Unboxing Challenge — Day 6: My “Baby” Cat!

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Everybody has the sweetest cat in the world. So do I! Here’s my uncommon tribute:

First vet photo (Soooo many vet visits as a kitten and soooo much money. And zero regrets.)

When she was a kitten, I adopted her BECAUSE she was so visibly ill. My ex and I had intended to adopt a black kitten instead, but my heart broke for the gooey-eyed tuxedo one in the same crate: did anybody bother to take her out to play with her? To give her a chance to climb around and be petted and happy? So I took her out, fell in love with her, and decided, “She deserves a home.” I was sad thinking that this poor little sick kitten probably had no idea what it felt like to be healthy, and I wanted her to feel well again.

She was later diagnosed with systemic calicivirus — after the other, perfectly healthy kitten fell ill and succumbed to it within two weeks of adoption (Our vets told us it’s fatal 50% of the time.) — and it took months of antibiotics in her mouth and in her eyes, plus heavy-duty vitamin syringes, before she got fully better. She silent-meowed her greetings for weeks because no sound would come out of her congested lungs and throat, and when she was finally able to breathe well enough again to have a voice, she would around the apartment basically “yelling,” proudly, just for the sheer joy and novelty of being able to make sound. She also slowly changed from brown-and-white to black-and-white; a veterinary specialist told me yeeeeears later that apparently her cocoa color in kittenhood was a sign of just how ill she had been; her tiny body had been conserving its resources through hypopigmentation.

The rocky road of her kittenhood reflects in this angel, awkwardly and endearingly, to this day. She’s had an overactive immune system most of her life ever since, which causes her paw pads to get flaky. And as for the respiratory side of her long-ago illness, in the moments when she gets really happy and tries to purr, her purrs sound like piggy-snorts. I could tell you more about how her early illness left some enduring quirks in her behavior and appearance, but those are not so important: what is important is that she is the SWEETEST. creature. ever. And I feel so blessed for the fact that life has allowed me to be her person.

When she was a baby, I spent countless hours on the couch with her, just holding her over my heart while she slept, stroking her silky fur very gently. I was trying to make sure that she felt, if not the comfort of health, the comfort of love. She thrived. While I don’t believe I was the one in charge of whether she would pull through, I still feel like her recovery as a kitten — fueled by much quiet affection and heart-chakra-bathing — taught me a little something about the power of love. Love creates the gentle space of peace and security that supports our healing process. It is the harbor where we can repair what has broken and remember how very much we are wanted and how very much our existence matters.

Napping her way to recovery: the little kitten that could.

Her first vet, in fact, did not believe that she could survive her illnesses; he was outright angry that the shelter dared to adopt her out, felt as if they had taken advantage of me in so doing, and instructed me to bring her back and tell them this. But the thought of bringing her back to the shelter, knowing they would put her down, broke me. I’d only had her for a day or two by that moment, and already I knew that I loved her. That’s why, as a recent college graduate with little money to begin with, I strapped in for the very expensive vet ride. My worries about money, or any desire I might have had to spend that money on myself, were nothing compared to the love I felt for this little being and my commitment to giving her whatever I could to help her live.

Our lives changed very drastically within the two years after I adopted her; my ex and I ended our relationship, and lucky for me, at the end of it, I got to keep her. However, it was much harder for me to afford housing, or a lifestyle, that allowed pets once I became single again. Hence, this little angel has lived with my parents for most of her life. Still, after nearly a decade of living with them, whenever I am around, she spends all her time with me. She keeps me company while I write in the living room, wanders into the kitchen to eat when I do, and goes to sleep next to me every night. Then, in my absence, she adopts the things that have belonged to me, like my (now her) favorite white fleece blanket, or a purple storage-cube-style ottoman. Long after my scent fades, these things still connect us.

We even seem to have a bit of a psychic bond, once in a while. For example, once, when I was especially missing her, I kept visualizing myself in the guest bedroom at my parents’ house where I normally stayed whenever I visited. In these visualizations, I was hanging out on the bed with her, just petting and talking to her, trying to project my energy so she would know that I missed her and love her very much. My mom called me some days later, totally unknowing of this, and mentioned, “You know, your cat never hangs out on your bed when you’re not here at this house, but all week, for some reason, she’s been spending every day in there.”

