When I adopted my sweet Tweety Bird, I was still only a dog person. I hated cats, in fact. I had never actually been around a cat that didn’t pee all over my things or smell like dirty litter or chew up my chargers or chew up the strings to my brand-new bathing suit or knock entire drinks off the counter or scratch or bite humans for no reason. Growing up I had dogs. I had gerbils. I had hamsters that ate their newborns. I had multiple different bunnies (that’s a whole different essay right there). I had lizards that I caught with my own two hands while in Florida. I had boring fish. I grew up loving animals and I remember when I was real young I would see dead animals on the side of the road and beg my parents to stop so we could help them somehow. Honestly I thought I would grow up to be a veterinarian because I loved animals so very much. All animals except for cats of course. My mom is highly allergic to them and I just didn’t think I should like something that could kill her just by breathing in the same air as her.
The impulsive purchase of my lovely Tweety Bird wasn’t impulsive in the sense that I just randomly decided to adopt a cat out of nowhere after spending most of my life wanting nothing to do with them. It was my therapist who gave me the idea. She told me that having a pet would help make getting out of bed easier. Getting out of bed isn’t something that’s ever been hard for me in the past but at that time in my life I was still undiagnosed, and life just felt like one giant bruise. Every single waking moment of my life was agonizing. Just imagine the worst flu you’ve ever had; shivering and freezing while simultaneously so hot you wanna rip your skin off, fatigue so heavy it’s swallowing you whole, stiff and achy muscles, nausea so intense all you have to do is look at a toilet and suddenly stomach bile is pouring out your mouth, burning all the way up the esophagus. I lived this way for so long. The people in my life were growing frustrated because they just didn’t understand and I’m pretty positive half of them thought I was exaggerating the entire time. I became bitter and short and incredibly negative. Not even any doctors believed me. I’ve had doctors tell me I’m being dramatic. I had a nice man in the ER literally say, “I can’t even take you seriously right now. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you,” as I cried on that bed they have in hospital rooms with the crinkly paper sticking to my sweaty legs. I tried everything. I begged. I pleaded. I asked for advice. I went to so many different clinics and hospitals that it felt like one long smear and the only conclusion that every single one of them could come up with was this: it’s all in your head. But the pain was so severe and the brain fog so real. Eventually I dragged myself to a therapist because I remember one day thinking, Maybe it is just my head. Maybe I’m literally losing my mind. And to this very second when I think about that, about how these doctors made me question and doubt myself, I am filled with rage. I can’t wait for the day I can let go of that bitterness because it’s quite heavy and I really don’t like holding onto negativity that weighs me down.
My therapist was the very first medical professional to listen to me. She was the first one who never once made me feel like the physical pain taking over my entire body was just in my head. Our first few sessions were basically me vomiting up words and anger and fear and frustration while she stayed silent and I respect her so much for that. Maybe most people would have wanted their therapist to offer deep insight about the things I was going through but honestly all I wanted was to be able to get it all out without being cut off or without someone rolling their eyes or without someone sighing or telling me to ‘stop being so negative.’
At one point I became well aware that I was suffering from depression and it was unlike anything I had ever felt in my life. I remember thinking that I had been depressed before, like when I was sad about a boy or not getting that job or when my family got evicted with no place to go. But no. This was depression. A feeling so thick it was like I couldn’t breathe. I was severely depressed because I felt so alone in this mysterious battle. My family, who is the most supportive and loving family I could ever have, was 900 miles away. A person I once trusted with my everything told me he was “desensitized” to my pain because it was never ending and ruined everything we made plans for. I lost a couple friends who I think just thought I was being a bad friend because I kept flaking on plans but really I just couldn’t find the energy to even shower let alone be social. I had to keep missing work because I couldn’t stop throwing up. I missed friends’ weddings. I missed a couple best friends’ birthdays last minute. It felt like there wasn’t one single person on this Earth who understood that whatever was happening to me was ruining my life and there was nothing I could do to stop it. If doctors couldn’t make even a mere suggestion on what I should try to do to get well, how was I supposed to get well? I had truly never felt so alone and so scared in my entire life. I gave up attempting to get my dream job. I gave up writing. I gave up all the things that made me me and I became a bitter, miserable, depressed shell of the person I used to be.
