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The Cat Who Loved Me
updated: Aug 04, 2012, 9:30 AM
By Nicole Buchanan Freire
A few years ago I had a tonsillectomy. I had been battling sore throats and endless bouts of strep and I had horrible acid reflux and my throat hurt all
the time. All the time. Finally I was able to convince a surgeon to rip those suckers out. I may have even said, "Hey, can you do this right now? Like, in your
But instead of helping, instead of the healing I had hoped for, what I got was a trip to "You Are So F***KED" land. The surgery did not go well. My pain
was unmanageable. I would sit in doctor's offices, weeping. I could not sleep. And after a few weeks of this, I felt I had exhausted all the goodwill I had left.
Nobody wanted to hear about it. I had tested the limits of people's sympathy.
And then it got worse. Weeks and weeks of pain and no sleep and little nutrition led to a bonus round in YASF land. Panic attacks. Not your ordinary
anxiety attacks, those are a walk in the park compared to a panic attack. And they came at night, of course, when your soul is raw. I would lie in bed and
weep, listening to the sounds of my family sleeping and thinking that come morning, I would surely be dead. That's how awful panic attacks are. You either
think they will kill you or you wish they would.
While living in the disruptive world of YASF, the depression I had fought for so long and so many times before decided to come live with me again. It
should not have surprised me, I had inadvertently strewn it's pathway with rose petals and votive candles and my head and heart were lit up like a giant
neon sign, blinking "VACANCY! VACANCY!"
Here's the truly awful thing about depression. It lies. It obfuscates. It delights in tricking you. It's the monster that lives under your bed. It wants to take
you down and it fights you tooth and nail. So I felt possessed. Which, you know, isn't an easy thing to discuss over a cup of tea. I kept quiet. And all of my
sadness and despair collected in my heart and throat. My throat was already fiery red with pain, why not add to it? I could not talk about it, could not share,
and all those unsaid words and my fears stuck in my throat, burning and burning. My entire neurological system was on fire.
I was not taking this lying down. I was fighting the good fight. I took my meds, I saw my team of mental health cheerleaders; I tried my best. But I felt
further and further away from the world every day. I felt estranged from my family, my friends. I was bereft. Alone and isolated. Heartbroken.
I know it sounds bleak. It was. I'm not complaining, I'm telling you a story.
Then one day I was tasked with the Trader Joe's run. I drove there, hurting the whole time. And isn't there a law that says that all Trader Joe's parking
lots must be terrible? So naturally I had to park far away. As I walked to the store I passed the usual assortment of businesses. Banks, hair salons, the post
office, dry cleaners, fast food. And then a pet store. Bunnies, I thought to myself. I bet they have bunnies inside. Maybe birds. A guinea pig? I went inside. I
just wanted to pet a bunny. But my pathway to the bunny cages was blocked by several camp chairs and cages. Cages full of kittens and cats.
I stopped. And then sat down in one of those camp chairs that swallow you up and are impossible to easily get out of. An older woman came over to me
and wordlessly put a kitten into my lap. I sat in that deep camp chair for the better part of an hour. Every few minutes the woman would come over, take
away the kitten I was holding and give me another. I petted their soft fur, let them bite my fingers with their sharp tiny teeth, held them to my face and
listened to them purr. They were all colors, black and white ones, striped ones and gray ones. I held the cats too, all of them, long haired and short. I was
soon covered in cat hair.
And then my lap was empty. I kept thinking of the grocery list in my purse, the dinner I would have to make that night. I should get up, I thought. I
should go. Just as I was about to launch myself out of the camp chair, the lady sitting next to me touched my arm and spoke to me. "You know," she said,
"I've been sitting here almost as long as you have. Here, take this one, I've got to leave now." She put a kitten in my lap.
I picked up the kitten. It was soft and tiny. I held the kitten up to my face. The kitten looked at me. I looked at the kitten. I dangled my car keys in front
of it, shook them back and forth. The kitten batted at them with tiny paws, but not for long. I held the kitten to my chest. We never broke eye contact. The
kitten curled up on my chest, over my heart, never looking away.
We regarded each other in silence. And I just sat there with the kitten. There was no noise in the busy and crowded pet store that I could hear. I held the
kitten close, feeling the warmth radiate through my hands.
I raised my arm and waved, trying to get the attention of the first woman who had handed me a kitten when I sat down. She held a clipboard. "Excuse
me? Excuse me?" My voice was too quiet and so I raised it a little. "Hello? Hello? Can you help me?" She finally took notice and came over to stand in front of
me. I looked up. "Can I take this kitten home?"
"The little calico kitten?" she said.
I swallowed hard. It did not hurt to swallow, for the first time in almost a year. "Oh. A calico? Yes. Yes. I want to take her home. Please."
