On Monday I got a call from Melissa about a family of stray cats that she had just picked up from a temple. She runs an Animal Taxi service here and was on her way to drop them off at a shelter – someone had complained about them so it was no longer safe for them to remain at the temple. As part of her work, Melissa relocates and rescues strays who might need a home or just a place where they could be less at risk of getting abused.
“I wasn’t sure if you’re ready yet, but I saw these guys and thought about you.” Melissa sent me photos of the cats, said they seemed pretty healthy, and offered to drop by my place to let me meet them. “You see if you click with any of them.” We’ve been looking for cats since we moved to the new place and we’ve had the weirdest experiences, involving one rehoming and two medical emergencies in which neither of them made it. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to be ready to risk that heartbreak again.
Growing up, the concept of a true ‘loving home’ was something that existed only in my imagination – and it was a super vivid one. I’m not sure exactly when, but somewhere along the years of surviving the loss of my childhood and then adolescence, I had decided what my ideal Home would look like, what it needed. From then on, any image of an ‘ideal home’ for me always involved some kind of garden, an intense amount of books and art, and animals co-habitating in my living spaces.
And of course, the absence of terror.
The image of this safe home and its variations was something I held on to for as long as I can remember. It evolved from a castle set in a fantasy land full of magic people where I won battles and recharged from long-drawn-out quests, to a little hut in a remote spot in the jungle, to a sea-side village with boats as the only transport, to the actual set-up of houses I’ve lived in but this time, the people I’d live with would be loving and there were always cats but also sometimes rabbits, owls, tigers, dogs, snakes – hey, if I’m creating something imaginary to give myself a glimmer of hope in hopeless times, I might as well go all out!
Towards the end of last year, we had secured a rental apartment that could hold space for the kind of Home-building I felt like I’ve been planning for since forever. The bigger balcony means more space for new or bigger plants. The slightly smaller layout means just enough for two people – and easier to clean. Being closer to the sea means direct contact with the vast body of water, the landscape that informs the foundation of my work on memory, healing, and trauma. A quieter, less hectic setting meant the potentiality for more sleep – and perhaps enough capacity to open up the space for cats in need of a home.
During the years in which I battled with a triggered agoraphobia, whose remnants I’m realizing still lingers up till now, I had acquired a hedgehog out of a weird impulse. I don’t think it was necessarily a smart decision for the version of myself at that point in time who wasn’t very functional. Don’t let those cute internet photos fool you – hedgehogs are high maintenance pets and even after I had done days of research, thinking that an immersing new routine involving something alive that wasn’t people could be good for me, it was a struggle trying to keep up with a pet who was actually already sick but no one really figured it out because not a lot of folks here (or back then) actually know about hedgehog care so there was no one really to ask and I couldn’t do much either, with my health in the state that it was. It took me a long while to not feel guilty about making it only halfway with her out of a hedgehog’s usual four-year life span. Throughout that time though, I realized I didn’t regret getting Beamo at all – having her in her enclosure near my room in a house that caused me great fear provided me with something comforting that wasn’t art-related, where I had something to interact with that wasn’t only ideas, theories, and inanimate objects in the form of books and art supplies. She provided me a livelier routine when my heart was exhausted and my brain was inching its way in recovering my will to not just survive, but also to live.
Jump to the end of October 2016 where, in the midst of packing for the new apartment, in the same country but a little stream of ocean away from that fear-infested house, we were looking up cats for adoption because it felt like that was the next logical step now – after finding the courage to move out and make a space for myself in a place I had chosen, after fighting and fighting and fighting through the worst of that agoraphobia to push myself to look for gigs and make baby steps in establishing myself publicly as an artist writer freelancer, after trying again and again to keep an open mind and heart in the belief that love isn’t something I didn’t deserve, after convincing myself it was okay to want things – it was time to look for that feline familiar I’ve always wanted.
