Sunday, December 16, 2012

the pride

One could say only the big cats mattered, they were the only reason any of us were here. The big cats were what had paid for the cage, for the tent, for the costumes, even for the stage lights. I do not think the big cats cared about any of this. Big cats care about very little, or they care about very much but their thoughts stay private, hidden deep within their feline hearts. We would have been nothing at all without them, but I wonder if they knew they would be nothing at all without us, as well.

Stories abound about circus cats, about private zoos, stories about hunters and cruelty and orphans and training through pain and fear. We were not of that type. Nor were we cat-whisperers, speaking in the feral feline body language beloved by the media. We were a family that was as much of the big cats as it is possible to be, and yet still be human. In my earliest days, hours after my birth, I was nestled in my crib with a lion cub, both of us helpless, disoriented, curled together for warmth. We shared a bottle, and although the lion cub grew into the fullness of adulthood while I was still a toddler, it kept me as a member of its family, groomed me, shared my meals. Other children were given dolls to play with, or tasked with working in the fields, but not in our family. New cubs were born, and although I could barely walk, a kitten was placed in my arms, a kitten which soon outgrew me, every year until I was a teenager, and my family was a pride of big cats.