Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A new boyfriend

Raise your hand if you saw this link on Twitter or Facebook and clicked on it because you thought I had a new human boyfriend.

I shake my head at you. You should know better, after all this time, my luck with men...

No no. No human boyfriend. But a cat boyfriend?


A coworker squealed and gave me a hug yesterday morning when I told her that I had -- finally -- procured a cat over the weekend. She even set her coffee down to give me a full, two-arm hug.

I had to set down my breakfast eggs before returning the embrace. As hugs go, it was a high maintenance one.

Our nearby colleague may have thought we were a little too hyper for a cat adoption, but we were recognizing a legitimately momentous occasion. It is, on some level, on par with gaining a human boyfriend.

Too far? I'm not so sure. I'm a champion cat lady who should probably have a cat at all times and who had been without one for two years.

So the new guy's name is Office Max, and the short story behind his name is that he has been living in the office at the shelter where he came from for the last year and some months.

It will be not long at all before you start hearing about him all the time (I've already posted three videos to YouTube, and I got him two days ago), but/so for now I would like to honor the babe who graced my presence for the last 11 years (and who is gratefully still alive and kickin' it, just not living in California with me).


I first met Dibbs when I was 18, through a picture. My family was visiting me at college during my first semester as a freshman, and they showed to me on the viewing pane of their digital camera the new tabby cat they had adopted since I started school. I guess they needed to fill the void I left in my absence, or something.

Also cats are great and they were moving out of a no-cats-allowed rental into a pay-a-mortgage-so-you-can-have-as-many-cats-as-you-want home, so duh.

I made my first venture away from the dorm to my parents' place for Thanksgiving, which was when I first met in person the cat who loved, even then, to curl up on top of crumpled plastic grocery bags.

It's a weird habit, yes, but it was one of the only ways my last (human) boyfriend could sorta, kinda, not really bond with the cat. He would fluff a bag upward to catch some air; Dibbs would watch it above him, then his eyes would follow it the whole distance to the ground where he would then automatically move himself to lie on it.

If you're waiting for more of a climax to that, you can stop. That's all it is. He just lies on the bag. And loves it. Personally I think a blanket would be a little cozier, but his fur is pretty soft so I guess he doesn't need more softness than what he's already working with.

When I came home for my freshman Thanksgiving holiday, it didn't feel like "home" to me. Having moved three times around the country before ever graduating from high school, I had long before abandoned the traditional sentiment of home being the place that houses your friends-since-kindergarten, your retired kindergarten teacher, your favorite restaurants, and your musty bedroom with your third grade spelling bee championship certificate still hung on the wall above 1980s carpet.

For me, I rekindled friendships with a few childhood friends when we moved back to a town we had lived in before; we had one Chinese restaurant that we still actually frequent; and to this day I have never put a hole in my own bedroom wall to hang a picture. It feels too permanent.

I am beyond lucky to have grown up in a loving, safe household, but all that side stuff that many are able to take for granted (a close group of friends to go to prom with, continually excelling on one sporting team, being recognized in school hallways) I wasn't able to take for granted. So for better or worse, "home" in the material sense hasn't necessarily carried a lot of sentimentality with it, and "home" in the up-for-interpretation sense has been where my parents, my brothers, and (more recently) the niece and nephews are.

And where the cats are.

I still don't really use the term "home" to describe much more than whatever apartment I'm currently living in ("I've gotta go home, I have work in the morning"), or to talk about the Midwest (because LA natives don't know the individual states -- I'm sorry, but it's true) when I'm flying to see my family ("I'm going home next week for Christmas").

I've gotten better in my adult years about not hijacking a simple conversation to start rambling on about how I'm so different because I have no traditional sense of home. During that first semester of college, I was learning with some discomfort how to patiently listen to my classmates' woes about missing old friends and their excitement to go home for visits. Half the class couldn't wait to play with their childhood Labrador again, the Wisconsinites couldn't wait to eat some cheese curds, and I just wanted to yell: "I'M SO DIFFERENT!!!!"

(That urge to yell that particular statement hasn't quite gone away, unfortunately).

When I "went home" for Thanksgiving as a college freshman, the sense of detachment to the place where I had spent my last two years of high school was amplified by the fact that my parents weren't even living in the home they were living in when I left for college three months prior. Their new house was very cool and funky looking (in a good way), but my attitude was one of shrugged shoulders and indifference. I really couldn't muster up any excitement beyond that, nor too much grief over the house before.

I was assigned the hide-a-bed in the basement as my sleeping quarters. Being on a nocturnal college schedule, my light was often on after the rest of the Brewers had gone to sleep that week. But the newest, littlest Brewer was still awake, and would follow the light and timidly trot his tiny four feet down the stairs to join me.

Holidays can be a loud occasion with my family, and I think all the noisy, extra humans in the house were stressing him out, and frankly, kind of frightening him. On those holiday-week nights, the basement was calmer, quieter. But also not isolated; I was there. And for me, Dibbs was there.

Diblets would make himself comfortable on the hide-a-bed and snooze while I occupied myself with thinking about my friends back at school, the absence of normalcy in my life, and probably shuffling through trinkets I hadn't taken to my dorm room. I would eventually crash around 3 a.m., and when I woke each day, my kitten friend would still be with me.

