I wasn’t planning on adopting a cat when my then-boyfriend called me from his uncle’s house on a warm October day in Brooklyn.
I had spent the summer contemplating getting a pet, and “just happened” to be in the area every other weekend when a local rescue group parked their mobile van filled with adoptable felines on a nearby thoroughfare.
I looked at many cats and petted even more. I talked to each cat I felt drawn to. Some responded with meows and purrs as if they knew they were auditioning for a forever home, while others couldn’t be bothered and just wanted to nap (an understandable response to being on display).
While there were several adorable kitties—including a calico who reminded me of my childhood cat—I didn’t feel like I had found “the one,” and I trusted that I would know when I found him or her. Then my boyfriend, R, called.
He told me that there was a kitten at the house and asked if I wanted to come and play with it. As he continued the story, it was clear something was amiss. His uncle had stolen a sickly 6-week old kitten that his upstairs tenant had been feeding. He claimed he was trying to teach the tenant not to feed stray cats, but all I saw was cruelty.
The tiny gray and white kitten was running around with feathers stuck in her eyes and to her body, the result of the uncle’s bird’s shedding. Immediately, I cleaned her off and held her. She was frightened and squirmed in my arms. When I placed her down, she ran to the safety of an overturned wash basket and collapsed with her head flat down and limbs sprawled out. I thought she had died.
It became clear that I couldn’t leave her with R’s uncle. I soon learned that, within the hour, the uncle planned to put the cat in a box and leave her outside. It was a Friday evening and he was convinced someone would come to her aid. I knew then that I was that someone.
I didn’t know what I was going to do exactly, but I did know that we had to get out of there. I asked for something to carry the kitten home in, as the hour-long subway ride would be loud and scary. The uncle handed me a plastic bag from a liquor store. I grabbed the bag, filled with disgust and horror at this person, placed the kitten’s lower legs in it, and held her head outside of it. There were a few stores a block away and I planned to go ask one for a small box.
Halfway down the block, the kitten was wriggling so much I feared she would escape. I held her face in front of mine—she couldn’t see me because her eyes were swollen shut—and made a vow. I told her, “I promise you will have a happy life, but you have to let me get you out of here.” Her body calmed instantly. She had decided. I had decided. We belonged with each other, even if I didn’t know it yet. I found a shoebox, cut holes in it, and was able to get her home safely.
The next day I took her to the vet and, in the following weeks, nursed her back to health. Though her condition would have likely caused her to die if left untreated, it was nothing that antibiotics, nourishment and TLC couldn’t cure. I named her Angelica, which soon morphed into Jelli for short. It fit her perfectly.
I spent the next six months helping Jelli feel safe. She was skittish, disliked men and was upset whenever I left the apartment. I remedied that by bringing her new cat toys so frequently that she looked in my bags expectantly every time I returned home.
A year later, she began biting me whenever R was around. She knew, even before I did, that he was not a positive presence in my life. After I fractured my hip (R had contributed to the injury), she would lay her paws softly where I (much later) found out the break was. She knew before my doctors did. She is a strong cat, but when she put her paws on my broken bone, she was exquisitely gentle.
[Jelli] is a strong cat, but when she put her paws on my broken bone, she was exquisitely gentle.
When R and I broke up, Jelli was source of great comfort and unconditional love. She became more confident and settled when it was just the two of us. Our journey had begun with me looking out for her, but the tables had turned.
Once while I was sleeping, my superintendent entered my apartment to fix the living room window. Jelli supervised his work, and right after he left, she managed to leap up, turn my bedroom doorknob and dash into the room. He was an unfamiliar presence, and with her six pounds of willpower and determination, she found a way to make sure I was okay and to tell me that she was, too.
Jelli’s sweetness humbles me on a daily basis. On the days I don’t feel well as a result of chronic illness, she lays beside me. Her sense of wonder inspires me—there isn’t a bug or a bird that she can view through the window that doesn’t captivate her fully. And her patience is legendary. Though I always make sure she has the food and water she needs, if I need extra sleep, she keeps a quiet vigil outside of my door, waiting to come in and see me when I wake.
There is no doubt that Jelli and I were meant to rescue each other—and by trusting my gut to wait for “the one,” I allowed us to find each other.
Lauren Jonik is a writer, photographer and grad student in Brooklyn. When she is not studying or playing fetch with her cat Jelli, she co-edits TheRefresh.co.