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In which I become that cat lady.

So, like literally six days after my life fell apart, I decided to get a cat.

I think you will agree that there is never a better time to make such a decision than when you are romantically heartbroken, with an utterly uncertain future and nowhere to live. This is truly the ideal time for a visit the Humane Society; it says so right in their pamphlet. When Jeff and I were negotiating everything, I actually ASKED, as in, on my LIST OF DEMANDS, if I could get a cat, because having a cat to snuggle with would make me “feel better about this whole divorce thing,” especially since I was leaving the bunnies behind for the foreseeable future. No red flags there! Carry on!

Technically, I did have somewhere to live; it just didn’t have anything in it yet, seeing as I had just received the keys from my landlord about two hours prior. Jeff by no means had pressured me to leave, especially considering that he was never home anyway, but at some point in the proceedings, I had locked onto the idea that I would find a sunny studio somewhere with hardwood floors. You know the kind–with crown molding and crystal doorknobs and darling little keyholes. I had always wanted to live somewhere like that, with a cat.

And guess what? I totally made it happen! I’m … just not sure it turned out to be the hottest idea to fulfill both aspects of that fantasy in the same day.

I walked into the Humane Society, completely dazed. You know that beginning to a movie, the one where some disheveled girl who’s been through some as-yet-unrevealed zombie-invasion hell wanders into a charming little gas station with the tinkling of a doorbell, and you can tell she’s not quite right? That something has clearly Happened, even before the cute gum-cracking cashier with the Southern accent recognizes the severity of the situation? I think that was probably me. I was all, “I am here to get a cat,” as if this was the only English sentence I knew. (Come to think of it, there’s another dead giveaway that you’re about to watch an unpleasant killer-cyborg type of plot unfold: a stranger who quite suspiciously appears to be programmed to just say a few key sentences over and over again while trying to act normal.)

In my defense, I am famous (some would say notorious) for spoiling my pets, and I don’t think any of the friends who were too polite to argue with me at the time really expected me to do any harm to some poor homeless animal by, like, squeezing it too hard while staring blankly into the distance, JUST AS AN EXAMPLE, HA HA HA HA. Also in my defense, I HAD asked a Humane Society employee, over the phone, whether I was required to take the cat home that same day. I was reassured that this was not the case.

I was given a number and directed to the cat area. I studied each animal in turn, looking for signs of hardiness. After all, this poor feline would be expected to serve as the sole emotional outlet for a woman who was still crying at stoplights, so “rugged” seemed like a fairly key adjective. Not to hate on the available cats of the Humane Society, but frankly, none of them seemed like sidekick material. Most of them were sleeping, for instance; I think you will agree that this was not exemplary of the kind of roll-up-your-sleeves gusto required of a divorce sidekick.

Crushing disappointment had already set in by the time I turned around and saw him. He was the only cat I hadn’t seen yet, and you guys, he was PERFECT:

This gigantic cuddly tabby won me over in about a second. He was strong; he was handsome; he had personality. People, he was cat-boyfriend material—we’re talking the kind of cat-boyfriend who will don a varsity letter sweater in order to put a corsage on your wrist and take you to the dance. There was alert gazing! There was purring! There was the kneading of my sweater! I immediately had the most mature and well-adjusted reaction possible, which was to plonk down in a chair right in front of his cage and glare at everyone while clutching my paper number in one hand and petting him through the bars with the other. “You really … like that one, don’t you?” people would ask politely. And I was all, “What was your first clue? MOVE ALONG, PLEASE.”

By the time my number came up and I jabbed my finger in his direction rapidly and repeatedly, like, THAT ONE, I WANT THAT ONE, AND YOU BETTER GO GET HIM FOR ME NOW, RIGHT NOW, BEFORE SOMEONE TAKES HIM AWAY, the getting-to-know-you process was really more of a formality. They handed him to me, he head-butted me hello and then commenced kneading my shoulder with his paws, and I said, “I’ll be back for him on Wednesday.”

“Oh, no, I’m sorry,” the attendant responded. “We don’t allow anyone to reserve an animal.”

Alarmed, I explained that I had called and asked beforehand. She repeated their policy and politely explained that whoever I had talked to obviously had their head up their ass (though not in so many words). After a moment of back-and-forth, it became obvious that I had to decide whether I could live with the possibility that he might be gone when I came back in a few days. And really, since I was quite objectively aware that he was the most perfect and wonderful cat that had ever existed on this earth, that outcome seemed like a strong possibility.

