Meredith McAlister

Do You Like Cats?

Meredith McAlister
Do You Like Cats?
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At 21, a recent college grad, I packed up my life in Boston and my lifetime savings to pursue my dream of living and working in New York City. I found a sixth floor walk up on the Upper East Side directly across from famous 92nd Street Y. It was so close to this historic building that I never had to pay for wifi in that year! I did, however, have to sit near the window to check email or work online.

I was so lonely my first couple of days in NYC. One day I decided to go out and buy a plant. My walls were stark white and my apartment filled with bland Ikea furniture ranging in shades from white to off white to beige. I picked out a lush mini bonsai tree that I had no clue how to keep alive but made me feel cultured and posh. I unlocked the heavy door that lead to a six floor climb and began my ascent when I heard a screeching voice shout, “Do you Like Cats”? I stopped in my climb. I hadn’t met any of the other occupants in this cold domicile. “The musical?!” I excitedly shouted back down. Thinking the voice may have free tickets to an Off-Broadway production of the famous dance musical, I trotted back down to meet the woman. “No, the animal” she crowed as she rolled her eyes and creaked open the door to her little one bedroom. I could hear my mom’s voice in my head as the door swung open to reveal an older man in boxers and a dirty tank sitting on a couch in the center of the small space smoking a cigarette. Then I saw him. A small orange ball of fluff darted across the room and clung to a window curtain. Sweat, cigarette smoke and barbecue clogged the room and a spritely little kitten ran back and forth in a panic. The woman explained that her daughter had recently adopted two kittens and promptly moved to Florida. With two children, she couldn’t handle the work of both kittens so she kept the more chill brother, Tom, and left behind his mischievous marmalade male, Jerry.

Jerry had sparkling eyes and a head that seemed to dwarf his fuzzy orange little frame. “I’ll take him,” I said - praying my roommate would approve. They tossed me the sweet ball of fluff, a trash bag filled with treats and kitty litter and sent me on my way. My roommate agreed he could join our sixth floor abode and I named him Stuart because he had a little mouse face with giant whiskers and didn’t really seem like a “Jerry” to me.

Stuart and I spent a lot of time together that year. When you are young and poor and searching for work in New York - you spend a lot of time applying for jobs, searching for gigs and crying in your apartment. He was always right by my side. He adored the Spring and Fall months where the windows could remain open. He’d smush his little nose into the screen of the window that towered above our local barbecue restaurants’ smoker. He’d enjoy long summer naps sprawled on the window sill with images of ribs and pulled pork dancing in his head. Stuart was the one constant in my 20s.

From 21 to 31 I was blessed to have him by my side. He was there through three boyfriends, three cities and all of the pain and wonder that happen as you grow from a student to an adult.

I lost my sweet boy a few weeks ago and am still thinking off him every day. As unfair as it feels to lose this bright beacon of love so soon, I feel blessed that I got to be his mom. He could have been a New York City street cat. I could have endured my 20s alone. I truly believe that animals are some of the most pure and wonderful parts of living. I still hear him meow sometimes when I get home from the gym in the mornings. I have to stop myself from asking my parents how he is when I’m out of town. Sometimes I think I can feel him brush against my leg. I miss him joining me for “sauna time”. He never missed an opportunity to sit on the counter during bath time when the room was hot and filled with soothing essential oils.

Losing a pet is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through in my life. My little orange buddy will always be my first love. I am so glad I have so many pictures and videos of him to keep his handsome face alive in my memory forever. Writing this has been a struggle but I wanted to document the story of Stu - my Study Buddy, Heartbreak Healer and Constant Source of Laughter. Miss you, Buddy.