Pet Diaries: The Unwanted Cat Who Taught Me About Companionship

For a New York writer, a roommate's cat was nearly the dealbreaker for his dream apartment. So how did it become one of the best things about it?

Introducing Pet Diaries: Life lessons we learned from our pets. This five-part series explores the ways pets have a positive impact on our lives. It's brought to you in partnership with Purina ONE® beyOnd®. Check out more stories at GOOD Pets.

The apartment was perfect—soaring ceilings and a full-sized kitchen on a tree-lined Brooklyn block six stories up, with elevator. The current tenant was moving in with his fiancé in a few weeks and needed to sublet his enormous 12-by-14 foot bedroom instantly. When I arrived to check out the place, he even offered some of the furniture that wouldn’t fit in his new East Village apartment. I was ready to cut the check. Then the cat walked in.

Orion was a Persian with a smushed-in face and an excess of snowy white fur. He sneaked slowly around the half-open door, eyed Paul’s boxes, looked up at me with his wide bulging eyes, and cried out—not so much a meow as a high-pitched whine. I imagined all of my clothes coated in a layer of white hair, my comforter wet with hairballs. But what was I going to do, turn down the apartment because of this creature? I wasn't allergic, and I knew enough from being inside three of my friends' places—no one else in New York had an apartment big enough to entertain—that this was a deal. I met Laura, Orion’s owner and my prospective roommate, and signed the check. I could live with the cat. He'd mind his own beeswax, and I'd mind mine.

But rather than becoming indifferent roommates, it only took a few weeks in my new place to grow comfortable in my new role as Orion’s distant stepfather—all the benefits of cat companionship without the responsibilities of actual cat ownership. I never had to clean up after him. I only fed him when Laura went out of town—I scooped out some kibble once a weekend. Orion also made the perfect subject for Instagram pictures, especially during the summer, when Laura had him groomed in the style of a poodle. He retained his massive, furry head, but the rest of his body, save for his paws and a pom-pom at the end of his tail, was shorn short, turning him into a hilarious miniature lion. My friends had enough sense to forbid pictures of them in weird, drunken poses to be published online. Orion had no such compunctions—he didn’t know I was airing his absurd expressions all over the internet (he's a cat) but I assumed from his blasé disposition that he didn’t even care.

Yes, I had begun to humanize Orion, a companion to project complex emotions like despondency and indifference. It started when I got laid off from my job in September. With a severance package to support me, I decided to do some freelance writing for a bit. Really, I stayed in my apartment all day in my sweatpants and talked to an animal who was not mine. Laura would head to work in the morning. I'd wake up just before noon, run into her room, and grab Orion from his morning nap in her bed. Sometimes I'd make him sit in my lap while I watched TV, flipping him on his back to recline on my thighs, which he seemed to enjoy, strangely enough. Other mornings, I'd bring him into my bed and we'd nap together, the two of us exhausted from a daily schedule of roaming around the apartment and eating food.

I grew attached. And despite his feline disposition, so did Orion. If Laura went out of town for a weekend, I'd wake up on Sundays to hear him crying outside my bedroom door, begging me to get out of bed to give him attention. Sometimes, if I left my door cracked open the tiniest bit, he'd wander inside and make himself comfortable. I'd come home to find him in my bed waiting for me under the assumption that I had given him an open invitation to shed all over my sheets.

One afternoon, I came home to find Laura in distress. That day at the groomer, Orion had freaked out and gripped the pads so hard he had somehow broken off two of his claws. "He's avoiding me," Laura told me. Orion was pacing the living room in a daze, crying incessantly. He walked over to me and rubbed his body up against my leg. I picked him up and held him like a baby. “Shhh, it’ll be ok,” I said.

New Yorkers tend to rush into relationships. To save a couple hundred bucks a month on rent, they move in with their significant others early in their couplings. Or they fall into bed with their housemates and never leave their fourth floor walk-ups. I’ve never been one to base my personal relationships on logistics. In a city of 8 million, I’ve learned to carve out my emotionally private space even while others are physically close. But when Orion stopped his crying, looked up at me with those big bulbous eyes, and then rested his head against my chest with a tiny sigh, I was grateful that I had accidentally adopted an adorable pet. Cats are inherently weird—particularly those of the Persian variety like Orion. That's probably how I got tricked into loving him so much.

via Barry Schapiro / Twitter

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