And then there was that one therapy session that I told her about how most of the time I felt like there was no reason to get out of bed. That sometimes I wished I could just stay in bed and stay asleep for the rest of my life.
“I don’t want to die or anything!” I added quickly because I knew how that sounded and the truth was I didn’t want to die. Even at my scariest and worst depression I never wanted to die. In fact it was the opposite. I wanted so badly to live again. To go for a run. To write a short story with a beginning and a middle and an end without my cognitive malfunctions forcing me to throw my journal against the wall because my memory was so bad that I’d start a sentence or a thought and by the end of it, I had forgotten what I was trying to say. I wanted to work a shift behind the bar without running to the bathroom every 20 minutes to vomit up thick, yellow, bile. I wanted to go dancing with my boyfriend again. I wanted to be able to go out with my friends and laugh and make jokes. I wanted to be able to go out in public and not be moody and miserable and snappy. “I just don’t want to feel this anymore,” I clarified.
“I think getting a pet might be really beneficial to you,” she said gently.
I told her I couldn’t have a dog and so she suggested a cat.
“Are you writing me a prescription for a cat?” I asked as I imagined going to a pharmacy and handing a script over to a person in a white lab coat, watching them disappear into the back and returning with an animal all hissing and meowing.
“No,” she’d laughed. “But I could always fill out a document that states your cat is a service cat and your landlord would be more than likely forced to oblige.”
When I thought of service animals I thought of seeing eye dogs wearing bright vests like they worked on the CTA or something. I never imagined a cat. What kind of service could a cat even provide? Luckily I didn’t need any paperwork that solidified I was insane and needed an animal to make me feel loved because my landlord emailed me that night and said a cat would be fine.
I didn’t know where to begin on this newfound mission to get a cat and make it love me. So I went out one day just to ‘window shop’ at local shelters. A while back when I was still alive and full of motivation and was teaching, we went on a field trip to the Anti-Cruelty Society and so I decided to start there. It felt strange telling the lady behind the giant desk that I wanted to look at the cats.
“Are you hoping to take one home today or are you just looking for now?” she asked.
“Um. I’m not sure. I guess I’ll take one home if I like one?” I literally had no idea what the process of adopting a cat was or how long it took.
“Great!” she said, and pointed me to a clear door surrounded by clear walls so I could see right through at all the tiny cages the cats stayed in.
The room smelled like cat and was filled with sad mews and scratching. I’m such a big believer in energy and vibes and never not trust my gut when I sense something. A crabby looking cat caught my energy and I looked through the bars of her cell and she glared me, unmoving. She was already one and I thought I wanted a cute little baby so I ignored my gut and kept moving. I took a few adorable kittens into the rooms that gave you space to feel them out like test driving a car and honestly I was bored with all of them. Yeah they were cute. Sure they were tiny and fluffy and clumsily rubbing up against me with affection but I just didn’t feel it. I test drove, like, at least five different cats and decided that perhaps tonight wasn’t the night to adopt a cat. On my way out I passed the one that gave me a dirty look and I put my face up to the cage. I immediately felt like I wanted to love her when I looked into her grumpy face.
“Fine,” I hissed at her. I looked around and asked the volunteer if I could test this one out.
“Her?” she asked. “She’s a tough one,” she said but she was smiling so I didn’t know what she could have meant. She got her loud jangling keys out and opened the cell door and the cat instantly hissed and showed her teeth. Her hair got all puffy and she narrowed her eyes at me like a challenge. “Hang on, lemme try and coax her with treats,” she said as she dug in her pocket for some treats. When she presented them to the cat, the cat cautiously took a few steps forward and ate the treats, never taking her eyes off of us as if she didn’t trust us. The volunteer tried to reach in again and the cat emitted a loud shriek of defiance. “I’m so sorry,” the volunteer said, sounding defeated. “We have this policy where we never ever force an animal out of the cage if they don’t want to come out. But this is how she is. She’s moody and demanding and she really makes you work for her love. She hates other cats and doesn’t really respond to most of the things a cat should like. We really do call her the diva in here. She has the biggest personality, that’s for sure. She has her own rules. Clearly.”
