One year has passed since I brought my Gypsy home with me. It’s difficult to think of my life with her in units of time, because there are days I wonder at how fast this year has gone by while there are others where I feel as though my kitty has been with me forever. So much has changed since that day. And everything is for the better.
Two days previously last year, on the 26th of October, I saw Gypsy for the first time. Her name was Charm, then, and she was being sponsored by HALO along with several other cats at the Petsmart down the street from my house. My boyfriend and I had walked into the store to look around for fun, and we ended up sitting outside those glass windows for half an hour, watching the cats play. (He insists it was definitely more than half an hour.)
“Charm” was hiding, plainly terrified, under the cages, looking around with huge eyes as the other cats played around in the room their cages were enclosed in. The lady who was emptying litter boxes and filling waters told me that “Charm” had been to at least two other homes before and had likely been badly abused by one, if not both of her owners. Something about the way that calico kitty looked around made my heart melt. I decided – right then and there – that I was going to be the one to take her away from there and give her a happy life. Somehow, some way.
I spent the next day telling my mom about her, convincing her, begging her, to let that little girl come home with me. Because I had moved back in with my family, I had to adhere to my mom’s house rules. She didn’t like pets because, when my siblings and I were younger, she was the one who ended up taking care of them. This girl is different, I told her. You don’t have to worry about a thing. I’ll provide for her. She’ll be completely mine. I’ve already named her.
On the 28th, my mom finally agreed to go look at her. I expect she did this purely to humor me, but I happily took her straight to “Charm’s” cage and pointed her out. “She’s the calico one, the one sleeping,” I remember saying. “Isn’t she beautiful?”
My mom nodded obligingly. “Can we go into the room?” she asked, looking at the door that separated the line of cages from the rest of the store. It turns out we could, so she and I and my then-seven-year-old sister marched in.
All the other cats around us went wild. They yowled, mewed, leaped up in their cages and swatted at thin air as we walked by. But not my little girl. She woke up when she saw that three people were peering into her cage at her and looked around uneasily. She looked straight at me, hurt in her eyes, then silently looked to my mom, confused. She gazed at her for a few seconds, then timidly allowed her head to be scratched through the bars. She lay quietly as though sensing how important a first impression for my mom was. My heart broke when I realized that she looked as though she didn’t really care what her fate would be.
And then I heard it: a big, long sigh from my mom. “Okay,” she said simply.
I stared at her.
“W-What?” I stammered, floored.
“I think you’re getting a cat today,” my mom said. She looked at my sister. “What do you think, Riley? Do you like her?” My little sister, bless her, nodded eagerly and affirmed that yes, she did.
I thought I was going to cry. Somehow that little cat had broken down many layers of my mom’s firm Nos with one single glance. I couldn’t believe it as the Petsmart guys brought over her adoption papers for me to sign. I was numb with shock and happiness the entire day.
I came back half and hour later in my own car to buy things my little girl would need. After I had set up camp for her in my room, I went back to Petsmart with my boyfriend and a carrier to bring her home. I practically danced my way to her. “Charm” had no idea that her life of cages and confusion was over.
She also had no idea what we were doing, removing her from her cage. It took five minutes for the three of us, me, my boyfriend, and the worker helping us out, to get that little girl into her carrier. She was scared. She was pissed. She was sleepy. She did not want to go, and mewed in plaintive little whimpers as we took her out to my car. She must have liked the safety of the cage, because when we got her to my room, she slunk out of her carrier, petrified, and crept around looking at everything as though trying to sink into the ground.
Gypsy, I cooed at her, over and over. Almost from the moment I saw her I had decided on that name. For her, it was perfect. Gypsy, little girl, you’re home. You’re home for good now. I promise. I promise you you’re going to be happy.
I said, and she did not believe. Not that I blamed her. For the first eight days she lived with me, Gypsy did not leave my room. I had to drag her litter box under my bed and empty it every day because she wouldn’t get within two or three feet of my bedroom door. Her food and water were kept next to my bed and her toys, mostly not played with in the first month or two, lay scattered around on the floor. She hid in my closet, in an overturned box under my bed, and typically only came out for mealtimes. She would eat quietly, sadly, then return to her hiding place. Sometimes, when I was on my bed doing homework, she leaped up soundlessly and watched me.
I talked to her. I sang to her. I told her it was okay for her to be scared. I told her it was all on her time, that whenever she was ready to warm up to me would be the perfect time. And eventually, she did. Just a few days after I brought her home, she summoned enough courage to curl up next to me as I was watching a movie on my laptop. She just lay there, looking at me, studying me, trying to determine if I would be another owner that would hit her, or kick her, or scream at her, or do whatever it was her previous owners did.