I really believe that we made each other feel safe that week, and less alone. And that was the beginning for us, and beginnings are important for the future, especially a long one with several bouts of time in which a pair doesn't always see each other.

For the rest of my college years, my breaks from school created something of a Bailey-Dibbs relationship cycle. And what I mean by that is I was continually in love with him always, more and more in love after each visit, and he was pissed that I kept leaving him. If I was home long enough, we would get back to our purring, snuggling things we had going before, but I always had to rebuild what I had worked so hard for after returning from another semester away.

Even so, I was always able to be more affectionate with the cat than any of the other family members, who lived with him full time. I could throw him over my shoulder for an (albeit quick) snuggle, and they had to catch him when he was too tired to move quickly enough away from their petting.

As time went on, I had even more victories of breaking the personal space barrier with the cat. Let's just say my face has been in his belly much more than one time.

My brother Riley told me once that he came home from somewhere, and the cat started to eagerly take steps toward him, only to back off when he realized it was my brother walking in the door instead of me.

Let's be real: I was winning. The cat race was mine for the keeping.

When I graduated from college and moved back home, and Riley (the technical owner of Dibbs) left for college himself, it was all over for England. Dibbs was fully mine and I fully his. When I left for graduate school four years later, the phone call with my brother was quick. He didn't fight me, or express a lot of sadness at the loss. "Yeah, he's your cat," he simply said, matter of fact, and I prepared the pet deposit for my new place.

Our new place.

In grad school Dibbs quickly became a household name among my classmates. Many of them met him at least once, usually while he slept (i.e. hid) during one of the many get togethers I held at my apartment. If I didn't bring him up in conversation first, then one of my friends would, never missing an opportunity to rib me for my cat obsession.

During my last semester at school, I applied to an internship in Los Angeles. Having grown tired of the Midwestern winters and non-dating scene, I wanted a change. To my disbelief, I was selected for the position. I had less than 24 hours to respond to the offer, and I took it.

It was a short window of time between when I received the offer and when I realized and gasped: "! Oh my God, Dibbs."

I knew I couldn't take him with me. I was going to rent a room in LA, and my cat would vomit and moan and poop in the car during a 2 ½ hour drive; I could only imagine a 2 ½ day journey. There was no way he was going to California, at least not for the short term. I would have to be committed to the region before he could be.

My parents took him back under their roof, and for months I couldn't eat macaroni and cheese with canned tuna mixed in. I would come very close to crying just thinking about how I used to let him lap up the juice from the fish, while I stirred the meat in with the noodles for myself.

Mostly, though, I was surviving and doing pretty well in my new home, spending most of my energy trying to understand stocks and dividends (my internship was at a business journal) and make new friends.

Eventually I got my own place in LA, and made sure it was one that would allow cats.

That was eight months ago.

Curious colleagues and friends have often asked, a little puzzled, why "my cat" doesn't live here with me. Over and over I would explain the situation -- how he doesn't travel well, like really doesn't travel well, how it costs tens of thousands of dollars (really) to privately fly cats cross-country, how getting a new cat would make my life less anxious and more happy yet how taking the final step to get a new cat felt like I would be breaking up with my cat, my beloved, my Dibbs.

It felt like I would be terminating a relationship with someone who had done nothing wrong. Even worse, someone with whom I was mutually in love.

I grew to hate this conversation about "the move" of the cat. It was on par with discussing a really nasty childhood fight with a sibling in therapy -- just didn't want to go there and touch all the still-prevalent emotions.

In the last few months I suppose I have tired myself out, the way a wailing baby will, assuredly, eventually fall asleep. I grew less upset at the feeling of finality of not bringing Dibbs to California and more eager to get a cat in my home approximately right this instant.

When my parents came to visit last month (and did not surprise me by getting off the plane with Dibbs), I stayed in a hotel with them. During their visit, when I would think ahead to my return to my apartment, I imagined that a cat was there. As in, I forgot that I didn't have a cat in my apartment; I just instinctively assumed there was one there, like a migraine aura.

I knew then that it was time.


I love Dibbs so much. Too much, some might argue, but no. It's the right amount. Time and again he has provided me with comfort during my often difficult twenty-something years. Even while on very fun vacations with friends over the years, I would stop to think of him while he and I were apart (not in a crazy obsessed can't-enjoy-my-vacation way, but in a normal amount of crazy obsessed way).

Dibbs always met me at the door and purred before I even picked him up. He slept in my bed with me, something he's done with no one else. He's finally started to, reportedly, get in my dad's lap, an action previously reserved only for moi.

Dibbs used to bite my ankles while I would talk on the phone, because he didn't understand why I wasn't talking to him. My brother Patrick finds this to be incredibly disturbing. I think it is the sweetest thing ever (Patrick also finds that disturbing).

He is in good hands. He is less scared of my parents' two new kitties, and he talks to my dad in the mornings and likes to eat grass outside. (They would like him to go on a walk outside, but as with the plastic bags, he's content to sit, thank you very much). I love him love him love him, but I am finally content with finding a new baby to love, and that contentment is a gift as big as Dibbs and Office Max themselves.

Dibbs was the cat of my twenties*,

*full disclosure, I was 19 in this picture (looks like it was taken last week...)

and Office Max will be the cat of my thirties. Welcome, Baby.


  1. Kitty Love. A family value.


    1. xoxo back atcha! also family values: tabby cats in general and silver toyotas