When my stepson’s cat, Pishi (Farsi for “Kitty,” pronounced PEE-shee), came to live with us for a year, she didn’t warm to me right away. Early on, when I tried to pet her, she bit me, and it wasn’t a love bite. Later, after seeing Pishi blitz out the door to attack a dog five times her size, I realized I’d gotten off easy. I love cats and continued to court Pishi’s favor, but our relationship stayed strained. Until the ice storm.
The ice storm of 1994 gifted us in the Mississippi Delta with a tree-destroying, power-pole-snapping eight inches of ice. Eight. We thought the first evening without electricity was fun, romantic even, as we played the game of Life by candlelight. But that was before we heard we’d be without power for weeks perhaps. Our only heat source was a small wood-burning fireplace in the livingroom, so we dragged a mattress right to the edge of the hearth.
A stray, Pishi had been taken in by my wife and her former husband years earlier in Knoxville, coincidentally during a winter storm. Pishi was a survivor and could tell my wife was a soft touch. She had laid siege to my wife’s heart with her bedraggled fur and kitty-cat eyes and camped out on the doorstep until the door was opened.
During our Delta ice storm, Pishi’s survival instinct kicked into high gear again. Paramount to her was warmth. She got as close as she could to the fire, pushing against the center of the fireplace screen so hard that we feared she’d singe her fur. She was a fireplace hog, and whenever we tried to move her, she hissed at us.
Before the ice storm, I hadn’t realized how human Pishi was. One night after we’d gone to bed, I heard a noise in the kitchen and discovered Pishi on top of the kitchen table eating glazed doughnuts. The next night there she was again, this time eating spicy Doritos from a bag. I fully expected to find her the third night sipping cognac and smoking a cigarillo.
But her strange appetite wasn’t even what was most surprising. The first night that we slept on the mattress by the fire, a very odd thing happened. After we got under the covers, Pishi came to my side of the bed, her head only inches from mine, and stared at the covers right where they were pulled up to my neck—as if she wanted in. But that couldn’t be right; she always slept with my stepson. She was his cat. She stared so long that finally I picked her up and took her to my stepson’s side of the mattress. My stepson lifted the blanket for her, but she demurred and catwalked back over to me and resumed her previous insistent stance and icy stare. Eventually, I relented, and she spent the night curled against my chest. I may not have been her favorite person, but she chose me as her bed partner for the entire week. Apparently, she decided proximity to me gave her the best chance of living through the cold.
My wife might share Pishi’s belief. When she tells me I have a hot body, I know she doesn’t mean it’s sexy; she means I literally radiate a high body temperature. Many nights when she complains how cold she is, I wake drenched in sweat and throw off layers of blankets. In the summer, she keeps her distance and complains, “You’re a furnace.” But when winter comes, my hotness is a real asset. Then, my wife, Pishi-like, snuggles up close.
Pishi and I bonded during that icy crisis, and I’ve come to see parallels between that relationship and others. My advice to those trying to find a place in an already-existing family structure is to capitalize on your assets and to exploit the circumstances. Me? I used my hot body. And prayed for an ice storm.