The adjustment from the rote timeline of education—more than a decade of semester, break, semester, summer, over and over again—left me learning a new sort of confusion, almost sadness.

I was immensely privileged to secure a job the day before graduation. With employment comes security. It also brings a sense of endlessness. As a student, even when I had years of schooling left, changes came reliably: new grades, new schools, new subjects. My career involves planning for events years in the future, working among several employees who have been in their positions longer than I’ve been alive, with no foreseeable checkpoints of change. These features are not unique to my job, but they are a jarring shift from the rotational progress of the past seventeen years.

Enter Popcorn. Midway through the summer, we adopted this cheerful kitten. A kitten has milestones: vet visits, physical growth, the passage from kitten to cat food. Lil’ Poppy offers me reprieve from the tunnel of corporate repetition that now directs me.

I’ve never had a pet before. Not a hamster, not a fish, not a rock. I never really wanted one, either. Pets die. It always seemed wiser to avoid the prospect of that pain entirely. It’s now apparent that I’ve underestimated why people risk the loss: for joy.

My new reality is monotonous. Every day I follow the same schedule, perform the same tasks, wait for nothing, because nothing new is in store. Not so with Poppy; the kitten life is a life unexpected. Where will he squeeze, jump, nestle, and hide? When will he imitate the energy of a racehorse and scamper the length of the apartment a dozen times in a minute? What bits of paper or garbage will he claim as his new toy? (Which toys that we’ve purchased for him will he disregard entirely?) And while I, for the first time in my life, am not immersed in a structured learning environment, he discovers new things every day.

Having a kitten also proves useful in my new corporate life. I can’t say I share much in common with most of my colleagues, many of whom have children near my age. But cute baby pets? A universal language. I’ve established more work relationships by sharing kitten photos than I have by any other method my shy mind has conjured.

Poppy comes with trade-offs. For comfort, I held him in my arms for the majority of the two-hour drive to bring him home; my face was so inundated with cat fur that I had a days-long allergic reaction. He likes to suckle on shirt collars while kneading his sharp-clawed paws against the shoulders, chest, and neck. Our vet says he was probably taken away from his mother too young, so I feel guilty pushing him away even when he wakes me at four in the morning with sharp pinches and a wet shirt. He’s resistant to learning rules like “don’t chew on hair” and “stay off the refrigerator.” We’ve nursed him through ear infections and a brief tummy bug.

It’s all worth the joy.

My dread of an unchanging corporate future remains. Each of the next fifty-two weeks will be barely distinguishable, as will the following weeks, unceasingly, or so it seems now, in my career’s infancy. The same is not true of this kitten. When we adopted Popcorn, I did not realize how vital he would be to my sense of self, my sense of future. He’s full of surprises. He’s just what I needed.

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