Growing up, I had never been a cat person. In fact, I was one of those people who actively disliked cats for no real reason except I liked dogs and only had dogs as pets. Even when I moved to New York City from California, I brought my childhood dog (Dinky, the sweetest Pomeranian) with me, who eventually passed on because he was such an old, old man. No one tells you how deeply heartbreaking it is to care for your senior childhood pet: endless vet visits, money spent on special food and medicine, and the dreaded question of whether or not it’s time to finally let go. When I finally did make that decision, I also decided I could never endure that type of heartbreak ever again.And that’s when Hygge came into my life.
One day, during one of the “polar vortexes” that hit New York, my boyfriend and I were carting our clothes to the laundromat. We saw a cat sleeping on a sheet of ice. If you live in Brooklyn, stray cats are a staple, and they usually dart in the other direction as soon as you get close to them. But this cat didn’t. He immediately got up and came in my direction. Even though I usually don’t care for cats, I was taken by his instant affection for me, and I crouched down to pet him before continuing my journey to the laundromat. On our way back, the cat was still there, and he immediately perked up when he saw us again. I noticed he had a limp as he walked toward us to get more head scratches. Without really thinking and while my boyfriend asked, “Uh – what are you doing?”, I picked this dusty, cold cat up and carried him back into our warm apartment. I immediately wrapped him up like a burrito in a blanket (a purrito, if you will) and told my confused boyfriend, “Let’s just let him stay here, so he doesn’t freeze to death. He needs some ‘hygge’ in his life.” And that’s what we also named him: Hygge. At first, I only wanted to foster him, and I worked with Alley Cat Allies for potential adopters. But as soon as the first potential adopter messaged me, I immediately turned them down and adopted Hygge myself. The thought of letting him go broke my heart in a way that I didn’t know I could feel for a cat — now I know that, out in that snowstorm, it was already love at first sight.
Hygge lives up to his name. He is not only cozy and warm, but he also brings indescribable joy and love to my life. Hygge has a daily routine: he wakes up, eats, stares out of the window (or as we like to call it, “Bird TV”), and sleeps — but no matter how many times he does it, it’s like he’s doing it for the first time to me. His favorite place to curl up to sleep is usually on your lap or nuzzled in between your legs. When the weather is cold, he crawls under the blankets on our bed and hibernates for hours. Vets and guests always compliment him on how affectionate and social he is — “what a handsome and polite little gentleman!” — and I can’t help but to well up with pride. Even though it’s already been three years, I keep discovering new things about his personality. For example, I discovered that he loves pools of water. Whenever I take a bath, he immediately perches on the tub and dips his front paws and the tip of his tail in the water, as if enjoying a warm bath with me. Also, once during Thanksgiving, I submerged a frozen turkey in the kitchen sink. Sure enough, Hygge was perched up on the counter — only this time, he used his paws to scoop and splash the water all around. Come to think of it: maybe he’s just making sure nothing is drowning on his watch! Whenever my boyfriend and I are both away from the apartment on a date night or wherever, we inevitably end up talking about Hygge, wondering what he’s doing, if he notices that we’re gone. Since we both seemingly can’t bear to be apart from him, we always bring him along to weekend getaways to upstate AirBnBs, where Hygge gets to roam free and follow his never-ending curiosity. He’s definitely taught us to be better humans by being wide-eyed, affectionate, funny, enthusiastic, and kind.
During a particularly difficult and lonely period of my life when I was transitioning into a creative/artistic career, I found Hygge to be one of my greatest comforts and constants. I read once that cats sometimes purr to heal themselves or those around them. I cried almost every day, and I felt incredibly alone and unsupported in this journey. But no matter how disheartened I felt, Hygge would always curl up on top of me and purr. In fact, since officially adopting him from the streets, Hygge has always galloped down the hallway when I open the front door, chirping and purring, until I pick him up and hold him like a baby. I think we both really needed each other, not only to heal, but also to learn how to love selflessly and care unconditionally again.
Sandie Cheng is an Asian-American writer and actor from Riverside, CA. She is the producer and host of Now In Color, a weekly podcast that brings those who have been erased in history back to the forefront. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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