I stared at the thing and that strong feeling of connection I had inside didn’t falter. I don’t know why. To this day I have no idea why. “Can I try to pet her?” I asked, thinking maybe the energy I was sensing about her was something she felt too.
“Sure, you can try,” she said.
And so I did. I slowly reached my hand in the cage and the cat let out a low, annoyed, grumble. I pulled my hand back out and stared at her. She blinked. She lifted up one paw and began cleaning it as if bored with our antics.
“You know what? I’ll take her,” I said.
“I’ll just take her. So just put her in the box and do whatever needs to be done but I wanna take her home tonight.”
The volunteer was visibly confused. Probably she’d never adopted a cat out to a person who never ever got the chance to touch the thing first.
“Are you sure?”
“Very sure,” I said, silently nodding to my gut.
I was brought into a fairly empty room so they could interrogate me and find out if I was a sociopath or maybe if I partook in underground cat fighting (is that a thing?) or if I would smack it around if it made too much noise. I passed their test and shortly after I was on my way out holding a box with a creature eerily quiet and unmoving inside of it. I peeked in to make sure she was even in there and they didn’t just put a weighted pillow or something to distract me because everyone was really weirded out that I so badly wanted to take home this cat that wanted nothing to do with me.
My honest first thoughts upon gently dumping her from the box onto the floor of my living room floor was this: “Oh my god. Are cats returnable? How long do they live for? What am I supposed to do with it?” I had shockwaves of panic as I realized how little I knew about owning a cat and how much of my life I spent hating them.
But cutting to the point here because this thing is getting much longer than I imagined it in my head—I ended up naming her Tweety Bird because she walks around chirping all day. It only took her a small amount of time to warm up to me and when she did, we were total buddies. She followed me absolutely everywhere. She’s not very affectionate but she’s literally never not by my side. When I go into my bathroom to do my makeup, she plops down right next to me staring at our reflection. When I go to bed she crawls under my bed because god forbid she shows me some sort of affection, but knowing she always wants to be near me is honestly enough. And my therapist was absolutely correct. The love I feel from this stupid animal has rescued my sanity way too many times to count. It’s like she knows when I’m feeling depressed. After finally getting diagnosed with fibromyalgia and being told that depression and anxiety would now forever be part of who I am simply because of the way fibromyalgia changes the brain waves and chemicals—I became even more grateful for my little Tweety Bird. Because while she may not be the most full-time affectionate kitty, whenever I’m having a serious bout of depression or feeling exceptionally anxious for no reason, Tweety suddenly becomes affectionate. And when those days come where just getting out of bed is almost too overwhelming to do, here comes baby Tweety Bird pawing at my head and purring and meowing because she wants me to play with her or feed her. When I sit on my couch to get some writing done she’ll jump up and curl up on the back of the couch right next to my head. When a bad flare up consumes me and takes my body hostage, Tweety will curl up with me and give me sandpaper kisses with her tongue across my face. Tweety matches my mood day in and day out. When I’m happy and feeling good she wants to play and lick my hair like she’s grooming one of her old friends. When I’m sad and lonely, she rubs against me and gently butts her head with mine like cheer up, I got you! When I’m stressed and overwhelmed with work she plops onto the ground and dramatically rolls onto her back to stare at me upside down and meow for my attention, demanding I take a break from whatever is consuming me so that I could remember I have her love to keep me grounded, to keep me going. Tweety is the exact cat that I had never come across. She doesn’t chew on anything. Hasn’t ruined a single thing in my apartment. She doesn’t make messes. Doesn’t try to eat my food or knock things down. In so many ways she reminds me of a dog and maybe that’s what my gut was telling me. All that I know is I wake up every single morning, pain or no pain, and happily jump out of bed because Tweety wants to give me her love and watch me get ready for work and I know that when I come home after a long day, she (and now my newer little baby gremlin of a kitty) will be sitting at the door ready to throw a party when I walk in the door because they’re so happy that I exist and it all just makes this life with chronic pain so much less painful.