Fur Babies & How They Become Self-Reflections Of Ourselves Over The Years

The beast in question

One of the most revealing things about death is the way it makes us reassess life.

I bought Mao, my pain-in-the-ass loveably handsome but vocal as f*ck black cat as a kitten in 2003. Along with many other brash, illogical decisions I was making at 19 years old, I one day woke up and said “I’m going to buy a new cat.” No ask to my mom whom I was still living with. No thought of how I was going to take care of this cat or real need to add more chaos to my current over-booked lifestyle of work, making music, college and boyfriend. I just needed a new kitty in my life. Sometimes the fur babies enter our lives in the most mysterious or inconvenient ways. After work at the local mall one day (i’m from Jersey, where the hell else was I going to work?) I decided to stop by the pet store and casually flirt with the idea of buying a cat, assess the talent at the pet shop and brew on it.

Mistake.

I spotted Mao immediately, mostly because he was a flirtatious whore who always wanted to interact and brush up on you. He was tiny little black beast with piercing yellow eyes, very affectionate and seemed to like me while the other cats looked half-comatose, likely high off the nip. At the time I had another cat who was inching in on 18 years old and frankly a known cunt of a cat. Not friendly, never wanted to sleep in the bed next to you and couldn’t be bothered by interacting with other humans let alone another cat. Mao’s level of affection was disarming to me as an artsy, depressed late teen. He was just a sweet little animal with one of the most handsome faces and within minutes I was sold on the deal. I liked good looking men, what can I say?

On the way home, it hit me that I had just taken on a lifelong responsibility within a matter of minutes (teenagers are so stupid BTW) and I began plotting how I’d sneak this cat in and explain to my mom in the morning. My mother, not really a cat person overall, knew I was obsessed but wanted no part in taking care of and feeding another mouth. The band-aid needed to be ripped, so I marched in with the new cat and immediately realized that amongst the million meows on the way home he’d taken a dump and pissed in the box. Cute faces fade in the face of fecal matter. With a mother-like instinct, I cleaned him up and forged ahead to sell my mom on this decision.

She was not as enamored with the idea of another pet in the household.

Knowing i’d have to slowly sell her on it, I set up shop for Mao in my bedroom where we spent a lot of time together. This was pre-social media and even at the cusp of widespread digital cameras. All of my first pictures of Mao were taken on disposable cameras and developed, distinguishing on a spiritual level a timeline that now feels like history and not reality. Its crazy how every detail remains vivid in hindsight, but reality stamps it as 15 years in the rear-view.

Analog Mao. Note the scratches on the physical pic because he was a beast and clawed at this pic incessantly.

It took some time but I sold my mom on the idea. Mao became the king of the house and soon discovered the vast yard behind my mom’s house that was a treasure trove of treats for a teenage boy like himself. Reluctantly, I let him out slowly. He always came back, but not always on my timeline. This was Mao’s world after all, we were all just living in it.

Years passed and I went from shitty teen to 21+, eventually mustering the courage and funds to get out of the house. Mao was living with me in my mom’s basement along side my best friend and his cat, Voltaire. Every fur buddy Mao lived with seemed to experience the same love / hate with him. One minute they were curled up together, the next he was snapping out his signature paw and sharpening the claws in contempt. I saw glimpses of my catty personality reflected in his odd behaviors at times, but he always crawled back to give me love and affection.

I moved to Jersey City in 2006 with my best friends and he gained a female friend, Roxy. One day, while on a stomp outside figuring out his new city life, Mao was struck by a car while I was out. I came home and noticed that the cat wasn’t moving much and his tail which was usually perked up, was totally flatlined. Panicked and in the worst emotional shape of my life at the time from a long-term breakup, I coerced my ex to help me bring the cat to the kitty ER. Mao definitely pissed on him on the way to the hospital.

The thing about Mao, was that he was a survivor. Much like me, he made it through and although I had to nurse him back slowly, that tail eventually rose up and wagged again. He nuzzled with me through years of tears post that breakup and was always was a source of joy even on my lowest days. He was the only reliable man in my life. Mao and Roxy formed a bond and could always been seen running through the house as my roommate and I jammed in the house. Cats love live music too, ok?

