Cedric was a feline roommate of mine, and while he impressed me with his talents (like opening both the refrigerator and the freezer and helping himself to all of the cheese and imitation crab meat his heart desired), he didn’t necessarily SELL me on having a cat. I grew up with a dog—cats weren’t on my radar.
However, nine Christmases ago, my buzzer rang unexpectedly and my old roommate and dear friend (Cedric’s mom) delivered me two rescue kittens. She and my (now ex) husband picked them out for me—though to be clear, I had not that year, nor any year, asked for even one kitten, much less two. I was totally overwhelmed, as the li’l orange guy started climbing the Christmas tree and the baby brown tabby started eating it, I locked myself away from the mayhem, cried and frantically googled things like “how much to feed kittens” and “kitten eating pine needles.” It dawned on me that they could be with me until I was 50. I panicked. I cried more. I demanded the Christmas tree be taken down immediately. It’s not my proudest moment.
However, this is not a story about the hazards of gifting kittens, (And to be fair to the rescue, the kittens were actually adopted by a member of my household—my friend was a conduit), but rather—something about the infinite wisdom of the universe, which provided me with Cornelius and Mr. Whiskers before I knew I needed them.
About two years later, my marriage ended. I proclaimed, from under the kitchen table, where I had crawled to join the cats, that I didn’t care about anything else, but I was taking them with me wherever I went. The three of us moved out and ended up with a bed, a litter box, and a miscellaneous antique steamer trunk in 250 square feet in Fort Greene.
The apartment was super-small, but all ours. There was a little patch of outdoor space accessible via climbing over the toilet and crawling out the window. When not hanging out drinking vodka in our bed fort, you could find us out there in a patch of sun trying to make the best out of what felt like a really shitty situation at the time.
Living in such close quarters allowed us all to observe each others’ weird behaviors—Cornelius is obsessed with hummus, broccoli and greek yogurt. Mr. Whiskers really enjoyed watching Season One of Narcos. They help with the chores: Cornelius makes the bed and Mr. Whiskers accompanies me to the trash chute. They love each other and are supportive brothers, though they do enjoy a good wrestling match from time to time.
As for the weird behaviors they’ve gotten to see in me—they’ve watched as I stood in the kitchen, naked, eating leftover Thai food straight from the fridge at 7am; they’ve seen me sobbing and pounding my fists on the bedroom floor and dancing with joy while perched precariously in heels on top of an ottoman. They don’t judge when I make a bad choice. And one of them (usually Mr. Whiskers) always lets me pick him up to re-enact “Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong” when I’m in the mood for an interpretative dance.
Mr. Whiskers sleeps with me most nights. He is way mellow. He gives me chin scratches or puts his paw on my face when I’m restless and can’t settle down. Sometimes he cuddles on my head or serves as my little spoon. He often flops over and just looks up at me with big round eyes—and communicates that all is well. He is the most soothing cat I’ve ever encountered.
Cornelius is a little more intense. He bit me one day during a blizzard. We were settling down to binge The Affair and he started pawing and nuzzling at my hip in a really cute way—until he sunk his teeth into me. I thought he had lost his kitty mind. I put him in the bathroom and freaked. The little puncture marks in my thigh were starting to turn purple. Much like when I first got the cats, I panicked and googled. Snowpocaylpse had shut down all the local urgent cares, so I bundled myself up, and was determined to get to the hospital. I had to save my leg! On my way out, I put my hand in my pants pocket and found an old cat treat. C wasn’t attacking me at all, he was just being a cat! A rather impolite cat, but good enough to be trusted out of the bathroom.
Having the cats has taught me that I’m not inherently lazy. I had been telling myself that I lacked ambition for probably my entire adult life, but when I no longer had a second income, it was hard to make ends meet for myself, much less the cats. To keep us in Brooklyn, close to our support network, I got a second job as a catsitter and hustled. I would see other people’s cats in the morning before work, put in a full day at my fundraising job and then go visit more cats at night. And when I was laid off the day after the 2016 election (I still don’t know which was more devastating) and Cornelius had a lumpectomy scheduled for the following week, I sat cats all over Brooklyn, exacerbated an already bad case of plantar fasciitis, and sold anything of mine that had value to make sure he got his surgery. I was exhausted and nearly defeated, but Cornelius’ lump was benign, Mr. Whiskers was an attentive nurse, and we all at least had one night of sound sleep.
All these years later, I’d say I’ve really leaned into being a cat woman. My life situation has improved significantly, and I’ve mostly retired from visiting other people’s cats, so my cats are getting more playtime and meals on a regular schedule, but I find I miss it. I remember all the cats I’ve ever watched. Every cat has a different personality and if you’re tuned in, you can really get to know them. Of course, I think my guys are the best, sweetest and most brilliant— they are entirely the greatest cats a girl who never asked for cats could have asked for.
Liz Moran has been a development and events professional for over a decade. She has worked at a number of prominent NYC cultural institutions and currently fundraises for an educational organization. She is also a semi-professional catsitter, and a completely non-professional painter (by-numbers), tap dancer, and Polaroid photo artist.