Another 45 minutes later I had filled out paperwork, bought cat litter and a litter box, two dishes, a bag of cat food and wrote a check to Second Chance
Cats, the organization who had organized the 'meet and greet' cat event at The Pet House. I stood at the register holding the calico kitten, picking out a
black collar and a shiny orange tag. The young man behind the counter took the tag from me. "I can engrave it for you." he said. "What's her name?"
Her name? My kitten needed a name. I looked at the sleeping kitten cradled in my arms. "TigerLily," I said. "Her name is TigerLily."
TigerLily and I went home. It was a shock to those waiting there. "What is that?" "Where are the groceries?" "Why did you bring home a cat? We can't have
A kitten can melt many hearts, and it wasn't long before everyone loved her. My children fought over who would hold her next. The landlord was not
happy. I tried to explain. "I had to bring her home. She chose me." He hemmed and hawed. And then stroked the top of her tiny head. "She is really pretty
for a cat." he said. At her first vet appointment she showed no fear. She strolled out of the cat carrier and explored the entire examining room. "Ah," the vet
said, nodding approvingly, "she's an alpha calico!"
And here's what happened. That kitten, when not sleeping in front of the computer for warmth or shredding every faux fur mouse toy she played with,
slept on my chest, right over my heart. For hours. Days. Weeks. I would bury my head in her curled form, her soft fur tickling my nose. I kissed her
endlessly. Made up a babbling language all our own. And every day got a little bit better. She grew bigger and longer, her voice (and she has a loud one)
getting louder and as recognizable to me as my children's. My heart relaxed, as did my soul. The monster under my bed grew quieter and quieter. I could
sleep as long as she was near me. I started to talk and all those words, scary as they were, began to come out.
The kitten became a cat. And she healed me. My children often recount the story of the time Mommy went out for groceries and came home with a
kitten instead. It's one of their favorites, and still a mystery to them. It's hard to explain to them. "We found each other." I tell them. "She had to come home
Now, on nights when I don't have my children with me and am alone, I wander through my dark apartment until I find her. I pick her up in my arms and
carry her upstairs so she can sleep curled up next to my feet. I murmur to her in our silly talk and she talks back.
I'll talk to anyone about my cat. I'll show strangers pictures of her on my phone. I post them on Facebook. I don't care if I'm called a crazy cat lady. I
don't care what anyone thinks. I love that cat and she loves me. And really, that's all that matters.
You too, could find your cat. Try the Pet House in Goleta, every Saturday and Sunday, 12-4. Here's the organization that helped me:
Ok! So I have the all clear to start my 'couch to 5k' program again.
Well, actually, it's a little more muddled than that. Isn't it always?
My bronchitis is gone, as is the case of pleurisy I developed after the bronchitis. Pleurisy sounded so
Victorian when the doctor told me I had it. I half expected him to offer me laudanum drops and a
fainting couch to recline on but no dice. And there was no carriage to take me home afterwards, nor a
maid to unlace my corset, so pleurisy, blech, not as Victorian as I hoped.
I finally went to my regular doctor (who was not my regular doctor, because my regular doctor was
unavailable, so THIS doctor had never met me before) and what he actually said was this: "Perhaps
running isn't going to be your thing? But your lungs sound clear."
I've been turning that over in mind all week long. Running used to be my thing, a thousand years ago,
when I was in high school. (Hi Coach Greg Sarkisian! It's me, Nicole!) I wasn't great, but I seem to
remember making it past the four minute mark without having to stop. And I've spent the past two
months trying very hard to run.
Plus, I already bought new shoes. So, regardless of whether or not running is to be 'my thing' this
Sunday I will be erasing all the data from my 'couch to 5k' iPhone app and starting from scratch. All the
way back to week one.
If you didn't join me the first go around, please feel free to join me again. I'm so happy to be able to
begin again that perhaps I just might not complain quite as much this time. It might not be your 'thing',
but really, what is anybody's 'thing?'
Thing one and thing two, and now we've entered into Dr. Seuss territory. Note to readers, you can still
get your Edhat t-shirts at Santa Barbara Arts. Because sometimes, wearing a cool new shirt can really lift
Especially if your old Edhat t-shirt now has a stain right in the middle from perhaps, oh I don't know,
probably Taco Bell? A stain that perhaps you didn't jump up off the couch immediately to treat; a stain
that maybe you thought to yourself, "Hey, those nachos bell grande had way too much sour cream on
them! I'm sure that will just come out in the wash because I am watching "Serenity" for about the 16th
time and don't want to move off the couch right now."
Or maybe you got grease on your t-shirt because you were out bicycling and your chain fell off and you
had to stop and fix it by the side of the road. I'm sure that's what happened, not the Taco Bell sour
What I'm trying to say is that there are new colors and new styles of Edhat t-shirts available now and
you should get one. Unless of course, you are channeling Ron from "Breaking Pointe" and insist on
taking your shirt off whenever possible, especially if other people are going to see you.
Happy trails! If you happen to spot me out in the wild attempting to run, just avert your eyes and
everyone, please, concentrate on your own work.
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