Waiting at the window, to get the fu*k out.

In hindsight, i’ll always see through rose tinted glasses but Mao had a dark side too. He was fucking bad. Like, really bad sometimes. Once he regained his strength he seemed to improve behaviorally but as boy cats do, he sure loved to piss on his territory especially when beefing with Roxy or during lapses in time outside. Understandably, I was wary about letting him out in a city again but eventually I began to let him sneak out at night for a bit because he sat at the window creeping for so long. This push and pull was entertaining but got exhausting after a 14 hour day of working 2 jobs, band practice and fucking off. I remember emotionally feelings like “this is what it’s like to have a child” and he was certainly in a “fuck you mom” phase.

Re-discovering this post-mortem made me LOL, he was a rebellious little f*cker

Eventually I had to move out as my other roommates were leaving and was forced with the decision of what to do with him. After 2 moves I figured it was time to bring him back to my mom’s while I sorted out the shit-pile that was my life at the time, where he could run safely and freely in the comfort of Hillside New Jersey’s fine pastures. At least if he was there, i’d know he was safe and it would give my mom who was now retired, someone to hang out with.

My mom, again never being a real cat person in her life, was less thrilled about the idea.

I cried as I dropped him off. He was my baby, my little force to me reckoned with and will all his pissy faults (literally) had made my heart feel so much love. I just wanted what was best for him. My life was admittedly in shambles then and there was no way I could sort whatever it was going on in my head without holding off the burden of keeping this little mouth alive. So off to grandma Juana he went. At first, my mom was annoyed and I could tell. She’s a regimented woman and does things on her timeline. Creeping in on 70 years old, she sure as shit didn’t need one more burden in her life but there was no alternative so in her Christian heart, so she let Mao in.

As he had won over everyone before, I slowly saw the change in my mom’s demeanor towards him. My dad would visit (much more of the animal lover out of the two) and also became also very attached to the cat. On my weekend visits i’d see new things for the cat crop up in the house - food, catnip, toys, etc and reveled in the fact that my once immigrant-hardened mom, now slept with the cat daily. I witnessed the change in her personality from the cat’s unconditional love and despite how many whiff’s of fresh piss I may have got on my visits, I could tell Mao changed her perspective. As I was growing older and needed to tend to more responsibilities, it made me happy to see my mom endear herself to something positive and pure. There’s a tenderness that pets bring you when the hardships of life beat you down. It is incredible how the love of a pet can bond humans together and how one creature can become the reflection of not just you, but what you need in your life spiritually and emotionally.

Typical Mao smothering.

When I left for California for 2 years, I was glad to see him keep my mom company while I was away. She would often call me and ask “when I would come home already” which everyone knows, can emotionally tax you and rip you apart. Knowing Mao was with her offered me some solace. If I couldn’t be with her then at least there was a piece of me with both her and my dad. However, life has a funny way of dispersing those checks and balances and after a few health scares over the past year, he was ready to go to cat heaven just as I moved home. Over the weekend, his body surrendered to it and I’m sure he’s free-pissing over every inch of that kitty paradise in the sky.

15 years is a solid lifetime for a cat as one friend pointed out to me. In fact, it hit me — that’s almost half of my life. Mao wasn’t just my cat, he was my family. For a good 7 years of his time here it was just the two of us against the world. With him passing away, it was a visceral realization that I am now in a new stage of my life. The pink-haired, metal lovin’, chunky boot wearing 19 year old who brought this fur baby into my cruel world is now also gone. I’m a 34 year old woman who has overcome so many negative things and this little angel, has taught me how to loosen the fuck up and love with purity again.

Time becomes a memory quicker than you realize. Love and cherish your pets. RIP Mao 2003–2018 ❤

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Zeena Koda

Zeena Koda

Overly passionate + opinionated. Podcast host / producer: Everything’s Political + LadyIsh. Digital marketing exec, writer + Asian American Collective 🇵🇭