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My Cat, Bruce

LEYLA DOSS, HOST: Eight years ago, just out of college, Kate Stockrahm had a particularly bad break-up. In the latest piece from our commentary series, she reflects on how she healed after that split. The method included the usual junk food and tears -- but also one furry, unwanted responsibility.


KATE STOCKRAHM, BYLINE: This is Bruce. He’s my cat. He’s a big guy, around 20 pounds. He has bright blue eyes and a lot of tan and brown fur that he leaves in tufts around my apartment. He enjoys tearing up the kitchen rug when I’m not looking, but he always apologizes.


STOCKRAHM: I love him now, but I didn’t when we met eight years ago.

That’s because when we met, I was certain I would never love anyone or anything again.

I had moved to Washington, DC for a guy who turned out to be cheating on me with one of our mutual friends. Whatever you’re picturing as my response, please assume it happened. I cried. I screamed. I ate my body weight in General Tso’s chicken. I put my ex’s stuff in a white plastic trash bag at the curb. I brought that bag back inside to torture myself by putting on his college t-shirt and re-reading a birthday card he wrote me. Then I did it all over again... for months.

So, when my roommates adopted Bruce, I didn’t want him. Not him specifically, just any responsibility for another living thing. At this point, my Chinese takeout spot didn’t even have to ask my name when I called. I was barely taking care of myself — why would I want to take care of this cat?

Bruce sensed I wasn’t concerned if he lived or died… which is the standard level of indifference cats are known for. He’d found a kindred spirit, and so, he set about making me love him.

Ignoring the two other roommates who had actually wanted him, Bruce waited by my bedroom door every night. He climbed onto my shoulder as I paced the apartment ugly crying to Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” He didn’t even judge me on the irony of my song choice. He meowed whenever I was out of view and he ran to greet me when I came home from work.

Slowly, Bruce fashioned himself into my cat.

But also — slowly — he fashioned me into a whole person again.

I didn’t realize I started being the one to feed him, or that he began sleeping in the crook of my arm at night. It seemed practical that I keep him when my roommates moved on to different cities. And by Christmas, I had decided to rent a car to drive him home with me. (Bruce drinks from the faucet instead of a bowl. A pet sitter just wouldn’t understand.)

Becoming responsible for Bruce meant taking care of myself again. Shuttling him to the vet, brushing out his fur, trying to get him to respond to his name… all were things to do instead of moping around feeling sorry for myself. I left the trash bag of my ex’s stuff at the curb one final time. I even started seeing someone new.

Against his species’ nature, Bruce offered me affection instead of apathy. Somehow this indifferent human was retrained by a loving cat.

Isn’t that right, Bruce?


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