I moved to Brooklyn in 2013 and for the first time in my life got to live blissfully alone. But when the year was up, I realized how lonely a lot of the time had been. My friends rolled my eyes as I told them that my “cat womb” was sadly empty. At my first meeting with the woman from the adoption organization, I told her I wanted an older, chill female cat that wouldn’t expect too much from me. But after a months-long hunt, of course I ended up with a 6-month-old boy so desperately needy that they let me adopt him solo (rare in NYC for kittens). When she brought him to my house the first time he creeped out of his carrier and immediately settled into my arms, and I have never fallen in love with something so quickly. Later I realized he was probably just terrified out of his mind! But from the start, it felt like true love. We’ve been pretty obsessed with each other since.
He came with the name Lester, which was just not doable for me. The week I got him I had a friend sleeping on my floor, and I woke up one morning and told him that the cat’s name had come to me in a dream: “Pico, like pico de gallo,” I said. “No,” my friend replied, “Pico de Gato!” And so Pico de Gato he was. We’ve got lots of nicknames for him: Pico-chu, ToPico Kansas, Peeks, PDG, our large son. My boyfriend, Ben, also makes fun of me for calling him “baby cat.” But he is an extremely needy little baby.
Everyone thinks their cat is a special weirdo. I am no exception. He’s a chubby black and white fluffball with a dumb little fangy face who drools when he’s happy and likes to play fetch at 4 am. He screams at you if you don’t pet him sufficiently. He’s terrified of plastic bags and boxes, most people when he first meets them, car noises, and being alone. I’ve gotten into doing puzzles recently, and nothing makes him angrier — sometimes he’ll just lay down on top of it while I’m working on one; he definitely feels like he is in competition with the puzzle for my undivided attention.
Pico has two favorite things besides food: his fleece string toy, which is the only toy he cares about, and that he needs devoted quality time with at least twice an evening, and belly pets, which he makes known every time we get home, flopping immediately onto his back like a beached whale. We also have a very soft blanket we call the “biscuit matrix,” because every time he gets on it he makes biscuits for a solid 20 minutes. He truly gets hypnotized. Also, sometimes he purrs when I say his name which makes me so happy. He’s very good company, as long as you are constantly paying attention to him and absolutely nothing else.
Last summer Pico and I moved from the small studio where he spent his first 4 years with me into a pretty sizeable apartment with a lofted second floor, which was a big adjustment for him. When we first moved in he had a panic attack, and wouldn’t leave my closet for a week. But now he loves all the space and he’s the King of the Castle.
We live with my boyfriend now, but Pico’s absolute favorite thing is when there’s only one person home. He hates sharing attention, and used to immediately fall asleep on me the second Ben would leave my old apartment. But he’s getting more used to sharing; now he’ll often sleep right between us, making sure at least one paw is on each person. He’s just a very sweet (and selfish) ball of love.
For so long, it was just me and Pico in that one-room studio apartment. I think it’s fair to say we became pretty co-dependent. I’d joke that he was like Jacob Tremblay’s character in “Room,” stuck with me in this tiny space for his whole life. People would ask me about how my boyfriend was with the cat and I’d tell them he was a good cat stepdad.
“Isn’t he just his dad?,” they’d say.
“I’m his dad,” I’d reply. “I’m his mom and his dad.”
Rachel Zarrell is a Creative Director at BuzzFeed. She lives in Brooklyn and loves doing crosswords and stress-baking (not at the same time). She hopes to get a second cat one day, but isn’t sure her firstborn would allow it.