“Well … I … guess I’ll take him now!” I said brightly, as if I had so much as a piece of furniture back home. Or, you know, a litterbox, even. About three seconds later, they took my picture, standing there, holding him. I don’t know how it turned out, but I’m sure I looked terrified. Very newly single girl clutches the cat that she is utterly unprepared to take home and stares into the lens with a tremulous smile: yet another successful adoption story in which a cat finds its forever family!

Lest you think I’m exaggerating my state of mind, I give you this: once they put him in a box and handed him to me, I just walked right out the door with him, without paying a dime. You guys, I actually STOLE a CAT. (Please join me in my childish delight when I observe that one might call this … catnapping.)

I walked out to the parking lot, put him in the front seat, and sat behind the wheel without moving for a good seven minutes. Then I drove to PetSmart. You haven’t lived until you’re dragging a box with a cat in it around the pet store, flinging litter liners and cat food and cat toys and cat litter into an overflowing cart. At some point, I realized I had not adopted the cat in question, but stolen one, but by then it was way too late to go back. Who knew when this thing was going to poop? I WAS IN A DESPERATE RACE AGAINST THE POOP.

Inconveniently (and rather cinematically, if I do say so myself), it began to pour down rain, which is how I found myself soaking wet in front of my building with two armloads of cat accoutrements and a meowing cardboard box. I learned a lot that day: mainly, to never, ever buy the forty-pound tub of litter, as someone who lives in a third-floor walkup. I walked into my utterly empty (and by utterly empty, I mean devoid of so much as a roll of toilet paper) apartment, threw everything down, let my new and horrified cat-boyfriend out of the box, and started apologizing profusely.

Did I mention I was going out of town that weekend, and was in fact already late?

I poured him like nine bowls of cat food to tide him over for the next two days and got ready to leave; he kept cowering and trying to climb into my lap. Finally, I just called my parents, told them I was going to be late getting home, and sat against the wall, on the floor, with him curled up in a lap that was too small for him. We sat like that for a long time, both new here, both thoroughly freaked out. In a flash of inspiration, after taking in my empty surroundings, I named him Finito Garante, which is really terrible Italian for “guaranteed to be over.” (Jeff, may I remind you, is severely allergic to cats.) The whole day just had that feel: There’s no going back now, is there. “I’ll call you Nito!” I told my cat-boyfriend. Then I headed to my hometown to see my family for the first time since the Decision had been made, in order to reassure them that I was all right.

When I returned home about forty-eight hours later, I had about nine messages from the Humane Society telling me I had stolen a cat and—I am not making this up—THREATENING TO SEND AN OFFICER TO THE PREMISES if I did not contact them immediately and turn myself in. And I was all, listen, if you took your job that seriously, you wouldn’t have given someone like me a cat in the first place.

But that cat has slept in the crook of my arm ever since then, so I’m glad they did.

He can, at times, be convinced to sleep away from me, on his side of the bed, like so:

Good night, Nito.

Yet … somehow … in the morning, when I wake up, it’s more like this:

Oh, good MORNING, Nito. I don’t even know how we wind up like that without me waking up.

He also loves to help me work. Sometimes, he can be cajoled into a reasonable helping position, from which he can review manuscripts and offer creative input. (Well, when he actually has his eyes open … which is never.)

Most of the time, though, he is … rather unhelpful.

No, Nito, that’s perfect. You’re not in the way at all.

Usually I just give up and work around him, which is why my work space looks like this a lot of the time:

Not that he’s, uh, a spoiled little cat-prince or anything.

It’s ridiculous, how much having him has helped me. I would slog through a confusing day of realtors and insurance papers and God knows what else, and then I would crawl into bed and hug on his big furry self like a little kid lost in the woods with a teddy bear. And he would start purring immediately, and his tail would start patting me in a slow, sleepy rhythm, and we would fall asleep like that, content if not always particularly victorious. Even now, he greets me when I come home every day, and there is something profoundly healing about that, even if he is just a grubby little parasite when you get right down to it. Hey, who isn’t?

Anyway, it’s a good thing I don’t send out Christmas cards, or I would have some choice words for you: Nito, me, Olan Mills, matching sweater vests. Don’t act like that wouldn’t be awesome.

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