A cat person

Once upon a time, I loved someone.

It was unrequited, to be certain, an unusual type of love.

I met my love, after the death of our family’s beloved first cat, a strangely friendly Siamese named Tal.

I could have never known, as my childhood self, that this pattern would repeat itself. I don’t even know now, as my adult self, how many more times it will occur.

I met my love, after a long car ride to a neighborhood I’d never been. I went, with my parents, my brother and sister, to a stranger’s house. In my memory the woman is faceless, but I remember them there.

A yellow-eyed, vibrant tortoiseshell mother, with streaks of alternating rich dark brown and warm caramel coloring, body like a bean bag. And two fluffy kittens: a grey and black one with streaks patterned like its mother, and then there she was.

Tufts of orange and yellow stripes with two large green eyes, but a vibrant pastel green color of stones you would see hanging around the neck of a woman selling jewelry at a tented booth in an art fair, whose offerings smell vaguely of patchouli mixed with something musky.

She was perfect and my heart wrenched for Tal, so I hated her.

My siblings less so. They played with her the whole car ride home. I sulked, but hid it with a book.

Later that night, as the little thing purred the broken motor purr of a kitten, snuggled on a blanket on the couch, I got out of bed, with a knot in my stomach.

“Mom?” I said, not understanding any of the confusing physiology that was happening to me.

“Are you alright?” she asked, looking concerned.

“I miss Tal,” the word barely escaped before sobs crashed throughout my body and I found myself crying on her lap while that cat purred on the couch. “I hate the new cat.”

For whatever reason, my parents let us kids name our newest family member, and “Beauty” was chosen. Despite my strong dislike for the animal, I sneakily persuaded my siblings to name it after “our” favorite Disney movie at the time.

Beauty she was, until a startling discovery.

“Why would you name a boy cat Beauty?” the vet asked, as we picked up our newly neutered roommate.

“I guess we’ll be changing it to Beast then,” my dad joked as he looked at the bill, glanced at the cat, and sighed.

I clenched my jaw. His name was Beauty.

As Beauty grew, he seemed to reach his limit on the amount of attention he received from my younger siblings.

One day, I walked into the bedroom I shared with my sister and found her shoving his growing body into the dress of one of her baby dolls. I took one look at his panicked eyes and shouted, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!”

This unfortunately startled both of them, and my sister dropped Beauty from where she sat on the floor, and he began to thrash around as he made a guttural, low, growling sound. It was mildly entertaining, since the dress oddly restricted the use of his forearms to see him rolling around on the ground, growling at himself.

I gingerly moved toward him, calmly and carefully, keeping my eyes on the sharpness of his claws. Once I was able to free him of his straitjacket, he bounded out of the room to a hiding place, unknown.

Once he made the transition from cuddly kitten to full grown cat, a character of contempt settled on him and I was fine with that. Stupid replacement cat.

He didn’t need petting or attention, he needed you to not make eye contact with him. I thought he was a jerk. Literally, he would get up and turn around to face the other way if you caught his gaze, even by accident.

Around the time that aging took a weird turn for me and I felt the need to spend more time in my room alone, is about the time that he began to show a preference for none other than me.

At first, I was annoyed. This cat sucked. Get out of my room, cat. (We had moved to a larger house by this time).

But…

…eventually I grew used to him. It was nice, when hormones surged through my body and I felt simultaneously filled with rage and hopelessness, and after crying exhaustively, that I was able to fall asleep thanks to the soft and consistent purring coming from the warm little furball on the foot of my bed.

And when, after furiously scrawling in my diary, words ceased to be enough and I found myself sobbing on the pages, he would come up and look at me like, “Really? Are you really gonna do this whole teen girl thing? Really?” and offer a nudge of his head.

For some reason, he chose me.

And I fell in love with the cozy presence at my feet every night, accompanied by the soft and snuggly lullaby of his purring and/or heart-warming snoring.

We had a cool relationship, in that he didn’t want my constant attention or affection, and I didn’t want his. But I offered the occasional stroke or smuggled treat, and he actually licked one scratchy tear off my face before I was like, okay this is weird and ouch that’s my face.

And by the time I was leaving for college, Beauty was just becoming a teenager and already a very solid confidant of mine.

I felt desperately traitorous in leaving him at home, with my (at the time) wretched, wretched parents (I was 18) in that horrid, horrid place (Prosser).

There was no way I could explain to him that even though I was leaving for a time, that he was still mine and that I was thinking about him and that I would be back for him.

