I adopted Cleo about 7 years ago from Kitty Kind, a really wonderful cat rescue group that operates out of the Union Square Petco. They found her as a baby kitty wandering around the streets of Queens. She was so little and beautiful, a muted calico with green eyes, and I fell in love at first sight. The volunteer that rescued her said she had a fancy air about her, so she named her Princess. I didn’t want to live with a princess, so I named her Cleo. I was writing a book about Cleopatra at the time (The Time-Traveling Fashionista and Cleopatra Queen of the Nile) and was a bit obsessed with the Egyptian Queen and ancient Egypt in general. And since she was born in Queens it seemed like the perfect fit. Cleo still doesn’t respond to either name, but she does act the part. I’m an only child who grew up with a gray cat Bernard who I thought of as a furry sibling. He was named after that Disney cartoon The Rescuers. I always knew I would get another cat of my own as an adult. My life has gone through so many changes over the last 7 years, apartments, jobs, relationships, that it’s been really stabilizing to have Cleo as a constant and cuddly presence in my life. I don’t do well with too much change, and neither does she.
Cleo has a bit of social anxiety when first meeting new people, and will really take her time in approaching them, circling them, and sussing them out, particularly with men. But when she warms up and trusts you she is a loyal ally and total softie. Not so different from myself actually, so I can relate. Once she’s comfortable she’s an extremely chatty cat. If I’m gone for the day she’ll really let me have it when I get home.
I bought my current apartment from a couple who had at least 4 or 5 cats and a dog. One entire wall of the apartment was made up of cat perches so it was like living in a cat cafe at first. I had to take them down because Cleo wouldn’t go near them, they must have still smelled like the other cats. Also, as much as I like to visit cat cafes, living in the remnants of one was a little much, even for me.
If Cleo wants to get up and I’m still asleep, which she does almost every night sometime between 3 AM and 5 AM, she’ll headbutt me. If I don’t respond she starts knocking off the stack of books next to my bed one by one. Then, If I’m still not up, she’ll start doing what I call “cat reading” which is basically her pawing and flipping through the pages of every book until I get up and feed her. I have been totally unsuccessful at sleep training her; if anyone has suggestions I’m open. When I was writing full-time she was like my feline writing assistant. She would sleep next to my laptop on the table or curl up on the couch next to me when I was working. I don’t relate to writers who hate working from home all day. I thought it was the best perk of the job. I love my current non-profit job and getting to work with kids, but I do sometimes feel nostalgic for those times when it was just me and Cleo and a laptop.
I just turned 40, and to be honest it’s the first birthday that has really freaked me out. I was a competitive swimmer as a kid, and so have always been very goal and number oriented. This number seems so loaded and symbolic. I haven’t taken the most traditional career path, I’ve never been married, I don’t have kids, all of those traditional old fashioned markers of adult life, so sometimes I feel really anxious that I’m doing it all wrong. But reading the Girls and Their Cats book and seeing this amazing group of cat women who are all taking their own unique paths and living creative lives on their own terms has made me feel part of a bigger community in some way. I’m excited to see where this new decade will take us.
Bianca Turetsky is the author of books for children and young adults. Magic On The Map #3: Texas Treasure co-written with Courtney Sheinmel will be out January 2020 with Random House Kids. Bianca is the Brooklyn Regional Manager at Writopia Lab, a non-profit whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in children and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.