I know that I will cry as I write this. Whenever I reflect intimately on the way a soul has enriched my life with their love, I am moved to tears of gratitude. The tears flow even more when I acknowledge that impermanence is inevitable, and it becomes even more bittersweet to love someone so passionately when we operate on the mortal world’s time. This is why we must love intensely, though, and to appreciate the ones who live beside us, while they are still near enough to touch, to embrace.
This is an ode to Juliet, my cat.
On July 19, 2016, I visited One of a Kind Pet Rescue in search of a cat. I was just 20 years old, living on my own, and looking for a feline companion. I had grown up with four loving cats I considered siblings, and I missed that sort of creature coexistence deeply.
I remember observing the various orphaned cats, some kittens scrambling over a cat tree, most of the older cats divided into rooms along a hallway. Having formed such a close relationship with my childhood cat Wolverine, I was looking for a similar breed: an orange male tabby cat. As I pet each cat in the different pods, I kept a mental list of ones I liked, ones I wouldn’t mind taking home and caring for. Finally, I stepped into the last room, which contained several cat coves in which all the cats were curled up, sleeping in the shadows. Then, one cat emerged, the only one to acknowledge my presence. She was a long-haired gray cat with a bib of white. Squatting down to the concrete floor, I pet her, and she obliged the pets gratefully. Then, she licked my hand, and with that gesture I was chosen. She’s the one, I knew.
Each cat in the shelter had a collar with their given names on it, and I looked at hers: “Uliet?” I questioned, “What a weird name?” It wasn’t until later that I foolishly realized her long hair obscured the “J,” and although I had originally intended to rename any cat I owned, I felt it was appropriate, elegant. As an English student, I couldn’t help but connect it to William Shakespeare’s most famous play, which made her divine entrance into my life feel even like a sign from the universe.
Juliet. I found out from the shelter that she was approximately 2-3 years old, was taken in by the Portage Humane Society which had found her on the streets, and that her front paws had been declawed by her previous owner. Because she had approached me with such brave familiarity at the shelter, I assumed she was an outgoing cat, but when I brought her home, she was nervous, crouched close to the ground as she skitted across my apartment floor, ultimately climbing upon the counter and jumping atop the refrigerator. I felt guilty that she was so scared when this apartment was nothing but a sanctuary to her, but I understood her unknowing and gave her some space. Perhaps irresponsibly, I even went to an Alice in Chains concert later that day, leaving her alone in her new place for several hours. In hindsight, I think this was helpful: it gave her a quiet respite during which she could evaluate her quarters, undisturbed. When I returned, she went back to her post on top of the fridge. I thought it was endearing.
But I was also confused: how, among seven other cats whom she shared a room with at the shelter, had she so bravely approached me, let me pet her, licked me, when she could also be so terrified? Had it been a sudden bout of courage? Or had she known, had some instinctual compulsion to greet me, feeling that I was destined to be her companion? It bewildered me that that cat continued to hide beneath my bed, timid and weary, for days to come after bringing her home.
To demonstrate my approachability, I often laid on the floor, inviting her to my pets. I was patient, I was devoted. Gradually, she grew to trust me, and I delighted when she laid on a pile of my clothes affectionately or played with me through a cardboard box’s handle hole. I loved the way she would eventually join me on my bed, cuddling up to my chest and kneading me with her soft paw pads. She was so soft, so fluffy, and so sweet. She was perfect. She still is perfect.
Our bond formed deeply. But I was also young and busy–between attending college classes, working two jobs, visiting with my boyfriend and friends, I was often away from the apartment. I didn’t think my absence mattered too much–cats are self-sustaining, and so long as I fed her, she would be fine to look out the window and nap, right? But in the summer of 2017, one morning I noticed a wet patch on my futon. With a quick sniff test, I determined it to be cat pee, that undeniable pungent acridity.
Growing up, we never had urine issues with our cats. Being a young cat owner, I was clueless to why she would pee on my futon when her litter box was perfectly tidy. I thought it was a freak occurrence, that perhaps she had a bladder issue and hadn’t been able to hold it, and thus thought little of the incident.
But I soon became troublingly familiar with that assaulting scent. One time, Bryant was over, sitting on my couch, when he asked, “What’s that smell?” He stood, sniffing at the cushions, and then it dawned on him: “I just sat in cat pee.” Embarrassed, concerned, bewildered, I tried to dab it up, but as anyone with experience can attest to, cat urine is not so forgiving. Even with certain cleaners, the smell can persist.
