As of yesterday, there are two cats in the rectory at the American Church in Florence: Ben, who now calls himself as Benito and passes himself off as Italian (though not Italian enough to know why there are so few people in Italy named Benito) , and his brother, Santana of Brooklyn. Bringing Santi over was not part of the original plan. But then, the original plan dates from a time before he sat on the new baby's head.
Santi and I flew back here together. He hates to travel, hates it with everything in his body, soul and his almond-sized brain. He began to drool before the taxi pulled away from the curb. Before we left Brooklyn, he had pooped in his expensive new carrier. Before we reached Kennedy, he had puked all over its luxurious shearling pad. I used up all my nice individually wrapped Lavender Scented Refreshing Towelettes cleaning him up. Maybe he'll do better on the plane, I thought. At least his digestive tract was empty now. That's got to be worth something.
But no. He meowed piteously all through check-in and boarding. Stowed under the seat in front of me, he meowed throughout the seven-hour flight across the Atlantic. I would reach in and stroke his chin, something he ordinarily finds calming, but he would wrestle his head out of the top of his carrier and try to escape into the cabin, so I'd have to zip him up again. Once in the car en route from Pisa to Florence, he was released from the hated carrier and crouched on the floor of the car, quieter. And once in the house, he was himself again. I guess Santi's just a person who likes to have all four feet on the ground.
Q and I have entertained romantic fantasies about this reunion of two cat brothers. Romantic and anthropomorphic: they grew up together, from kittenhood. It would be like"This Is Your Life," I thought: they would nuzzle each other, glad to be meeting again after so long an absence, eager to make up for lost time. Immediately, they would be as inseparable as they used to be when they shared a tiny Manhattan apartment with Anna. We know they missed each other: Santi had begun suddenly to meow constantly the moment Ben left New York a year or so back, filling the silence left when his quacking brother left town. They'd be happy to see each other again.
But no. Ben came forward to see who was at the door, and we set Santi on the floor. Look who's here! Q said brightly. Santi hissed mightily, and Ben growled back. Santi found an open cabinet door and hid inside. Ben jumped up on a table, so that he could be sure of being higher than Santi, if he were ever foolish enough to come out of hiding.
Doesn't look like they remember each other, I said.
I guess they need to get used to having company again, Q said.
Ben jumped back down from the table and ran upstairs to the landing, to guard the second floor from a possible invasion. Well, we'll just let them sort it out for now. I was tired, and wanted to lie down a bit before my afternoon wedding. It had been a long flight.
That's all you can do with cats anyway; they have to do everything for themselves. Lots of people are like that, too, as anyone who has tried to be a matchmaker well knows: it doesn't matter that you think they have a lot in common. They are the ones who must think so. It doesn't matter that you think brothers ought to like each other. They are the ones who must think so.
Today Santi and Ben are beginning to remember each other, I think. They are lying on the same couch, anyway, and they both joined me for a nap this afternoon on the same bed. Or maybe they don't remember each other at all. Maybe it's all new to them. A brain the size of an almond may have little room for sentiment.
Or maybe the cats are onto something. Maybe you really can't go home again, not if a shared history are the only things joining you. Maybe there also needs to be a shared "now," and maybe you need to make a new "now" together if you no longer have one. Maybe we all must begin all our relationships anew, see each other with fresh eyes, if we want to re-kindle love. Love takes ongoing investment; it doesn't just happen. Maybe we have to decide in its favor, again and again.