Cristiana Peña & Tom

XJ8A2985aTom is a prince, but Amelia was a queen. She came first. It’d been just the two of us for years when a (now ex) boyfriend was added to the mix. About a year later, he and I were at the beach one day when I received an email from a friend about a cat in need of a home. She was the director of the Dyckman Farmhouse in Upper Manhattan which was regularly the dumping ground for unwanted pets, as well as the place where strays tended to congregate given the gated grounds. For a few days, this one black cat kept coming up to her when she was on the porch sweeping, or rubbing the legs of visitors as they stood with her listening to the architectural history of Dutch Colonial era New York. This one, she could tell, wasn’t a feral but likely a house pet that escaped or, sadly, was abandoned. She sent around an email saying she was holding Tom at her apartment, which was just around the corner from the historic house, I showed my boyfriend and a few hours later we were trailing beach sand into her apartment, and all I could think the entire time was, “How am I going to explain this to Amelia???”XJ8A2879aWe arrive home with Tom. Amelia is, predictably, not pleased. For the next month, there was hissing through doors and swipes of claws. It seemed Amelia would never accept him into the home. And then, one day, it just happened. She was sitting on a chair, he jumped up, she gave no reaction, and I smiled at the new level of comfort we had achieved.

Tom was always the more playful of the two, being a good 10 years younger than Amelia. If you saw Amelia up on a piece of furniture, she was likely hiding from Tom’s attempts to tussle. He was her annoying little brother; he was my needy, cuddly little black bear. His demands to be held were in contrast to Amelia, who allowed herself to be held only on occasion. They had such distinctly different personalities and gave love in such special ways.XJ8A2900aIn February of this year, I was visiting a friend in Utah when my (new) boyfriend texted his daily cat update. Tom was fine – demanding food (typical). Amelia, though, seemed kinda sluggish, was keeping to herself and mostly sleeping. I chalked it up to her being annoyed that I was gone for so long. But the next day, as I was boarding my plane in Denver, headed back to NYC, he said she was still not her normal self. He promised to watch her closely and wished me a safe flight. When I landed at LaGuardia, my phone regained service and was flooded with a series of text messages telling me that Amelia was not alright, something was definitely wrong, and he was taking her to the emergency vet. In two hours’ time, I landed, rushed to the vet ER, learned that Amelia had cancerous masses quickly growing in her abdomen, and made the unspeakably painful decision to let her go (rather than subject her weakened body to surgeries and chemo). Tom walked the apartment for weeks looking for Amelia, meowing into empty rooms. We’ll miss her always.

Tom is the neediest, snuggliest, rotund little guy. He isn’t shy to wake you up at 3am or 4am or 5am (or all of the am’s) to demand a snack. He won’t hesitate to nip you at the ankle if he requires petting right that instant. He just wants to be loved, at all times. And he gives love, too. He snuggles up alongside me when I’m on the couch and gives licks for as long as my skin can withstand the sandpaper grit of his tongue (not long).

Last year, I decided Tom (and Amelia) deserved their own gallery wall, seeing as how I enjoy curating my own collection of second-hand and new art. Hung at cat-level are, so far, two works of art lovingly gifted by friend and fellow cat lady, Rose.

On Fridays, I work from home and he can be found during “office hours” cuddled up on my left arm, with his paws flopping onto the keyboard. My productivity level dramatically decreases, but he. is. worth. it.XJ8A2897aHe’s a heartbreaker. Tom has a little white patch on his black chest, giving him the look of wearing a little tuxedo. So handsome! He’s charmed so many of my friends.

A few years ago, Tom had a dental checkup only to learn he needed seven (!!) teeth pulled. One of which was his front fang. So now, when he yawns, instead of being ferocious he gives this adorable lop-sided look.

Tom is a talker. If you’re sitting in the living room and haven’t seen him for a while, you’ll hear a confused yowl. Yell “we’re in here, Tom!” and without fail he’ll trot in and rejoin the group.

He’s kind of a scaredy cat. Most surprisingly, he is terrified of string or ribbon or a feather on a stick. Try and he’ll just immediately go wide-eyed and run off.

He’s a fiend for catnip. Drop a bit on the rug and watch as he rolls and licks and loses his mind.

He’s a word-class relaxer.XJ8A3010aWe have always had very specific nighttime sleeping arrangements in our house. First, it was Amelia up top near the pillow and Tom at your feet. Now that it’s Tom alone, he’s found a new favorite spot to curl up at night: the little nook created by my arm and my right hip. But he doesn’t just lay down, no: he places his two front paws up on my stomach and sits perched, eventually putting his head down and then melting into the bed.

Cristiana Peña is a lover of architecture and history. Originally from South Dakota, she has been in New York City for 12 years and juggles a handful of projects, from community relations to digital media strategy and management on behalf of clients like @circahouses @nyclgbtsites @makinggayhistory @historicgreenwood and @bkbookfest.


Photographer based in Brooklyn, NY.

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