After college, we’d get that place of our own, in the big city! I’d have my dream job and I’d come home and tell him all about it at night. We’d be together forever.

Well, after college, we finally did move into a place of our own–with my two other roommates. By that time Beauty was 17 and had had at least one stroke (we think maybe more) so that his disposition was a bit more relaxed, a bit loopier.

My roommates and friends adored him and our story. They couldn’t believe I had had the same cat since elementary school, now living with me post-university. Mostly I worried he would either get eaten by coyotes (we lived in a house in rural Ellensburg) or develop terminal asthma from being around all of the um, “recreational” “tobacco” smoking in my home.

But he didn’t. He stayed the same Beauty, loopy a bit, but still there on my bed every night. Still purring away and listening to my stories. I think he even learned where a good place to chime in was based on his “meow” or “meh” or “maow” responses.

When I decided to move to Las Vegas, I left behind a huge chunk of my life.

But not Beauty.

I packed everything I thought I could need into my 1987 Toyota Celica, but left the passenger seat open for a VIP–Very Important Passenger. With my sister driving her car also, we made the two-day trek to Vegas.

I couldn’t believe we finally made it to the big city. But my dream for our lives got a bit scrambled there.

Me and my cat, 2007

Me and my cat, 2007

Beauty and I finally got our own place, in a gated complex, no less. And just when I felt my adult life was about to truly begin–it ended just like that.

I was accidentally pregnant.

Completely terrified, I let people around me make the plans for my life. I chose to have the baby, but I wasn’t going to choose any of the circumstances around it.

What should have been a deal-breaker still slices open the healed-via-forgotten-over-time parts of me. I was moving to the Midwest.

But no pets were allowed.

Of all of the unfair things about being accidentally pregnant, this stipulation on my relationship is what I hated the most. I reached out to everyone, anyone who I felt I could trust with my cat. Family, friends, friends of friends–anyone.

But no one wanted to take in an almost 19-year old cat. No one would even take him temporarily until I could find a place of my own.

Hormones plus fear plus devastation settled on me and I silently hated everything about my situation. It wasn’t fair that Beauty had to go in order for me to have some baby.

He had only ever been there, a constant throughout almost all the parts of my life I could remember. He had no options, no say in what happened next. It was so tragically unfair and I hated all of it.

The moving truck took all my stuff away. The last days were just he and I, snuggled on an air mattress on the floor. I kept him through it all, down to the very last minute.

I found the address online. It was the last stop before the airport. I sobbed and tried to talk to him the whole ride there.

He knew something was up. He paced throughout the car and made the saddest meowing sounds. He knew I was betraying him.

We got there and he was terrified. He peed all down the front of me as I carried him, still sobbing, into the building. I sobbed the whole time, while I filled out the paperwork at this stupid no-kill shelter. The people there took pity on me and quickly expedited the process and that was the last time I ever saw my cat.

I stumbled in the too bright sunlight out to my car, absolutely devastated. I sat and cried up until the last possible moment I could and then I went to the airport.

Covered in cat pee.

I cried the rest of that entire day, on the way to the airport, throughout the airport, on the plane, when I arrived in Kansas City, and on the whole ride to my new home and if you think I’m exaggerating even a little, remember that I was a new mother in her first trimester who had just given up her childhood pet to have an accidental baby.

I still fucking hate everything about this story. I miss my cat. I tried calling the shelter to check on him, but could never work up the courage to say anything on the other line. (Sorry shelter employees, I know that’s awkward.) That was 6 years ago, February.

I miss my cat. I can’t replace him.

I’m not a cat person. Just the one.

 

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Jenn Turner

Jenn Turner

Jenn Turner was born under a tarp.She's lived on the internet ever since, and only recently learned how to make real friends. During the day she schemes at &yet with her native people and at night she hangs with her number one favorite person ever. Currently she's studying emotions, relationships and aspires to one day let go. Also, TriConf.

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  • Becca Lingley

    I really appreciated your sharing of this story. We had our childhood dog, Abby, from my age 5 to my first semester in college. I used to sit on her dog house with her and tell her about my crazy teenage drama days. And then she got sick and I couldn’t go home to say goodbye. Childhood pets with long lives are the hardest. My husband’s childhood dog just passed away two weeks ago. It was a very hard time for their whole family. Maggie was a sweet dog. It’s no joke the impact long-term pets have on our lives, especially when they are present during our childhoods.

  • Suzy Garza Higley

    That made me really ….really…. Sad. :(.

  • Cari McGann McGee

    Oh, Jenn. I am so sorry. Words beyond that fail me.