We are connected. By the power of love. Because love is like that. As Rumi said, “Love is
the bridge between you and everything.”

More on the power of love: I spent nearly two years in adulthood living at my parents’ house in rural Pennsylvania to save up money again (very sloooooowly) for an international move. In this time, she was my constant companion. And when she started having autoimmune problems, I started taking her for a succession of vet appointments. As anyone with autoimmune disorders knows, autoimmune stuff is complicated to fix and often takes a long period of trial and error. I was making next-to-nothing and trying to save every penny — not buying a car, not going out with friends — but still I spent nearly $1,000 on her medical appointments and medicines over a period of months. Because even if she didn’t live with me, and even if I had next-to-nothing, I couldn’t bear the thought of neglecting her needs. In some ways, seeing the huge extent to which I was willing to prioritize her wellbeing and comfort when my future literally depended on my ability to save up enough to move away (to a place with more opportunities), I was surprised.

Photo from last year’s autoimmune issues. Filmy eye — and cute as ever.
In other ways, I was not surprised at all. Because, again, love is like that. And I only wished that I could do even more.

I am very happy to report that, while she still lives with my parents, she now lives even closer to extended family who love her, as my parents have moved. When they go on vacation, she “vacations” down the block with my aunt, uncle, and grandmother. And they ADORE her too. (A feeling I can tell is mutual, by the fact that she hides when it’s time to pack up and go home, or jumps into her travel bag sometimes to announce that she would like to visit them.) It makes me happy to see how broad the circle of love is that envelops her. Skin flakes, piggy snorts and all; we love her unconditionally.

I list her in my Unboxing Challenge because my relationship with her represents a lot that I deeply appreciate. There is, of course, first of all, the fact of her existence: she is one of the greatest gifts that has blessed my life. There is also the fact that she has been loved and cared for so readily by my own loved ones, when my life changed and I couldn’t give her the kind of life she deserved on my own. The entire fact that she lives with them is a reminder of how much love surrounds me: the selfless people with huge hearts who were willing to open their own to her as completely as I did mine.

(Side note: these were also people who did much to help me leave my abusive relationship. If you have a friend in an abusive relationship, and that friend has a pet, please understand that the pet is more than “just an animal” to them. Many “solutions” for abusive relationships don’t account for pets. But the bond between an abused person and their animal companion is incredible, and they will often sacrifice their own comfort and security to remain with the pet, just to ensure the pet’s safety. Remember this, and know that finding a safe solution for the pet can make it much easier for your friend to leave.)

But there’s the psychic connection too. And the things she has taught me about love. That love can literally heal. And that love can rearrange our priorities in ways we might never have expected, yet seem entirely worthwhile.

I love every little fur and flake, and I miss her dearly when I’m not under the same roof. It’s hard to be away from an animal you love; you can talk to humans on the phone, and while that’s not the same as a hug or a kiss, you still have words to maintain your relationship. With animals, you mostly only have the nonverbal. There is so very much more I could say about how special she is to me, what she’s helped me learn, how she’s helped me grow and heal, and how much more often I would love to be able to see her.

Bedtime purrito on a visit to my parents’ bedroom. ❤️

But whenever I think about how she came into my life, I feel, All of this was meant to be. I suspect sometimes, in fact, that she had been so sick because I was meant to notice her that day. Whatever my future was going to bring — the breakup, the multiple moves, the overseas freelancing, and the poverty — she and I were still meant to be a pair. However that might look. And I will always feel blessed for that.

Okay. This post has been less of a celebration of myself than about my bond with a very special little being. But that’s where the story went, so I honored it!

Here’s something for you to contemplate:

 

Who has helped you see that your heart’s capacity is far bigger than you ever imagined?

 

 

Want to connect with more sense of wonder and gratitude for the gifts in your life? Try the Unboxing Challenge. Read about it here and here, or follow lalabelle.rose on IG.

Laura
Laura left a Ph.D. program at age 26 to make good on long-forgotten dreams of nomad'ing and writing. She currently lives in Berlin and writes about the magic of everyday life — most especially, the magic we find when we open our hearts and choose to follow them.

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