They say New Yorkers aren’t the friendliest of people.
That, combined with the fact that true friendship takes a blend of common interest and time to develop, might scare the recent grad who just moved to the City.
I felt that fear when I first moved here. Between classes, parties, and football games, meeting people in college became second nature, but New York City presented a challenge. I didn’t know the first thing about where to go and what to do to to make good friends. I spent a week of loneliness, wondering. Lucky for me, though, I found my best friend just another few weeks later.
His name is Andy. He is the sweetest creature, with a wild side that can easily get on your nerves. He’s a furry one, this Andy—black, with a heart-shaped patch of hair on his belly.
By now, you probably understand that Andy isn’t a person but a beautiful kitty. We have a blend of common interest, mainly eating and a short attention span—a basis for a friendship that really took no time to develop. In our case, it was love at first sight.
I remember the exact moment that I felt it. I had just dropped off an application and was about to buy a gyro at Ditmars Boulevard for lunch when I spotted him across the street. I had never had a pet before, but I appreciate cats and had been playing around with the idea of having a pet at that time. So, when I saw him in a cardboard box between two boys, I crossed the street and approached them.
They say curiosity killed the cat, but this time, it saved him. Andy was only 4 weeks old, a dangerous age for a kitten to be away from his mom, when I heard his little yelps and cries from the box. It was cold, and tiny little Andy was suffering in the box along with his two gray little brothers.
The boys claimed their mother, who was going to have a baby, sent them to sell the kittens in the street because the family coudln’t afford to keep them anymore. They added that this mom was a vet, a highly debatable claim, as I don’t believe any vet would give such bad advice to any pet owner.
Each kitten was $4, and as people stood around debating what to do, a cop came and told the kids to leave and that it was illegal for them to be selling a litter of kittens in the street corner like that. So the boys started gathering their stuff, and my heart crumbled as I watched Andy and thought of his dubious safety.
And then I did it. In a second’s thought, I pulled out my wallet and exchanged a few dollars for Andy. Another lady bought the other two, and the boys left.
As I zipped up a crying, cold, hungry little Andy in my jacket on our way to the vet, I squeezed him tighter, as if to reassure him that he was okay with me. That he was safe and loved, already.
The vet was concerned about Andy’s health. Mama’s milk not only contains DHA, a fatty acid that makes up a large portion of the brain and encourages mental and emotional development, but it also provides immunity to many diseases that a kitten’s immature immune system cannot fight on its own. And Andy wasn’t getting any of that anymore, when normally he should be for another eight weeks.
She warned me that he was going to be a lot of work: I would have to bottle-feed him every four hours day and night, stimulate his privates afterward because he was too young to know to relieve himself, and give him constant affection. And even if I did all that perfectly, she said, he probably wouldn’t even survive.
I left the vet that day, determined: Andy was going to make it. Immediately, I made the trip to the pet store. Bottles, litterbox, milk—I had all the right supplies to nurture Andy after his abrupt weaning.
The vet was right, he was a lot of work. Thanks to my insomnia, it wasn’t a problem to feed and take care of him at 4 a.m. Besides, he was adorable.
And he was a trooper from the start. Cute, cuddly, and quiet he slowly learned the tricks of survival. Two weeks ago, I celebrated his two month birthday, and this morning, he was running around like a creature on drugs, jumping, arching his back, following trails, biting feet, and raising trouble—the perfect signs of health and energy.
But now he’s gone. As I gathered his few belongings in this world, I felt like he was losing the only person who was there for him from the start. I’ve never lost a child, but I imagine it partly feels like what I felt today as his new, excited owners huddled over him, crying over his inherent cuteness: a void. The owners picked up the bag of litterbox and food, handed me thirty dollars, and then they were gone.
I cried as soon as I closed the door behind them. I sat down on the floor, missed my kitty and cried, for a long time. Even as I write this, the screen turns blurry now and then. The corner where he used to eat and drink and poop is suddenly replaced by space, just as the energy and life that this room used to be so full of is taken over by songs on the radio that will never measure up to what Andy brought in this home.
He brought hard work. He brought trouble. He brought plenty of pain ever since his little teeth started become little fangs.
But he brought a lot of love, as well.
In a way, if he had to go, I’m glad he went now and not later when we would have become so attached, he would feel to me like a third arm. But it hurts right now, because I, too, feel improperly, abruptly weaned from my favorite furry friend, my beloved Andy.
I didn’t want to let him go, but knowledge is what hurt this relationship. Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease that cats can infect humans with. It comes from cat feces and cat scratches. A third of the world has it, and it’s okay as long as your immune system doesn’t weaken. Because if it does, sometimes the disease acts up and turns fatal. Or if you’re pregnant, it can infect and kill your unborn baby.
I want to have kids one day, and so I chose my future unborn children over my best friend Andy. It was a tough choice, and even if I hadn’t made it, maybe I still would have ended up healthy and able to have both kids and cat.
But I didn’t want to risk it.
I feel truly blessed to be healthy, and ever since I found out about the disease, it has bothered me. My first New York City apartment is pretty small, and the litterbox didn’t fit anywhere but in my bedroom. That worried me. And Andy is adorable, but he’s a a biter and a scratcher. That worried me, too.
I miss Andy, even more when I speak about him now. I can’t believe he’s gone, and all I have is lovely memories, his lingering tuna smell, and a whole bunch of pictures that I can’t look at yet.
I remember one day, last summer, when my friend’s cat died. She cried then, and continued crying for days and days, and her behavior caught me off guard. “Why does she act like a person is gone? Why does she cry like a family member died?” I would wonder. I never understood it, because I never had a bond with an animal before.
But now I get it. She cried like a family member died, because a family member had died. Cricket might not have been her brother, but he was certainly her best companion, most loyal, loving friend. Just like Andy was to me.
I can’t imagine what he’s doing now. I get jealous to think how happy those new owners are, playing with him right now, feeding him, teasing him. Not knowing a thing about him.
But at least my Andy is well. He will always be my Andy. Picking him up that day at Ditmars was impulsive, but I never regretted it for a minute. I don’t know if he would be alive today, able to enjoy his new home, his new owners had it not been for those first few tough weeks of feedings every 4 hours, of contant loving affection.
Yet it was a transaction. I wasn’t the only one to help him keep his life. He enriched mine, like nothing could ever have at the moment. I gave him the basics—food, warmth, love—and thanks to that, he’s able to be where he is right now; in return, he gave me comfort and strength, two things that I really needed as an unemployed newcomer to a big, unfamiliar city. And thanks to him, I retained the courage to keep applying to jobs, to put myself out there and make friends, knowing that if all else failed, he was always there for me when I got back home.
He gave me an introduction to how strong a bond can be between humans and animals. I didn’t know that lesson. Loving a person is beautiful and all-encompassing, but loving an animal is strong and instinctive. It’s a different kind of beautiful, because you know it’s permanent.
I will love Andy for life. And that is a beautiful thought, beautiful enough to make me smile through my tears and love him even more through the distance. Because even though he’s not here with me right now, he’s still out there. He’s okay.
And he will continue to be okay, even though we live separate lives now. Distance doesn’t separate spirits, only images. Distance doesn’t break bonds, only realities. Distance doesn’t change love, only strengthens it.
I am thankful for the memories, and feel incredibly privileged to know him, to love him—my beautiful, sweet Andy, my truest best friend.
We’ll never even need to say goodbye.