When I first met Pippi in 2004, she was hiding in a cabinet in the corner of my new apartment. As I knelt in front of the cabinet, trying to coax her out, my roommate (who had lived with Pippi for six years), cautioned me to not expect a friendship, as she had always been an antisocial cat. I accepted the challenge.
Over the next couple of weeks I made it a point to move slowly and quietly around her, so as not to startle, and I scratched her back and head when she would let me. One night, as I was knitting, she poked her head into my bedroom. "Hey," I said, "wanna come in?"
She stood in the doorway for a few moments, seemingly pondering my invite, before she continued. She wandered all over my room for a while — smelling, standing on her hind legs to see what was higher, and rubbing her cheeks on everything she wanted to mark as her own. Then, as if saying "Okay, we can be friends," she jumped onto my bed and napped as I cast off my last stitches.
When that roommate and I parted ways, I took Pip with me. "She chose you,” my roommate said. Over the years, Pip and I have experimented with living with other people who had cats, and it always failed. When I gave up on roommates altogether and got an apartment of my own, I conceded to her being an only cat. Because she was 14, I anticipated letting her live out the rest of her days in a quiet and cozy home, with just the two of us.
That all changed in July. My friend was studying in a coffee shop when a woman walked in cradling a kitten, rescued from under a car in the parking lot, only a few feet from a busy four-lane highway. One thing led to another, and my friend found himself driving to his veterinarian’s office — which was only a few miles away — with a shaking and flea-ridden kitten in his lap. Given my only-cat agreement with Pippi, it wasn’t an easy choice to open my home to this kitten. But, at only three months old, she had already had such a rough life; it killed me to think of her feeling scared and lonely in a shelter. And that’s how Nora became a part of our family.
I won’t lie: The first few weeks were a disaster. Neither Pippi nor I knew how to handle this new tornado of energy who had been introduced into our previously calm home. Nora didn’t know how to handle her energy, either, and took it out on me with constant attacks to my legs and arms. Not only was it physically painful to be covered in scratches from head to toe, but it was emotionally painful too, to have my love countered by such pain and torment. It was so maddening that I started thinking of finding her a new home.
I hashed it all out with a friend one morning over coffee. "I just don’t know what to do. Look at my legs. They’re shredded!" There was no denying that; it was a bloodbath. My friend encouraged me to find a way to play rough with her. "If she was still with her littermates she’d be taking it out on them,” she said. “But she’s with you. So you need to find a way to let her play and be rough like a kitten. But in a safer way."
I took her advice to heart and realized that I had been expecting Nora to be something she couldn’t. I was expecting her to be calm, polite, and sweet; in short, I was expecting her to be Pippi. On the way home, I picked up some heavy-duty dishwashing gloves — you know, the yellow ones that go up to your elbow? At home, I slid them on, got down on the floor, and wrestled with Nora. Eventually, she got worn out and laid down for a nap beside my leg. It was the first time she was ever calm enough to sleep beside me. What a relief.
The relationship between Pippi and Nora has evolved, and still changes every day. Their personalities couldn’t be more different. Pippi is sweet and solitary; Nora is feisty and always needs to be where the action is. Pippi is an old lady who just wants to sleep and rest; Nora is a energetic kitten who always wants to play. Pippi has boundaries and respects those of others; Nora has a total lack of respect for rules or boundaries of any kind.
It hasn’t been easy to find a balance where all three of us can be happy and fulfilled. I try to take the pressure off as much as possible by playing with Nora so Pippi can sleep. Still, Nora does try to play with Pippi sometimes. She knows that Pippi can play with her in a way that only another cat can. And occasionally I think Pippi even enjoys it, despite her growls and hissing. It’s a confused kind of enjoyment, sure, but enjoyment all the same.
Over the past several weeks, they have been napping together on my bed, a few feet apart, but still sharing. The fact that Pippi can sleep while Nora is so close speaks volumes about how far they have come. Working from home, I am lucky to have a front row seat to their daily trials, errors, and progress.
Nora has lived with us for five months. In that time, she has tripled in size and calmed down significantly. She and Pippi still have some kinks to work out, but it’s getting better. Nora, who loves Pippi fiercely, often stares longingly at her; it’s clear that she needs that special kind of feline companionship that only Pippi can provide.
I don’t expect to see them snuggling or grooming each other any time soon, but for the first time, that doesn’t seem like such an impossibility. Though sometimes still frustrating, I finally feel like we are all on the same page, each of us trying in our own way to make our new mismatched family work. Victory.
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