Field Tripping: Cat Lady-ing

The City Paper editors sent me an email last week: "We're doing an issue on pets. Any chance you could write a column about your cats?" Oh, so you want 1,000 words on my cats, I thought. ONLY ONE THOUSAND??? Tough sell, but I'll see what I can do! You see, I love my cats. I have two of them, grown tabby cats from a shelter in Algiers, just across the river from Mardi Gras World in New Orleans. They've lived with me for nine years this week, and I love them so much. I am officially a cat lady.

I haven't always been one, even though I don't remember life without cats. Our first was Fido, a surly black-and-brown tabby who was treated very shabbily, I think. He had a big chunk missing from one ear, lost in a fight, no doubt; I'd hate to see the other cat. Fido was an indoor/outdoor cat, and when his nose started looking like something had been gnawing on it, we all figured he had just found himself in another back alley rumble or something. Turned out to be cancer, and by the time he found his way to a vet, it was too late. Mom took him there and never brought him back.


A string of long-haired cats followed. Willy was a black cat who had a bad habit of sidling up to walls and pissing on them—not an endearing trait. We went away to debate camp one summer, and upon our return he was gone. Mom finally admitted she'd had him put down: "I didn't think you'd notice!" Then there was Puff, a faded-out calico who tolerated an occasional sweater and was just so pretty. We went away to college, and upon our return she was gone. Mom finally admitted she'd given her to a friend: "I didn't think you'd notice!"

And truth is, we didn't really notice. The cats were background noise for the most part, if I'm being really honest. I loved having them around, but out of sight, out of mind.

After college I impulsively brought Molly, an orange tabby, home to the Fifth Avenue Brooklyn apartment made out of cardboard that I shared with an aspiring actor and dancer I found on the internet. The cat was great, but then I got into graduate school in California, and there was no way I was going to try to find an apartment in the Bay Area with a cat in tow. I left the cat with a woman I worked with. She owned two adjoining brownstones in Park Slope. She'd had them attached so her many cats would have more room to roam, and Molly got to live there—way better than joining me in my basement dungeon in Berkeley.

I spent the next near decade pet-free. I never knew how long I would live in any one place, and I didn't feel like hassling with a cat. One of my revolving-door roommates brought a cat once, and then we got fleas. No thanks.

Fast forward to nine years ago this week. I was less than a year into a job at Tulane University, and less than six months out of a very long relationship I expected to last a lifetime, and less than three weeks out from the torrid affair that had followed that break up. I was all loose in the world, no person, place, or institution to ground me. It was extremely uncomfortable. My friend Stephanie suggested I get a cat, that might help. She was right, and I did.

We headed out to the shelter just to look, not necessarily to get a cat. And then I met Sully Cat, a silver tabby who wouldn't stop talking. She was in the front cage, mewing and talking to the air; I thought she was talking to me. I walked around the cages to look at other cats, but Sully wouldn't stop shouting at me as she craned to follow our moves through the shelter.

I found Little Cat in a bottom cage near the back. She was a tiny brown tabby who, when I put my hand up to her cage, rubbed her head against it. When I took her in the get-to-know-you room, she ran to the corner and started shaking. She was a scaredy cat, and when I saw she'd already been in that cage for months, I knew I had to take her home or no one would. I had to take them both home—if you get a cat, you have to get two cats, I figured, otherwise the one cat might think herself the only one of her kind in the world. I couldn't take the presence of that kind of existential crisis. Plus, they were both such beautiful cats.

We started out in my strictly-no-cats sublet. Little hid under furniture for six weeks until she found the courage to come out and join me. Sully turned out to be a talker all the time, not just when she wanted to get someone to take her home. They soon moved with me to a tiny pool house behind a fancy house in the Garden District that accepted cats. I got Sully a stool to sit on while we watched TV together, and Little chased lizards and roaches, protecting the perimeter.

My friend and I drove them three days to Baltimore. I followed advice and got them some anxiety meds to keep them calm on the ride; all it did was give their guttural meows a more ghostly whine as we hopped from La Quinta Inn to La Quinta Inn, but we made it. And they've made two other moves in Baltimore since then, each time finding the sunniest spots and the warmest radiators to make themselves at home.

I remember when I got them, thinking that if they lived for even 10 years I'd still have them when I was 40 years old. That seemed totally wild at the time—FORTY? Whoa. Now I'm 41, and these two cats have been with me through a decade of so much change—of homes, cities, loves, old and new sorts of selves. And they are always there, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and I love them so much it hurts. Guess I was finally ready to commit.