I took Juliet to the vet, but the doctor could determine no health issues that caused this strange behavior. She began peeing on my bed, which was especially frustrating because my apartment was lofted; I had no bedroom door. Juliet had full access to my bedroom and I couldn’t restrict the space. After a long day of classes and working late, climbing into bed only to feel and smell the wetness near my pillow brought me to angry tears: I only wanted to rest, and yet that meant I’d have to clean my sheets and mattress for any peace of senses. This frustration was multiplied when Bryant came over and we discovered the mess together–sometimes there was even cat poop waiting for me.
To deter her marking of my mattress, I began piling objects on my bed in my absence: my waste basket, cardboard boxes, plastic bags, a wooden stool–anything to obstruct her presence on my bed. I figured if there was no room for her on the bed, it would alleviate the issue–which it did, for the most part. But her deliberate rogue peeing continued on my couches, and having used Nature’s Miracle cat urine cleaner so much, I began to associate the lingering scent of the cleaner with cat urine, so that even when a surface was “clean” it still signaled “dirty” to my nostrils.
In desperation, I even phoned a cat psychic, who gave me some advice and “told” Juliet that she didn’t need to do that, to please use her litter box, although afterwards the problem still persisted. I felt I was going mad, hated to be at home where all I thought about was cat pee, and I prayed no one in public ever smelled it on me. For a bit, I even thought I might have to give her up, because I couldn’t deal with it, and the issue tainted my love for her, regrettably.
Instead, I recalculated. My parents visited and helped me deep clean my apartment. We threw away my couch, which was already a secondhand couch from a thrift store. I kept my futon mattress propped over the back of the frame and covered the hump with plastic bags. I stripped my mattress, turned it on its side, and hung a tapestry from it. I made my bed a pile of blankets and pillows on the floor in my walk-in closet, the only space other than the bathroom with a door.
And, this worked. Removing soft cushions, keeping my clothes off the floor, hanging up backpacks and bags helped alleviated the temptation for her. Several months later, I moved into a new place with my brother, a place where my bedroom had a door! The combination of being able to sleep on my mattress yet obstruct her access to it, and having a roommate who could keep her company while I was away, improved our relationship greatly. Occasionally, there were a few incidents–a box of “to get rid of” clothes in the hallway, my brother’s backpack, both soiled infrequently. But all that meant was adapting–keeping couch cushions covered with plastic, being mindful of where I left my belongings, closing doors when necessary. Giving her more attention.
Despite all of my faults as an owner, I am so grateful that Juliet has continued to love me so tenderly, so eagerly. Even while my frustrations peaked and quelled, I never tried to harm her, to scare her. I knew she was a loving cat, only lonely, perhaps often uncertain if I’d ever come home. As we’ve grown together, my empathy has only expanded, trying to find ways I can better serve her–she, who has infinite love to share with me. Juliet, who is always so enthusiastic to see me return home. Juliet, who will always be my baby.
Watching her bond with my brother while we lived together was a sweet and satisfying experience. To this day, Juliet is still frightened by company, and she will retreat to the basement when strangers visit. However, she is never scared of me, and as she’s gotten used to her other roommates, her trust grows and her love increases, which makes the experience of loving her even more rewarding–that we have to earn it.
I haven’t always been the best cat mom, but I’ve learned so much through our relationship. While living with my brother, we got fleas, and I’m sad to say I didn’t act with quite enough urgency; Juliet began scratching herself so obsessively that she formed scabs on her head and lost hair on her back half. Timothy and I still laugh about her previous nickname, “Scabula,” because she looked rather rough. Eventually, I took her to the vet and she was prescribed flea medicine and steroids, and over time, she healed and her fur grew back. Now, I know to act quick, and to even take preventative measures about such an infestation.
Though we loved living with my brother, it came time for me to move in with Bryant. I was both excited to merge our lives, yet concerned about the arrangement because Bryant also had a cat, one far more outgoing than Juliet. Her name was Karma, and I had grown to love her from visiting Bryant’s house, yet I was worried that the two female felines would have an aggressive relationship, one which might potentially drive Juliet to resume her vengeful urination, or worse, bodily harm. Karma is a large, agile, clawful cat–gorgeous and sophisticated–but much more sociable and adventurous than Juliet.
At first, they were at odds. Juliet had never encountered another cat since I adopted her, and I know that female cats are not always fond of fellow cat company. We introduced them, and they growled, hissed, avoided each other with scorn. Although they both swatted at each other, it was Karma’s fisticuffs that concerned me–Juliet’s declawed swats were nothing more than hollow taps, while Karma’s swings packed gusto. Karma often chased Juliet, especially when Juliet timidly tried to bypass an area on the floor where Karma was laying.
