I’m now four months into life with my cat, Yam, AKA my “orange live-in boyfriend” (thanks, Dad).
Where do I begin? I am obsessed with Yammy, Yamyam, Yammers, Yamburger, Yambaby. He has silky, ginger fur with soft, hieroglyphic-like patterns. His most distinctive feature is his tongue, which permanently sticks out. The animal shelter told me that this is because of an injury he suffered to his jaw, most likely the result of a car accident. Luckily, he’s in no pain, just requires a diet of wet food.
My new roommate is slightly cross-eyed, smaller and scrappier than he looks in photos. The shelter said he was 3 years old, but I suspect he’s younger because of his big appetite and the way he springs onto every surface.
He is in turns loving and manipulative, sleepy and demanding, wobbly and gazelle-like. Every morning at 6, he head-butts me and runs his slobbery mouth against my chin, crying for breakfast, until I kick him out or give in. He’s the most effective alarm clock I’ve ever owned.
Yam spends his day finding new spaces to explore throughout the apartment. He stretches on top of the covered radiator by the window, crouches on top of my subwoofer, and climbs into the sink. Sometimes he sleeps inside a cardboard tent, in my laundry basket, or in a patch of sun, mouth wide open, kicking in his sleep.
A piece of spinach is easily Yam’s favorite toy over a laser pointer. He often jumps for the couch, misses, and keeps running. After he poops, he rockets across the apartment from end to end, yowling like a small spooked horse, then quiets down, curls up on my lap, purring, so I can give him a nose kiss and a belly rub while watching Netflix.
The funny thing is, if you had asked three years ago, I would have sworn I was a dog person. Anyone who knew me would have, given how many photos of other people’s dogs I posted on Instagram.
But in those years, much happened to me: I started a job working in social media for news ahead of the 2016 election; had two seizures and was diagnosed with stress-induced epilepsy in 2017; was promoted; and in 2018 turned 29 and took a solo trip to Italy. On that trip, I realized that after having over 40 roommates, it was time for me to live alone, to build my own home and focus on myself. In that life, I pictured owning a 12-pound, highly-devoted rescue pup.
In October, I moved into my own place in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.
There are many lovely things about living alone, such as having my own bathtub, knowing all of the food is mine, dancing naked to “Homecoming,” etc. But TV isn’t an adequate substitute for companionship, and by January, half my plants were dead and the body pillow I ordered from Amazon wasn’t cutting it in the spooning department.
While I’d dreamed of a dog, between my health, the pressures of moving, and directing a team, I didn’t have the energy that a dog would demand. A cat seemed far lower-maintenance. Plus, I’d grown up loving both my family’s dogs and our cat, and at the end of the day, I reasoned that all I really needed was a cuddle buddy.
In January, I sent a Google questionnaire to my cat-owning friends for advice, with questions like: “Wet food? Dry food?? Which one?” “Will my cat be depressed if I’m gone all day?” “HOW DO YOU CUT THEIR NAILS?”I wanted an older cat, not a kitten, with short hair and a calm, sweet personality—a cat who would love me wholly. I busied myself pimping out my cat crib, flipping through adoption profiles, and reaching out to NYC shelters.
I spent a grueling weekend trekking all over the city in rain to visit foster cats and shelters. It broke me inside to meet some cats—ones whose owners had recently died and wouldn’t eat, ones whose tails were healing from amputations. They all deserved safe, warm homes.
Animal Haven was my last stop. When I told a volunteer what I was looking for, she said immediately, “Well, we’ve got Sirus.”
She led me to a white room and opened a glass door to reveal a wide-eyed, drooling tabby with his tongue hanging out, his paws kneading the air while he sat up.
The volunteer told me about the injury the “community cat” suffered.
“He’ll always drool a bit,” she said, “but he’s a happy guy.”
And he was. He was SO happy. I scratched his cheeks deeply, and he drooled all over my puffy coat, purring like a lawn mower, kneading nothing. I pressed my head to his and saw, though his face was cartoon-like, his eyes were a sharp, clear amber.
“There are worse things than coming home to that face every day,” I mused, and filled out an application.
Adopting Yam, née Sirus, and building a language and life with him has been such a special experience. It has cured my dog itch, and some of my loneliness, too.
While I don’t yet know if I’d call myself a cat person, I am definitely a Yam person.
Malia Griggs is an anxious, amusing Asian American shorthair born in South Carolina, adopted by Brooklyn. In between meals and naps, she works as Director of Social Media at The Daily Beast, and before that, Comedy Central and Cosmopolitan. Click here to foster—sorry, follow—Malia (@maliagriggs) and/or Yam (@doitfortheyam).