Our first attempt at cat adoption brought us Pluto, a four-months-old rescue with way too much energy than we had prepared for. We realized later on that he could have been of a wilder breed, hinted by his bone structure, and we just didn’t have the energy, knowledge, or space to accommodate his needs. As first-time cat-owners, we freaked out. Luckily we found a family who had just moved to the island and was missing their old cat. They took him in and he has happily settled in with his new family, in a house much bigger than ours and with people who have more experience with high-energy cats. Some time passed before we started looking at the local shelters for options. Graphite’s adoption wasn’t handled well. He was from an over-capacity shelter, they had lost his sibling and forgotten our adoption appointment. We brought him home and noticed he had trouble breathing, something I had seen in a friend’s cat who has lung problems – we had to rush him to the vet the next day and was told that most cats from this shelter didn’t make it. A friend had said that everyone she knew who tried adopting from them had to put their cats down within two weeks. The over-crowding meant that most cats were sick or had life-long health problems. We found our little guy cold under the couch the next day, his lungs and liver were damaged. We buried him under a tree at the beach, heartbroken to have had such little time with him. We took some time to mourn but I was starting to feel agitated about the absence of cats at home – perhaps driven by stubbornness, we reached out to Meowy, a highly recommended local shelter specialized in rescuing abused/abandoned animals. Onyx seemed healthy and she got along well with us – we were starting to feel hopeful when she suddenly ran a high fever. We switched vets this time to one we felt more comfortable with and they said she had to be hospitalized. She had stopped eating and drinking at that point and needed to be on an IV drip. We could barely afford it but it was in neither of our natures to not try our best when it came to caring for a living being. She seemed to be recovering in those painful days, until suddenly she deteriorated. After losing her, I didn’t want to try again. Pauline from Meowy offered some options, for when or if I felt ready again, which I really appreciated (I would absolutely recommend Meowy, by the way, they do good work and try their best to ensure the shelter space is safe for cats).
By this time, it was already the first few days of the new year and I threw myself into setting up new routines, going through most days with the greyest of feelings inside me that I couldn’t address but put a lot of effort in trying to.
It kind of felt like we were cursed with a no-cat luck or something. Other things in my life had taken challenging turns too – I was recovering from having witnessed a loved one’s medical emergency, flailing about with wondering why the self-care activities didn’t always work to cheer me up, going through the usual existential crises multiplied by anxieties with a dangerous dash of lethargy, straining myself to exude an optimistic outlook. I decided to stop thinking about the cats and tried to focus on what were already in front of me.
Then R pointed out the link between cats and home – that now that I have a space to build a Home-for-now in, that now that I have established something with my work and projects, learned to garden, figured out how to manage my health better, set up a cozy studio space, getting a cat wouldn’t only mean we had a cat but also that it was symbollic of the growth of this Home. That it was real and achievable and can exist in the present tense for me. I then realized that perhaps this was too much to put into acquiring a pet, that for this to really work out I needed to set some emotional boundaries between me and the quest of animal companions so it won’t be too devastating when things don’t go right.
Because that’s the thing I’ve been learning since dealing with the trauma-triggered agoraphobia: that things don’t always go right but Life still happens and it can be beautiful.
So I said okay to Melissa dropping by with the newly rescued cats.
I was alone at home and she let me meet the kittens. There were four of them and two seemed pretty independent from their mother, running around checking out the sights and scents – peeing in a mysterious corner somewhere still undiscovered – playing with and claiming the cat toys we had already acquired and left in the living room, just in case. One of them reminded me a bit of Onyx just because of the semi-tuxedo coat. The tri-colored one was clearly the runt of the litter, tiny but fierce and loud. After running from one corner to the other, they laid down and started play-fighting with each other. It seemed like they already started making themselves at home, so I decided, well we could foster them first and see if we can give this another go. We had already decided before all this that we could handle (energy-wise and financially) a maximum of two cats – I was a bit reluctant but mostly excited, so I said yes to both of them and they’ve continued making this their home ever since.
It’s been a few days and it’s been great having them around. They’ve transitioned from feral skittish cats to sociable, playful kittens who are super talkative and slowly getting used to the switch in their diet to scheduled wet food meals. The semi-tuxedo one has also started to respond to his name!
We’ve learned a heck lot from the past few months and that knowledge is definitely helping us cope with the leftover worries about these little ones’ health and wellbeing. Of all those lessons, perhaps the most important one is that no matter what happens, there’s nothing wrong in leaving your heart-doors or home-doors open for more things to love.
Those are the furkids on the cover image – we’ve named them Nino (black and white, after Nino Quincampoix from the movie Amelie because just look at that cute, dopey, always-intrigued-by-everything face!) and Kahlo (tri-colored, after the magical and unapologetically fierce artist, Frida Kahlo). And here they are as jellybeans*:
* I drew this as part of my #365drawings challenge for 2017 – full updates on this can be found on my Twitter.
Cover image: photo taken by Winnie earlier today when I grabbed them from their mischievous foray into the kitchen.