Lately life feels like I’m trying to carry too many bags of groceries up to my apartment or something—stuff just keeps spilling out all over the place.

I’m feeling stress and self-doubt at work. I’ve had some personal setbacks and frustrations. I’m having trouble sleeping, which leads to trouble focusing. Tight shoulders, aching neck.

Some of it makes sense. Some of it doesn’t. Most of it just sucks.

But even among the good stuff that always comes with—the reassurances from friends and family, the sunny days and tasty lunches—one thing has kept my spirits afloat. But this thing needs a little introduction.

I’ve never really liked living with others, and I’ve become increasingly introverted, so I decided when I graduated that I would get a small place on my own. I did not anticipate how soul-crushingly lonesome living on your own can be.

While watching a movie at a friend’s house this past October, his cat slinked into my lap and purred along there for almost an hour. I wondered aloud why I had never gotten a cat, and my friend responded with, “You know, you can just like go get one if you want one.”

I had actually forgotten that I could just go buy a pet. Years of instilled Dutch frugality and an essentially pet-free childhood due to family allergies had erased the possibility of such a purchase from my mind.

After shopping the idea around with friends that fall, I still was undecided. But, with a friend accompanying to provide a second opinion, in February I made my way to an animal shelter in Walker. I hoped that I might find a black cat, as I had heard they were adopted in lower numbers and sometimes abused out of superstition.

Waiting in line, I was told that I could see a “number of cats or a couple black kittens with polydactyly.” My years of aimless reading on Wikipedia suddenly came to fruition as I recalled that polydactyly referred to the genetic condition causing extra fingers and toes. I think the woman behind the counter was a bit weirded out by my enthusiasm about the extra toes. I’ve long harbored an interest in genetics, so the the prospect of a black, mutant cat sounded too cool to be true.

Sitting nervously in a small room, I wondered aloud to my friend what I should do if I can’t find a cat that likes me. She tried to reassure me to no avail. Suddenly the door burst open and two small black kittens were placed on my lap. The larger of the two immediately lept off and began pacing around the room, while the smaller stared at me and attempted to bite the buttons off my shirt.

He stayed there for a good five minutes, even while I played with his malformed paws—two extra toes on each, giving the unmistakable impression of tiny mittens. His fur was jet black, save for with a couple small white patches, with bright yellow eyes gleaming out. Only nine months old, he looked like a bit like a rangy, awkward teenager. His back legs seemed disproportionately large, and his head was oddly small.

But I liked him. I liked that he was kinda weird. A week later, I was approved to adopt him.

The first night I got him back to my place I was hosting a movie night with friends. He walked around for most of the night rubbing his face on anything and everything, stopping to snuggle into each person’s lap as he wandered. His semi-ironically saccharine name, “Mittens,” arrived mostly through inertia that first night.

When I awoke in the morning, I was greeted by loud meows and paws stuck under my door. I think it was the first “good morning” I’d had since I moved into the apartment. I’ve struggled with depression in recent years, and it amazed me how much easier it became to get out of bed with someone waiting to be fed, and to come home from work with someone waiting to greet you.

As the months have passed, he’s grown larger and a bit more mischievous, somehow managing to get into everything from cupboards to drawers to the fridge (aided, no doubt, by his extra digits). But he’s stayed just as friendly and sweet as when I first saw him.

I don’t really have a point with this all. But in the last few weeks, he’s been the thing that’s getting me through, constantly flopping down on my lap or bonking me with his head. I’ve heard animals can tell when you’re hurting. I don’t know if he can tell I’m struggling or not. But either way, today I woke and gave thanks for the cat.

Jack Van Allsburg
Studied psychology and writing, works at a design firm. Film junkie, amateur photographer. (’16)

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