taring into his green-gold eyes, half closed in contentment, I stroke the top of his head and say to him, “Okay, you win, you’re going to be my column.” He is Almond, my cat. The cat who has once again sabotaged my efforts to work. My doctoral advisor calls it “feline paralysis.”
Almond is a bonafide rescue cat. He is one of the three kittens that we began fostering in mid-May, all siblings who’d been dropped off at the Humane Society of North Central Florida on a Monday morning, having been found on the side of a country road. There were two boys, Almond and Hazelnut, and a girl, Cashew.
Cashew came out of their crate first. Curious, brave, and affectionate, she worked the “cat room,” (my study) with aplomb. We all fell in love with her.
The boys were more skittish, especially Almond, a veritable “Fraidy cat.” His other nicknames became bitey boy (he loves to bite) and because of that, Templeton rat. Unlike Templeton, though, Almond isn’t fat. In fact, he’s skinny, like a slinky slipping through my hands.
When our three-week fostering duty was ending, we made a goodbye cake frosted with a cat face. My partner, who had been doing most of the cat work, was sad to see them go, but far from a “foster fail” — foster parents who fall in love with their kittens and decide to adopt them. “You passed with flying colors,” I chided him.
I, on the other hand, was not as successful. I hatched a secret plan: if Cashew had not been adopted by the time I left for Iowa in a few weeks, I would adopt her. Fully expecting her to charm her way into a permanent home, I grew increasingly surprised — and hopeful — each time I called the Humane Society to discover that she was still there. Only Hazelnut, the more beautiful of the two boys, had been taken.
The day before I left for Iowa, I adopted Cashew. But there was a catch — she was hugging Almond when I got to the shelter. I can’t separate them, I thought. But I only wanted one cat, not two. This was mainly because I wanted my cat. A cat just for me. A therapy cat. A cat advocate. A cat to quell my anxieties.
And that’s what I got when I brought Cashew home that first night. She kneaded me, a sign that she took me as her mother. When I couldn’t sleep that night, I went into my study and snuggled with her. But I knew that my insomnia had a new cause, I was less worried about myself than Cashew. She was certainly the affectionate cat I’d been seeking, but she was also kind of clingy. I wondered how she would handle my frequent comings-and-goings. And I wondered, guiltily, about her scrappy little brother still at the shelter. I might have needed my cat, but my cats needed each other.
The next morning, I went back for Almond. “We’re so glad that you came back; he’s been crying ever since she left,” they told me.
He also cried all the way home. If I’d been seeking a soul-mate cat, anxious little Almond was a suitable match. As such, we’re good for each other. Sometimes I look at Almond and think, Is this the creature who will unlock my heart?
Even though you’re not supposed to look at cats directly in the eye at first, Almond and I locked eyes immediately. When it’s nap time, Cashew finds a window and Almond finds my lap. We’re like that bumper sticker about rescue pets: Who rescued who?
As an expression of my love, I Italianized the cats’ names. Since “mandorla,” the Italian for almond, doesn’t feel quite right, I call him Almondina, and Cashew, Cashew-cina; and, if I’m feeling especially Roman, Almondì and Cashew-cì.
“Why cats?” an old family friend asked me the other day. The question caught me off guard, but I had a quick answer: “Oh, I’m not going to have any more kids,” I said, aware that despite this truth, a more complicated, long-winded one gnawed at me. Then, thinking of my feline kindred spirits, I smiled and said, “Why not?”