For five years, depression kept trying to kill me.
Try as it might, illness didn’t succeed in erasing me any more than it managed to disable my ability to feel love, something I owe to my cats. Non-judgmental, they reminded me daily for five years that I was a fellow creature worthy of appreciation and comfort. Even when I had nothing more than presence to offer, it was enough for them.
It is because of my cats that I never sought to die by my own hand despite thinking about it almost constantly, so intense was the pain of being alive.
Although I was unable to communicate my distress in human language, the cats instinctively sensed I needed looking after. And they did just that. Their love had no conditions attached and kept my heart in working order.
Although both cats come from shelters, ours was — and continues to be — a mutual rescue mission.
I met Nuna the tiny tabby back when she lived at the back of a kitchen cupboard on a tiny speck of rock in the armpit of North America.
The kitchen was in the home of the lady who ran the local shelter and was overrun by cats with issues. Too shy, too incontinent, too angry, too fat, too skinny… all her feline housemates had something that prevented them from safely socializing at the shelter. Nuna was small and fearful yet curious. I felt her stare at me so I laid down on the kitchen floor and stared back at her from a respectful distance.
A few days later, we were living together in so far as we shared a space. During the first night, I held her to my chest as she shivered non-stop, terrified. And then for about a week, I seldom saw her and worried constantly she might have escaped. I’d hear a tentative meow and find her compressed between the wall and the bookcase, behind the freezer, behind the filing cabinet. Wherever there was a small space, she’d squeeze into it.
Eventually she learned I was harmless and benevolent and took to crawling into bed with me, waking me up by pawing at my long hair. She also came to appreciate my thumbs and their ability to dispense food and snacks and pets. And she loved nothing more than lounging on top of pillows.
I taught Nuna to open doors, she taught me to open my heart.
Trudeau the tuxedo was never going to be named after the Canadian prime minister.
And he’s not even Canadian but Californian, a kill-shelter refugee who ended up in Seattle thanks to a volunteer organization who put him on a plane. We met at a local shelter and he jumped into my arms the moment the cage door opened. That same night, he had moved into my bathroom, to give Nuna the chance to become acclimated to another feline presence.
With the penguinesque habit of sitting on his hind legs, Trudeau had initial difficulties with basic maintenance. Whenever he licked his nether regions, some litter would remain stuck to his nose, reminding me of the cheese curds used in the Quebec dish poutine. Since the dish is also the name of a much reviled Russian politician, I had to call him something else.
In keeping with the Quebec theme, I noticed my tuxedo cat had the same kind eyes as Canada’s premier, so I called him Trudeau.
A nod to the country Washington State shares a border with, his name is also a way of pushing back against America’s political predicament.
And it makes me smile every single time I speak to him.
For the three months I was in Europe, Nuna and Trudeau stayed home in the Pacific Northwest.
Since I’ve returned, they’ve wasted no time in parlaying my guilt into extra snacks. Even though I was never not busy in France and Portugal, my heart ached for my feline companions. Purrs are irreplaceable. They’re also the only sound that cuts through the despair and raging anxiety that come with my particular kind of depression.
As I prepare to move back to Europe, I’ve started thinking about flying them out, too. Beside the non-negligible issue of cost, the journey is long and airline cargo isn’t always the most hospitable or safest of places for furry companions.
Our bond has endured separation and survived despite absence but Trudeau also spent three months meowing at the door of my home office. I’m loath to inflict more trauma on either cat once again, or leave a part of me behind for so long.
While humans have reason and can parse the need for different geographical coordinates, can rescue cats?
The day I left in December, Nuna hid in the litter box and Trudeau panicked. It wasn’t the best morning for any of us.
“You are their sun, bring your galaxy with you,” a friend advised me.
Little do they know my galaxy has twin suns, like Tatooine.