For as long as I can remember, I have wanted a cat. In my 20s I would cat-sit for a friend who had adopted a cat from a farm in Michigan. I loved sitting still on the floor with my back to the cat, reading a book, because that was when she’d crawl out from under the bed and demand my attention. As someone who has always hated being the center of attention, I could really appreciate the cat’s desire to crawl under the bed any time a stranger showed up.
I finally got my wish, or rather, my son Eytan’s wish, two years ago. He wanted a cat for years but his father was very allergic to cats so that was the real deal-breaker. But when my husband and I started the divorce process, and he moved out of our house and in with his new girlfriend, Eytan knew there would be a cat in his future.
We began looking for the “right” one. There’s a saying, “I didn’t rescue my cat, my cat rescued me.” In our case, it’s 100% true.
According to her foster (human) mom, Iris had a rough beginning. She was a feral cat who had a litter of three kittens when she was fairly young. Bridget socialized Iris to live with humans, and she was about 18 months old when she came to live with us. She was up to date on her shots and had been spayed. We signed the papers and brought her home.
And then we lost her. In the house. Rule #1 of bringing a cat home: only open the carrier in a confined space. Not the kitchen. She was gone, hiding somewhere in a dark corner under a piece of furniture. But damned if I could find her. And neither could anyone else. I left out plenty of water, food, and her litter box, and since we could tell she was eating, drinking, and using the litter box, we knew she was alive and living in the house—we just didn’t know where.
Like Iris, the kids and I were going through a big adjustment. I was getting used to being a single mom and was constantly worried about money. We didn’t know where we’d be living once the divorce was finalized. And going to their father’s house every other weekend sent my daughter Abby into fits of tears—she felt lost and betrayed.
About two weeks after we got her, Eytan finally spotted Iris. He had gotten up to go to the bathroom and saw her tail as she raced to hide under his bed. She was hiding there, too scared to explore. So I moved the litter box, food, and water into Eytan’s room and kept the door closed. Being a cat lover, Eytan was a good sport about having the litter box in his room.
Iris needed to meet us on her own terms. Eventually she ventured out from her hiding spot, still under Eytan’s bed. He discovered that she was intrigued by the sound of his hand scratching the carpet and would come out and explore. Then he’d pet her very gently, just to get her used to his smell and touch.
As she got used to us, we figured out her quirks, just as we started to figure out our “new normal” following the divorce. Our universe had shifted—and not in a good way. As hurt as we were, we needed to heal, support each other, and work together as a team.
Our 8 lb furry Iris became the glue we needed to come together. In the evenings the kids and I would sit on Eytan’s floor and let her climb all over us. She would snuggle into someone’s lap, purring away. Sometimes, all four of us—the kids, Iris, and I—would squeeze onto Eytan’s twin bed so we could be together.
Iris is now 100% part of the family. She has the run of the house and isn’t shy about demanding food, or play time, or plopping herself down on a laptop if it is between her and the lap she wants to snuggle. She’s bossy and has a lot of attitude packed into that tiny body. We can’t imagine life without her.
So I think back to the winter she came to live with us. We were all hurting, and in that hurt we could have turned away from each other. Instead, we got incredibly lucky by seeing Iris conquer her fears. And by learning to take of her, we learned to take care of each other.