I had heard of wives relegating their husbands to No. 2 in favor of a child – a real, adorable, cute-as-can-be baby who coos and giggles – but a cat?
Yet there I was last year, the clear second favorite in my months-old marriage, and Cleo, our part siamese cat that weighs 8 pounds and pukes after she eats too quickly, my wife’s No. 2.
Krystal, my bride, would kneel down and scratch Cleo’s belly. “Sometimes,” Krystal would say, “I look at her and just know.”
A funny statement to most, but those words were almost exactly what my wife had texted me only a few months after we started dating in 2011. I remember where we were and what we were doing when she wrote that. And now my bride was sharing that same memory with our cat, the animal that uses her tongue and paws to bathe herself?
Other times, Krystal would lay next to Cleo on the bed and exclaim, “She’s the love of my life.”
Looking back, I should have predicted this newfound devotion to Cleo.
In February 2014, all three of us moved to South Carolina for my work. My wife had never been here and knew no one. And we had moved from Omaha, Nebraska, where my wife went to high school and had many friends.
Krystal and Cleo also were spending more and more time together.
During the early weeks and months of our move, Krystal was working from home as a freelance writer. All day she would spend with Cleo, rubbing under her arms, lying with her on the couch, sharing afternoon naps.
My relationship with my wife was becoming more strained, but Cleo’s was growing stronger.
They also had more history together.
Krystal adopted Cleo in 2004, when she was a newborn kitty at the humane society in Grand Island, Nebraska. I met Krystal in 2011.
Cleo also had never treated Krystal poorly, and here I was, after only a few months of marriage, all ready moving Krystal across the country.
I needed something to change and quickly, so I did.
I got to know Cleo. I rubbed her belly, whirled around her rope, scratched under her arms. And she got to know me, too, purring on my lap during the Southern winter and spring.
I quickly realized Cleo wasn’t an adversary to me; she was a part of our new family, a vehicle I could use to strengthen my relationship with my wife.
Soon, Krystal was remarking at how much Cleo and I were getting along, and gone was the language about Cleo being “the love of her life.”
For now, it seems I have returned to the top spot in my nascent marriage, but Cleo is still at our side, right where she belongs.