When my husband and I started dating, he had a cat named Tiger. Tiger was a foundling, who came into my husband’s life the same day that he and I met, many years before. I always thought it was kind of cool and symbolic that Tiger and I both met Matt on the same day, and I remember being disappointed that day that I wasn’t the one who ended up with the dark, fluffy, super-friendly kitten. But then of course, as it turned out, I did end up with him… just much later on, in a much more roundabout way. Tiger was amazing and so full of personality and I remember feeling like it took me forever to really win him over. He kept me company through so much of my initial lung disease adventure. If Matt was working at night, at least I still had Tiger to hang out with. He was comforting to me in so many ways, and was my constant companion through some of my most stressful times. And then, in November 2016, he died.
Matt and I were both heartbroken. Tiger was our baby. He made us laugh and he loved us and he kept us company and he brought us joy, and suddenly he was gone. The house felt so empty. We started watching animal videos on Instagram, all the time, to try to fill the void. I would constantly look through my pictures on my phone because, of course, I had tons of Tiger.
I would dream about pets all the time. I had a dream that I was playing with a fluffy, white kitten on our bed, and that time I woke up crying because I missed having a cat so much. Tiger kept me company silently, calmly, patiently… all the things I couldn’t be myself, he sat with me and embodied them. And then when I didn’t have him there anymore to balance me out, I felt it so deeply.
In September last year, we got a kitten. He was, just like the one in my dream from months before, puffy and white. We named him Chowder. He is, more than any pet I’ve ever had before, my baby. He cries at the bathroom door in the mornings if I don’t let him in to get dressed with me. He curls up and sleeps on me when I’m sick. Today, he laid under my blanket with me and we watched an entire movie with him cuddled up in the crook of my arm. I couldn’t sleep the other night. Rather than waking Matt up, I just got up and came to lie on the couch with Chowder. After all, it’s not like he has responsibilities that mean he has to get up in the morning, so he was totally fine with my unexpected 3am company on the couch.
Chowder, like Tiger before him, fills a hole in my heart. I’m aware that cats aren’t the best idea for people with lung disease, since they can exacerbate it, but you know what? I don’t care. I take drugs that are bad for me because the possible reward outweighs the risk; Chowder at least makes me feel noticeably better. Every day I spend at work, I find myself looking forward to coming home to him. He makes me better in a way no medication ever will. Maybe he’s ultimately kinda bad for me, but then again so is lung disease, and I’m keeping that too.
Tiger was a dark cat. Mostly brown, with black along his spine; he also spent my darkest days with me. He held out long enough to make it through the most stressful part of my diagnosis, for which I am forever grateful. Dark cat for dark days? It seems silly, but also strangely appropriate. Chowder is white, with tinges of orange on his face and ears. So by the same logic, he’s the light after the darkness; he represents all my good days and the good things yet to come.