St. James is named after a street I lived on when I got pregnant with River. It was but a brief time in that oversized pre-war ground floor, my clothes piled on the floor, a stack of bootlegged DVDs and a tiny TV keeping me company. It was my second time living outside of my mother’s home, and coincidently, Biggie, once lived right next door. “Who names their cat after a street?” I said to myself when swiping through iPhone photos sent by his previous owner. He was tiny and, in some ways, too young to adopt—but he needed a home, quick. In the corner of one of those photos was his brother, Langston. Named after Langston Hughes, a poet whose work grounds me into the beat of a once-upon-a-time New York I sometimes find.
I wasn’t a cat person. I wasn’t even a pet person. My fears of scratches and bites trumped my desire for whatever intimacy furry friends could share. I had two kids in my 20s and could barely afford them as it was, so why add pets?
To be honest, it seemed like the next right thing, despite the rules I made for myself, being single, living alone with my kids. It’s not something you do when you’re kind of mapping it a new way. Yet, arm-in-arm with that growth was the potential for unnerving discomfort.
I wasn’t a cat person, but I love the way St. James leaves little toys in front of the kids’ room for when they wake. I hate the way their claws have claimed the cushion of my couch, but find nothing more comforting than not feeling alone at night when the kids go to sleep. I wasn’t a cat person, but my kids are, and when Covid-19 hit, their excitement for each day was their cats–cats that have become baby dolls, action figures, friends, and playmates within the last seven weeks. I knew they were gentle before, but seeing them with the cats, I see it tenfold.
Many have taken in pets during this weird season, and while I was slow to come on board, I do know now, that seeing St. James stretch in the sun right after we transition out of school has helped me reclaim my tempo. Hearing Langston’s snore hum from under the dining table as I work late at night has reminded me of the benefits of rest. And most of all, seeing River and Oak run out, pick the cats up and carry them around as if they’re babies of their own, with morning breath and washed-up curls, has reminded me of the interconnected evolution of love, sorrow, and, ultimately, growth.
Considering all of this, I spoke to Leah Reena Goren, author of Catlady (in which the kids and I make a small appearance), about her thoughts on this:
“We haven’t seen our family or cats since quarantine began the beginning of March. I know we are dealing with the same feelings of loss as so many others in the world, and we are lucky everyone is healthy, but it still has been difficult. If anything, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the type of home I want to continue to build and the people (and cats!) I want to fill it with.”
Thanks Leah (you can also order her book via Bookshop, which supports indies all over the country)! Do you have pets? How have your relationships deepened? And if you’ve gotten a pet during the pandemic, I’d love to hear about it!