Bits and pieces of that past life of hers made themselves clear to me whenever I accidentally moved too quickly in front of her, or lifted a hand to brush hair out of my face or rub my eyes. She’s bolt away from me as fast as she’d go and wouldn’t come back for a long time.
As time passed, however, Gypsy started easing up around me, my mom, my sister, and especially my boyfriend. After about four weeks, she let me pick her up and cradle her back and forth. She started venturing outside my room to the loft with me. After a few months, she started creeping down the stairs when I’d go downstairs. There, she discovered our floor-length window right between the bottom of the stairs and our front door. She discovered she loved looking outside and watching the birds.
Soon we developed a system. Because I had to get up almost before the sun rose each day for work or for school, she caught on to my schedule and started waking me up so I could open my blinds for her. She’d lay on my bed with me, watching the world awaken, and curl up on my chest and nuzzle me as I’d tell her she was my best girl.
She discovered that wet food was her favorite thing about life. As time passed, she started following me to the kitchen every day at five o’clock where she’d stand and mew continuously as I scooped food into her bowl. She found out that she loved to play with string, loved to sleep next to me on my bed, loved to have her tummy rubbed. She discovered my family and friends were not there to hurt her.
Today, the changes between my Gypsy and the little kitty I brought home a year ago are enormous. She is still a little nervous around those she doesn’t know. She still gets frightened at sudden movement and loud noises. But she warms up to people quickly now. She walks around all over the house and secretly acts as though she owns it at nighttime. She has a mind of her own and is ornery about almost everything. But perhaps the greatest, most rewarding thing beyond anything else Gypsy has accomplished is one simple fact: she absolutely and unconditionally loves me.
I see it in her eyes every time I speak to her. She looks up at me with confidence, understanding, and utter devotion. The terrified eyes that showed so much hurt and suffering one year ago are now filled with contentment and love.
She follows me everywhere. At night when I’m in the bathroom washing my face and brushing my teeth she lays smack outside the door and happily bolts up and rushes to my bed when I come out. If I’m in the kitchen making food she’s sniffing around my ankles or looking out the window a few feet away. She follows me up and down the stairs. She is sleeping on my bed as I do my homework, sitting on my desk when I’m on Facebook, rolling around on my floor at my feet when I write.
If I’m gone for a night she gets angry and sometimes – I kid you not – poops in front of my door and yowls at me when I come home. She gets pissed if her litter box gets too full and upset when there is no food in her bowl or on her wet food plate. She lets me know, on no uncertain terms, when she’s angry about something. If I don’t wake up soon enough to open my blinds for her so she can look outside, she has no problem jumping up and sniffling at my face until I get up. If I give her wet food to her a little later than usual, she has no problem meowing at me in irritation.
She is also perhaps one of the most intelligent animals I have ever met. She knows exactly what I’m feeling at all times. She knows when I’m happy. She knows when I’m sad. She knows when I’m scared.
Several months ago I was having some major health issues. Anxiety and panic attacks came with these problems, and one particular night was tough for me because I was awakened by a nasty rainstorm that I thought was going to blow our house down. It was insane. The wind shook my window with the force of a small tornado. Lightning flashed about two or three times a second. The rain sounded like bullets. One thought led to another, and I started panicking as I lay in bed listening to a storm that sounded as though it could turn our house into a pile of rubble. And before I could escalate into a full-blown panic attack, somehow Gypsy was suddenly by my side. She curled up in the crook of my arm and let me put a shaking hand on her and lay there and silently comforted me until I fell back asleep.
She’s there at those difficult times. She’s there when I’m so happy I scoop her up and spin her around the room. She’s there if I need a ball of fur to cry into. She’s not there when I’m impatient. If I’m clearly frustrated about anything at all, even simple things like homework, she gives me a long, “you’re on your own,” kind of look and trots away until I’m no longer irritated. She doesn’t like anger, and it makes me guilty when she haughtily leaves the room to let me deal with my impatience on my own. No matter what she does, though, Gypsy knows exactly what I need. Just as I’ve learned to read her every action, she has learned to read every emotion of mine.
One year ago I made a promise to a little cat I fell in love with at first sight. I promised her that no matter how long it took, no matter how much time she needed to recover from her past, she would be happy someday. And I think that goal is finally a reality.
And her eyes tell me more than words – if she could speak them – could ever say. She is happy. And that simple fact makes me happy, too.
Just the other night, as I sat writing this blog post, Gypsy hopped on my bed and happily put her nose to my hand. As I petted her, I told her over and over again, “I love you, little girl. You’re my best girl. My best girl in all the world.”
And she looked up at me with big, big eyes, love and contentment within them along with the tiniest glimmer of astonishment as though she were asking, “Really? Really, Mom? You really do?”
“Yes, baby girl,” I told her, “I do.”
It’s been one incredible year. And the best part? There are still many, many more to come.