With time though, the two have grown to be sisters. Now, they often coexist, sleeping or lounging in similar areas of the apartment, which is thankfully large enough to where they can have their own space if they desire. They’ve now known each other two years, and I hope that with even more time, they might even grow more affectionate–though, if not, I’m still thankful all the same that they at least tolerate each other with minimal cat spats.
Over the five years we’ve been together, Juliet has inspired my creativity throughout countless projects. Juliet cameo’d as “Esmerelda” in “The Vile V-E-T” story I wrote reflecting on the hassle of taking cats to the vet. She was the catalyst for my children’s story “Eve’s Wild Adventure,” which follows a cat based off Juliet as she tries to find her way back home. She served as inspiration for my folk tale “The House Cat and the House” which accounts the fable of a cat facing the realization that she’s an “indoor” cat. In a Valentine’s Day collection of “Love Letterz,” I even wrote a poem dedicated to Juliet. A story I wrote based on her companionship for a fiction writing class was later published in the 2018 edition of BrainChild, a piece entitled “The Blue Cat.” And, without her cuddles, I wouldn’t have been late to work and thought to draw a comic explaining this specific dilemma in “Why I’m Late to Work.”
Not only have I written about and drawn her likeness in my art, but I’ve also commissioned others to recreate her beauty in their own style. A former co-worker Kay Zatezbach drew Juliet in the following image:
My brother Timothy painted this inspired by Juliet:
My dear friend Jerrica Damask created this Juliet rendition:
And my sweet friend and former co-worker Sydney Simonitis gifted me a portrait of Juliet and Karma based off a photo I posted of them:
As more opportunities arise, I hope to collect even more portraits of Juliet to add to this furry gallery.
Though we’ve both changed and grown over the past five years, Juliet has been the constant in my life, my most intimate companion. I have dubbed her many names, including Julie, Ju, Ju-ju, Chewy Juey, Julie Scrumptious, Baggy Pants Cat, Scabula, Julie Julie Ju (to the theme of “Scooby Dooby Doo”), Jooster, Shmuliet, Shmulie, Julietta, Poolie, Mama, and Pee Cat (a harsh but earned title), as well as have sung her many a serenade, customizing any tune to harmonically demonstrate my utter affection for her.
I often joke that Juliet is a “knock-off Blue Russian,” because while she bears resemblance to the esteemed breed, she’s just an honest long-haired cat whose fur sometimes sheens bluish purple in the light. The price I paid reflected no such royalty, though her mannerisms mimic the animated elegance of the cartoon kitties from Aristocats–although, occasionally, her overly enthusiastic nature can cause her harmless clumsiness. As she’s gotten older, she’s rounded out a bit, and she loves the cool hardwood surface of floors or desks pressed against her belly, though in cold weather, I can count on her morning cuddles as her increased weight settles upon my chest. Even when it’s not cold, though, she is often pawing at my face in a gentle caress, reminding me to wake up long enough to feed her breakfast.
Juliet craves love and attention, and whichever room I’m in, she’s likely nearby. And even though she scarfs her food and vomits daily, I love her more each day and wouldn’t change her for anything. After all the nights I’ve cried to her, all the mornings she’s soothed me back to consciousness, all the afternoons we’ve spent watching the neighborhood and sitting side-by-side, I am a better human because of her. I wish I knew her story before she entered my life, and I wish we could have eternal time together, but I am beautifully, painfully, wholesomely grateful for our intertwined togetherness, for as long as we may be connected. When I met Juliet, she fulfilled something ephemeral in me, and regardless of where our physical bodies travel or depart, our souls will be forever merged.
I’m certainly a sentimental fool, but I cannot overstate how special Juliet is to me, to my journey. Her love renews me daily, and yet asks nothing of me but love (and food) in return.
I am so blessed that Juliet and I have found our family with Bryant and Karma, and that there is more than enough love amongst us, a bountiful flow of adoration and contentedness. At this very moment, Karma and Juliet are lying in the floor of my room, stretched on their backs, tired from the heat yet refreshed by the breeze sweeping in through the windows, tickling their fur. Juliet, and Bryant and Karma, make this space my home. I am blessed beyond measure.
Every day I tell Juliet I love her, I sing Juliet I love her, I pet Juliet I love her. And while we don’t share a spoken language, I know she knows I love her, just as I know she loves me. It’s in the way she dances in her spot when I come home, it’s in the way she softly closes her eyes and tilts her chin to me, it’s in the way she purrs with so much giddy vibration. It’s in the way I gently wipe the boogers from her eyes, the way I kiss her forehead, the way I coo her name.
Happy almost “Gotcha” Day to my baby, my beloved little Juliet, my angel.
And yes, I most definitely cried while writing this. Thanks for reading.