Just This

A heartbeat to come home to

Next month, I will celebrate the 10th anniversary of what is quite possibly the longest relationship I’ve ever been in with someone I’m not related to. It hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve always been there for each other.

Yeah, it’s my cat.

I picked up Audrey as an 8-week-old kitten my senior year in college – a friend’s cat had a litter and they didn’t know what to do with the new little ones. Having grown up with a cat and looking ahead to post-college life, I raised my hand, said I’d like one. I figured wherever I’d go next, I’d have someone there along for the ride.

The origin of her name isn’t too hard to figure out. As my roommate Joselyn and I drove back to our house across campus after picking her up, it seemed only fitting to name this sweet, tiny thing after the Hollywood icon (also known to be kind and petite) so many have adored, myself included. In a decade, she’s only ever really been sick once in those first few weeks I had her. I took her to the vet, who noticed she was retaining water and gave her a diuretic. She came home, peed everywhere and has been healthy as a housecat since.

She has lived, like me, in Illinois, Indiana, Utah and now New York. When I traveled to Italy and Costa Rica, she stayed with my brother and sister-in-law; while I was in India, she tolerated nearly a month of boarding in Salt Lake City. She’s spent more three-day weekends with my apartment to herself than I can count. I’ve always been able to put out extra food and water, leave a clean litter box and know she’ll be fine. Perhaps it’s because she’s had so much time on her own that she takes a while to warm up to strangers (remind you of anyone?), more than likely greeting you with a hiss than a purr. At least, at first.

But she’s harmless in the end, and though she doesn’t love being held and isn’t the kind of cat to claim your lap for her own, she’s quite affectionate with me when she wants to be. For years, every night when I climbed into bed she’d jump up and nuzzle her way under the covers, turning herself around and cuddling up next to me, her front paws and chin resting on my arm. She’s outgrown that now, but she still spends most nights at the foot of my bed.

Though she seemed to settle in quickly to our latest living arrangements, lately I can tell she’s getting restless. In Indianapolis, I lived in a two-story duplex with a full basement. She could hide on the storage shelves by the washing machine or under the covers in the guest bedroom. She could change which window she perched in based on the time of day and the best sunlight. Even in Park City, though I lived in a basement apartment, the living room and bedrooms had big glass doors where she could watch the world go by, and plenty of closets to find dark, quiet corners for naps.

Now, with the two of us sharing roughly 200 square feet, she’s clearly frustrated by the lack of options for naps and views and general stimulation. She’ll sit by the window, which I leave cracked open for her while I’m at work, but her only view is of a few brick walls, windows into other apartments, and the occasional pigeon that finds its way up to the 15th floor. I have nowhere to store her food but out in the open, so she tries to get after it more than ever, and I often give in to refilling her bowl even when she doesn’t need it (I figure she’s 10 now – she can get fat and happy if she likes). I’ve placed her cubby up on a bookshelf so she can curl up at a higher spot than the floor, and she has a corner in the back of my closet I know she disappears to sometimes.

But she still spends mornings mewing incessantly as I’m getting ready. I’ll catch her pawing at the front door, anxious to see what else is out there on the other side. She’ll curl up next to me and after just a few strokes of being pet, she’s turned on my hand, batting and biting at it like a toy, her teeth sometimes even landing a scratch or two on my wrist or fingers. I try to play with her when I can tell she’s getting antsy, but she’s only so entertained by a string on a stick (and no, she has no interest in lasers on walls. I’ve tried.) and this small space allows zero room to dart from one end to the other, as she’d sometimes do up and down the stairs in Indy.

Cat parents out there, what do you think? What are my options? I often see people walking large dogs in the park here, and I can’t help but wonder how big their apartments must be. I can barely keep a housecat sane in a mini-studio. I have no idea how the labs and retrievers and poodles of the world make it work!