When the hypnotic “Installing” circle completes, I press the green “open” button of the Petfinder app. I’d lost Annie, my feline companion of fifteen years, three months prior. When I sit to write in the stillness of the January days, especially on dark winter mornings, I feel how empty my lap, and heart, is.
“Cats,” the icon is a grey outline of a kitty in profile. I press it. The first picture to come up is a demur, perhaps skittish expression on a sable colored cat’s face, her blue eyes a bit crossed. A Siamese mix maybe, named Delores. Same spelling as my mother’s name, with an “e” instead of the more common spelling with an "o" as in “Dolores.”
I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a kitty yet, maybe the emptiness was grief. A few times during teary moments of missing Annie I’d ask my husband, “do you think we could ever get another kitty?” His answers had always been yes, but I questioned their authenticity, since I knew I wasn’t playing fair. Asking this man for anything while crying results in a ‘yes.’ And with that great power comes great responsibility.
My husband is not a cat person, but Annie and I were a package deal when he and I met, and he was always gracious and kind, if not occasionally annoyed with her. Wanting a cat would put me in conflict, to acknowledge my needs are as, if not more, important as his. That’s tough as a life-long card-carrying pleaser.
And besides, was I really ready? We'd just moved into a newly painted and carpeted home, did I really want to bring in cat hair, litter, and the risk of relegating our furniture to shredded scratching posts? Searching on the app was a way to assess my desire, as well as a way to measure it up with my desire to not want to burden my husband.
Delores. It was a good sign, an “ohm,” my mother would say (a mispronunciation of "omen"), that there just may be another kitty in my future. “Do you think we could ever get another kitty?” I would ask a few more times, when the tears were absent. His answer was always yes, but I would sense a bit of reluctance.
I was reluctant myself to go deeper into the conversation with him where I’d be forced to claim what I wanted and ask for it, and the potential negotiation to follow. I wasn’t worried about flat out refusal. But I wanted honesty. And I felt it risked what I desired. If he really didn’t want a cat more than I really did want a cat then we’d enter that marital territory of compromise.
We practice this often, with simple things like, oh, here’s a new episode of The Bachelor to watch! My desire to watch is say a 9 (don't judge). His desire may be zero, but his desire NOT to watch it is say a 5. He wouldn’t be put out that much to sit through it, as a gift to me. So we watch. Invited out to dinner? Oh, I’d like to go, so I’m at like a 6 maybe, but he’s really wiped out and his desire NOT to go is a 9 so we stay home, my gift to him.
I think of Delores off and on, occasionally checking the app, thinking if she gets adopted she’s not my kitty, but I begin to believe that yes, I’m ready for another pet.
At the beginning of March, a few days after the 13th anniversary of my mother’s death, I visit a pet store to pick up some water for my betta fish. I notice an adoption event just in front of the fish displays held by Ruff Patch Rescue, the local shelter that had posted Delores' picture.
There in a medium sized wire kennel set atop a table, away from the larger cages containing desperate looking dogs, is a familiar cat. Delores.
I ask Stacie, the attending shelter volunteer if I could visit with Delores. Stacie wears a grey knit beanie crowning her lovely angular face and a large comfortable scoop-neck sweater over a t-shirt. She beams and tells me, as Delores’ foster mom, how sweet this kitty is, how surprised she is that she’s not been adopted yet. As Stacie carries Delores to the visiting room, I follow, feeling a message rising up from the base of my spine. This is my kitty.
The room is adjacent to the grooming station, windows through which I see an embarrassed dog enduring sheering and clipping. Stacie and I sit on generic plastic chairs with metal legs, setting Delores and a small blanket on the chair between us. “I’ll just let you two get acquainted,” Stacie says after a few moments of petting and soothing Delores. She makes her way to the door as Delores darts under the chairs. “Take your time, just bring her back to the front when you’re ready.”
I sit on the floor next to the chair where Delores hides. I burst into tears explaining to her how I’m still grieving my Annie, and my mother. I cry as Delores sniffs and startles around the chairs and cold linoleum floor. I stay with her for fifteen minutes or so, taking care to only reach and pet when she seems comfortable, I discover she likes scratches on the spot on her back near her tail. I compose myself, gather Delores in my arms and return to the adoption table. Stacie tucks her into her kennel and asks me how it went. I begin to cry again, blurt out that I love her, and leave with my betta water, as sheered and shivering as the dog I saw through the window.
The next few weeks Delores is always on my mind. I stalk my desire like a piece of yarn drawn slowly across the carpet, acknowledging she is indeed my kitty and come to terms with the reality of pet ownership, to be followed by another inevitable loss after years of companionship. I know I need to confront the conflict of this need of mine with the need of someone I love.
“There is this kitty I think is mine,” I say to my husband during Saturday’s breakfast. I tell him about the app, meeting Delores at the pet store. I impress upon him how I know with the current state of confinement to “flatten the curve” now isn’t the time, but if it’s OK with him, maybe I can talk with the shelter to put Delores on “hold” until the curve flattens. I brace myself for reluctance, prepared to hear his desire NOT to have a cat is greater than my desire to have one.
“I’ll be candid,” he tells me, “if I lived alone, I would not want a cat. But I know how important it is to you, and if it makes you happy it’s OK with me." I feel my shoulders relax and my lungs expand with a deep breath. He has given me a gift.
I begin chattering about how I feel like an adoptive mother who has seen a picture of her child an ocean away and is just waiting for the logistics to play out to bring her home.
My husband stops me mid-sentence by placing his hand on mine. “Go get your kitty.”
Later that afternoon with as little human contact as possible I dart through a pet store for the basics, and then with no handshakes or hugs, and as close to six feet apart as possible, I meet up with Stacie where we both beam and I bring home my gift, my girl, my Delores.
Meg Kinghorn is the big weirdo of the Ella/Meg Salty City Writing Workshop collaboration. She teaches Creative Non-fiction and Memoir at the University of Utah and gives herself and any other writer crossing her path unmitigated permission to write whatever the hell they want.