In 1998, I moved into a one bedroom apartment by myself.  It was a big change and it was the first time I ever lived completely alone, without roommates, friends or family.  It was scary and liberating all at once, and presented the perfect opportunity to do what I had always wanted to – get myself a dog.  All my life I had wanted a dog, and I spent countless hours trying to convince my parents or my roommates to let me get one to no avail.   When I finally got my own place it seemed like a perfect opportunity, but I was responsible enough to realize that my job requirements, which included long days and a lot of travel, wouldn’t allow me to take care of a dog properly.  A dog of my own was something that I constantly pined for just as some women pine for children; it was my own warped version of a biological clock. 

On New Year’s Day, 2000, I was at breakfast with my brother, John, and my friend, Barb, after a night out on the town celebrating New Year’s Eve.  My brother had a cat that he had been trying to pawn off on me for a few weeks; his landlord wouldn’t let him keep it and he didn’t know what else to do with it.  I kept giving him advice about how to unload the cat (advertise, send an email, ask around) because I really didn’t want it.  I don’t like cats, I told him, they aren’t friendly like dogs.  He was adamant that this cat was cool and I would love him.  My friend Barb had a cat, and she helped John wear me down with comments such as:  But you can’t take care of a dog.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little friend?  Cats are the easiest pets, they take care of themselves.  A cat would fit into your lifestyle. 

Their persistence plus my hangover was more than I could take and finally I said, Fine, I’ll take the damn cat!

A few days later, my brother dropped the cat off to me.  I don’t know what I expected, but when I saw this cat I was taken aback.  He was orange, with long soft hair and a fluffy tail.  Isn’t he cute? My brother insisted.  I had to agree – the cat looked like a stuffed animal who had come to life.  His name, Norman, suited him perfectly.  I guess it was something about his whiskers and the white hair in his ears that made him seem like a “Norman.”

I didn’t know much about cats when I got Norman, but I did know some things about myself, specifically that I need attention and that I can be stubborn.  So when Norman took to hiding under the couch, I would have none of it.  Of course, I gave him a chance to get used to his new home, but after a couple of days I would find myself dragging him out from under the couch and picking him up to hug him.  Norman was very floppy, and so – as I would be hugging him around his middle – his head, front and back legs and tail would be hanging over my arms like a ragdoll.  Try to picture a thirty-year-old professional woman walking around her apartment with a miserable cat hanging from her arms.  I would say to him, I gave you a home and you will love me!  Oh, the psychoanalysis that could follow from that statement…

Nonetheless, the first few weeks of our life together consisted of Norman trying to escape from me while I hunted him down and me holding him on my lap whether he liked it or not.  Then one day something very interesting happened.  I was on the couch reading a magazine, taking a break from torturing the cat, when Norman jumped up onto the back of the couch, walked up to where I was sitting, and perched himself just above my head like a pirate’s parrot.  I was exhilarated.  That’s the big difference between cats and dogs:  Dogs come to you when you call them, they crave your attention and give affection freely; cats are a little slower to warm up, but when a cat decides to give you attention you feel special.  So there I sat, reading my magazine and feeling special because Norman decided to come and sit next to me.

And that’s how the love affair began. 

Whenever I came home, Norman would be at the door waiting to greet me by rubbing against my legs.  When I made my dinner, I would give him his food and then we would both eat a bit together.  When I sat down to do work, he would come and sit on the desk, usually right on top of whichever paper I was working on at the moment.  When I sat on the couch to unwind in front of the television, he would sit next to me and eventually he started to sit in my lap.  When I got ready to go out on the town, he would curl up and sleep in the bathroom sink while I did my hair and makeup, and even though that led to the occasional cat hair stuck in my mascara for an entire evening, I thoroughly enjoyed Norman’s company. 

I am sure at this point I sound like a crazy cat lady, and there were times when I was very self-conscious that I was single, over thirty and living with a cat.  In reality, during this time I was busy with my career, having fun with friends, dating and “getting out there,” as they say.  However, when I came home to take a breath, my little buddy Norman was there to hang with me.  Over time, Norman began to feel like a roommate more than anything else, probably because he was so low maintenance and because he had his own individual way of doing things. 

I don’t know if it was because I treated Norman as the dog I never had or if it was just his style, but Norman developed some quirky aspects to his personality.  He would drop to the floor, stretching out and rolling over so I could rub his stomach.  When I was on the couch and I wanted him to sit with me, I would shout Norman! and he would come trotting up and jump on the couch and into my lap.  If I gave him a twist-tie, he would spend half an hour chasing it and pouncing on it all over the apartment while I just watched in amusement.  He always slept with me and a lot of time he slept curled up on my head.  He liked water and when I was getting out of the shower he would jump up on the edge of the tub so the drips from my hair would fall on him.

Norman was with me throughout a very turbulent period of my life.  In the time we were together, we lived in:

Hoboken, NJ
Austin, TX
Baltimore, MD
Montclair, NJ (two different houses)
Jersey City, NJ
Ocean Grove, NJ (two different houses)

If you know anything about cats, you know they don’t like change.  Yet Norman tagged along as I continually moved from place to place, trying to make myself happy.  He was with me on September 11, 2001, when I was stranded in Texas, far from my family and friends in New York and New Jersey.  Shortly after the Twin Towers fell, I was sitting in the living room, hunched over and sobbing with my hands in my head.  I looked up momentarily, and there Norman was, sitting next to me on the couch and just looking at me.  As soon as I sat up, he carefully walked into my lap and curled up there.  I remember feeling floored that he was so deliberately trying to comfort me.

In retrospect, maybe Norman was sent to take care of me in that way.  As someone who was never comfortable showing sadness to other people, I withdrew when I went through a troubled marriage and stressful divorce.  There were too many days like what I described above, when I was desperately sad and purposely isolating myself from the world.  At those times, Norman not only kept me company, but he made me feel better.  It sounds a bit wacky, but trust me that when he licked my face as I cried, it was clear that Norman was attuned to how I was feeling.

I finally got the dog I always wanted, followed by a husband and another dog (package deal), then a baby.  My husband joked that Norman was always Number One, and there is some truth to that.  I suppose spending so much time alone together allowed us to bond in a special way.  For someone who never thought she would like having a pet of the feline persuasion, I became a huge fan of Norman the Cat (his full name).

Unfortunately, at this moment I am terribly, horribly sad and I don’t have Norman here to sit on my lap and make it better.  Two days ago my husband and I made the difficult decision to put him to sleep because he was so sick from kidney failure.  It feels like ten years went by in a blink of an eye – it wasn’t enough time!  Whenever I walk into a room, I glance behind me out of habit to look for Norman following me; for the first time in a decade, he isn’t at my heels and it feels like I lost my shadow.  As I was lying in bed awake the other night, it occurred to me that it is somewhat poetic how Norman came into my life shortly before I entered a very challenging period, when I dealt with some serious personal problems; now, only six months or so since I truly feel like myself again, he has moved on.  Maybe he was a furry guardian angel. 

I only hope I was half as good to him as he was to me.  Norman the Cat will be sorely missed.

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