You might think of the movie The Gladiator when you hear the name Maximus Decimus Meridius. I don’t. See, that’s our cat’s name. We call him “Maximus” or “Max” for short. My husband and I may own him, but he’s always been Margaret’s cat from the start. Which makes sense. If it hadn’t been for Margaret, he probably wouldn’t have had a start.
Margaret knew from the moment she spied Maximus that he was her “beshert.” Maximus was a stray cat when we met him at a park near our house with my in-laws who were visiting from Massachusetts. We pulled up and there was Maximus, perched statuesque-like on a pillar at the top of one of the stairs, meowing his fur off. He had no collar. He was adorable but clearly starved of love and attention, and drowning in fleas. Margaret – then 4 years old but quickly putting to use her budding manipulation skills – begged for us to take him home. Her rationale? That we could finally give our (now late) cat, Bella, a sibling. It was true that Bella had always been a bit lonely and wanted a sibling. But I saw through her thinly veiled attempt to make it a play for Bella when she really just wanted a kitten all for herself.
I pushed back on every one of Margaret’s whiny “PLEASE MOMMY?” pleas with no hesitation- which is uncharacteristic of me and pretty amazing now that I look back on it. I’m a sucker for cats, especially strays. If left to my own devices, my domain would look like Ernest Hemingway’s or Rome. Working against my resolve to stand strong was a formidable force: Margaret’s will. At 4, Margaret was a used car salesmen in a really cute little girl’s body: obnoxiously overconfident and absolutely positive that the odds were in her favor that if she kept repeating herself, I’d give in just so she’d stop.
The truth is that for reasons more appropriate for a therapist, I wasn’t ready for another cat.
My husband chimed in, supporting Margaret’s protests, which blew me away; he was all about the dog not the cat. He married me in spite of the fact that I shared my bed with a cat before we met (though I had faith that my cat Bella – a male, long story – would work his feline magic on him, which he did.) I was feeling the pressure like a kid who is tempted to rat on a friend when called into the principal’s office. But I stuck to my guns and said, “No, we can’t take him home.”
I felt good about my decision for a few moments until they launched into the whole “if we don’t take him he’ll be eaten by fleas and DIE!” I really hate it when they do that. Next thing I know, I’m driving home to get Bella’s cat carrier.
Maximus trusted Margaret instinctively, like he knew she was his savior. But he was very distrustful of me – it’s like he was mafia and never forgave me for momentarily being a cold, heartless human who could have easily left him for coyote bait. I’d go to pick him up and he’d run away; Margaret would find him and he would purr like crazy the moment she touched him. It’s like I was dipped in dog poop but she was a bowl of milk who he couldn’t drink enough of.
When my beloved cat Bella died, Maximus finally came out of his shell with me. It’s like he finally forgave me. My theory is that he was born to be an “only” cat and once Bella was gone, he was free to move about the cabin. Today, we are very tight. I monitor his outdoor play time in the backyard which he loves (coyotes love to trespass 24/7), and he’s been the inspiration for a cat business I will launch when my girls are much older. He even warms up my office chair each morning before I step into the office. I adore Maximus and feel like crap every time I think about how I could have easily, selfishly left him for dead at the park.
Margaret and I often bicker about whose cat Maximus really is. I joke with her that he loves me the most and she goes nuts- I love to get a rise out of her. Their relationship has changed over the years – as Maximus grows older he is more like a grouchy old man and isn’t as tolerant of being picked up and placed anywhere she wants him whenever she wants him. But make no mistake: Maximus is still her main squeeze, and she is still his.
We’re almost all ready for another addition to the family: the other day my husband suggested a kitten…and Margaret really wants a dog – as do her sister and I. Maximus? Nope. He is definitely going to filibuster.