One late September evening, my husband and I were chatting at the dining table in my father’s home. Our conversation was interrupted by a high-pitched meow from the window. It was the tomcat that had fathered Coco’s kittens.
I heard pain in his voice. He had shrunk in size from the last time I saw him, months before my mother moved out and took Coco and the kittens with her. He appeared to have not recovered from the agony of the sudden separation, a tortured soul wandering the neighborhood in grief. The sight of him changed the mood.
That night, I wept. I never could have imagined that I, a cat-phobic, would grieve the separation of two cats I had never touched.
The first time I saw Coco, I had been sitting on the kitchen counter in my parents’ home, when a swift movement from the pantry into the corridor caught my eye. My heart jumped out of my lungs. “What the hell was that?” I screamed, only to be jeered at by my mother and little sister who told me that “she” was the latest addition to our family.
“Her name is Coco,” my little sister said.
“A cat?” I shrieked. “Why would you bring a cat into our home? You know I hate cats.”
“Well, you no longer live with us,” my mother declared. “Just try to avoid her.”
My younger sister had chosen Coco for our mother from her neighbor’s litter of kittens. She was a grey tabby kitten, wobbling and meowing with the same newness of a newborn baby’s cries.
My little sister said, “I named her Coco because she was so adorable and irresistible. You’ll come to love her.”
I doubted that I was ever going to love any cat.
I tiptoed around the house powerless and terrified about the unpredictability of her movements. I was overwhelmed by a fear of accidentally ingesting her hair.
At dinner that night, I sat down quietly with my heart in my mouth, scanning for any signs of the cat. Coco was sitting quietly behind the bookshelf, looking straight at me with eyes the color of the ocean. A cold shiver ran through me and I began to sweat. I raised my legs and folded them on the chair, trying to avoid contact. She began to meow — closer and closer. Eventually, she appeared beside me and I threw a spoon at her. She dashed out of the room.
I told myself that it didn’t matter that I was cat-phobic; I could still care for her.
Soon after, I learned that Coco’s siblings had been killed. The owner had been forcefully evicted from his home and, in a fit of anger, threw all four of Coco’s siblings and their mother into a canal. The news broke my heart. I wondered why someone could be so cruel. Out of nowhere, Coco appeared beside me again, and I threw her a piece of bread. She pounced on it like a tiger and clawed at it desperately.