I didn’t go home for the holidays this year. Instead of the usual whirlwind trip to Texas and Maine with my husband to see my family and his, we stayed in Hong Kong. I admit, spending the holiday season in Hong Kong was nothing to complain about. The city was aggressively festive, and eating some really excellent Chinese food on Christmas Day (in honor of my husband’s Jewish background) was exactly my kind of holiday feast.
As great as the holidays in Hong Kong were, we spent the holidays in our tiny apartment (with our giant “We didn’t think this through” Christmas tree) NOT because of the allure of an exciting holiday abroad. We did it because of our cat, Brandy.
You might remember that Brandy has been sick. She’s doing better now — cuddling with me in the morning, yelling at me at night — but her health is maintained by a carefully regimented schedule of medications. I’m lucky enough to work mostly from home, and my husband works from home a few days a week now too, so we can keep a close eye on Brandy’s health. Though she’s more or less back to her old self (it’s the “less” that can be scary), our vet and I are still finding just the right balance of medications. Monitoring her breathing, ease of movement, eating habits, and litter box habits are a huge part of my every day.
I just couldn’t leave her for the holidays. While a good pet sitter could monitor her, play with her, and keep her fed, nobody knows Brandy the way my husband and I do. Even the most caring pet sitter might not know the difference between one of her quirks and when she’s in distress.
I was at peace with my decision to stay, looking forward to having what my husband and I called, “A Very Brandy Christmas.”
But not everybody understood my decision.
“Doesn’t it make you mad that you’re being held back by a cat?”
“Don’t you think you’re being a little ridiculous? I mean, I know she’s your baby but … she is a cat.”
“Is your family mad that you chose a cat over them for the holidays?”
For the record, this is how the conversation with my mom went when I called to tell her I wasn’t going to Texas for Christmas:
Louise’s Mom: Hello. How’s Brandy? [She always asks about Brandy first.]
Louise: She’s okay. I’m worried about keeping her weight up, and the now with the subQ fluids —
Louise’s Mom: — don’t come home. Wait, you’re not actually going to travel are you? What about Brandy? Who will look after her?! LOUISE —
Louise: — MOM. I’m staying here with Brandy for Christmas.
Louise’s Mom: GOOD.
But for a lot of people, my choice to skip the trip — a trip that I look forward to every year — because of my cat, was “insane.” While my closest friends and family members agreed with and supported my decision, I was genuinely shocked by the number of people who had to “explain” to me how I was being “selfish” and Brandy was “just a cat.”
Commence eye rolling.
Being called “selfish” is such a boring argument to me. Okay, cool, I’m selfish. If deciding to arrange MY holiday so that I can keep my beloved furry family member well and happy (with my human family’s blessing) is selfish, then hand me the key, I’m the Grand Marshall of Selfish Town!
And do I really even need to dignify the “just a cat” argument with a response? I know I’m preaching to the fur-covered choir.
I am happily “held back” by Brandy. As far as I’m concerned I’d rather “hang back” with her instead of wasting my time with any bonehead that would think up such an accusation.
If I had left Brandy to travel to the U.S., to me that would have been selfish. My husband and I firmly believe you care for the animals in your life NOT just when it’s convenient. Brandy is such a vital part of our family that the thought of turning our backs on her when her health is so precarious just felt WRONG.
There’s no way I would have enjoyed Christmas if I was worrying about Brandy.
Over the holidays, and the past few months, it has become clearer than ever that my happiness is deeply intertwined with Brandy’s happiness. When she feels good, swatting me away or scratching at her ever-growing “box collection,” I feel good. When her stomach aches and her back leg is stiff, and she lets me hold her because she’s scared … nothing makes my heart hurt more.
For Brandy’s well-being, and also my own, staying in Hong Kong was the only option. By staying with Brandy, I gave myself the greatest gift I could ask for, peace of mind.
When Christmas morning rolled around, I won’t lie, a small part of me longed for my parents’ house in Texas — my mom shoving a hot mug of heart-stoppingly strong coffee into my hands while my dad obsessed about the IDEAL “playlist to open presents by.” But when I felt a thump at the foot of my bed, and saw Brandy making a beeline to curl up on my chest like she has started doing in the mornings, I laughed and knew that all was right with the world.
Nose to nose with my kitty, her claws kneading my throat (a gentle reminder that I wasn’t going anywhere), I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
About the author: Louise Hung is a morbidly inclined cat lady living in Hong Kong, with her cat, her man, and probably a couple ghost cats. She also writes for xoJane. You can follow her on Twitter or drop her a line at IamLouiseMicaela@gmail.com.