew Sebastian’s name and lavished him with praise and pets. But people couldn’t remember Violet’s name and some, including our daughter, Abigail, referred to her as “the gray one.” And since she was usually in hiding, she received little in the way of praise or pets.
“But what about the mice?!” you’re thinking. They all but disappeared. After all, Sebastian and Violet were a well-oiled team. And they were completely inseparable and totally devoted…for 11 years.
But then the unthinkable happened. One day a person who was working in our house (when we weren’t there) inadvertently left the kitchen door ajar…and Sebastian got out. In spite of our posting signs in every drugstore, post office and grocery store, notifying the police, the animal shelters, the vets and all the neighbors within a 15-mile radius, we never found him. He simply disappeared. (I still get a big lump in my throat when I think about him…)
“But what about Violet?” you’re wondering. An animal lover and close friend of ours cautioned, “You’ll have to get another cat. She won’t last long by herself. She’ll die of heartbreak.” “Let’s give her a chance to adjust,” I said, “then we’ll decide.”
Here’s what happened: Violet transformed herself. She “came out.” She became aggressively affectionate, insisting on being loved and returning the favor. She sleeps on our chests with her face nuzzled under our chins.
Here’s the thing: Sometimes it takes a crisis for us (whether we’re a cat or a person) to know what we’re made of, for us to “come out,” for us to be somebody, to stand for something…for people to know our name.
So never write yourself – or anyone else – off when a hard thing or a bad thing or even the unthinkable happens.
But you don’t have to wait for a crisis to reveal what you’re made of. Maybe this is the time to “be you”- no longer “the shy one” or “the one who stays in the background.” Or worse, the one who never gets the praise or the “pets.”
People only know what you show them. So show them your stuff. “Let ‘er rip” as we used to say in Ohio. Now, would be a good time…
Oh, and by the way, nobody calls Violet “the gray one” anymore.
Post Script: I originally wrote this “motivator” nearly five years ago. Violet is still going strong at the ripe but not “old” age of sixteen.
And our daughter, Abigail, has just become the Executive Director of The Little Guild of Saint Francis in West Cornwall, Conn…