My Cat Saved My Life

By Dawn Clancy 10/27/14

More importantly, my cat has taught me that I am indeed worthy and surprisingly lovable despite what my childhood and the adults in it may have taught me.

dawn clancy

Check out more fresh voices in The Fix's new blog section.

I made the curtains that hung in my bedroom window out of two white flat sheets. I’d bought my dresser and night table from the thrift store at the end of the block. I spent an entire weekend painting the walls in my bedroom a soft and matted baby blue with the roller and paint tray I’d found at the dollar store that was near the thrift store. For the baseboards I chose a glossy, almost translucent white color. I scrubbed every speck of dirt off of the baseboards before I carefully applied the paint and I let it dry completely before peeling back the blue tape I covered the edges of the floor with. I then swept and massaged each plank of the hard wood floor with Murphy’s Oil soap until each had been restored to its original toasted brown color. Once my work was finished, I paused on the edge of my bed and scanned my new bedroom. My gaze bumped across the stack of Al-Anon books I placed in the center of my dresser. To the right of the books, I set up a cream, embossed vase with gold trim, another thrift store find, and filled it with a swollen bunch of five dollar carnations I bought at the corner bodega.

Everything about my new room, in my new Brooklyn apartment, was perfect. Every detail was exactly how I wanted it to be. I closed my eyes and breathed in the paint fumes and oil soap. I wanted to savor what it felt like to do something nice for myself despite the feelings of guilt that weighed down on my chest like a pile of wet cement.

I’d come so far in my emotional recovery and yet as a woman in my mid 20’s I was still haunted by the traumas of my childhood. Although I had not seen or spoken to her in years, I could still hear my mom’s drunk, belligerent voice in my head as I worked that day. While I’d been painting my bedroom, I heard her screaming, “You were supposed to be an abortion!” And while I unfolded my brand new lily white, eyelet comforter and spread it across my bed I heard her yell, “Who the fuck do you think you are?” But I pushed through it.

My relationship with my dad was just as fucked but I wasn’t completely estranged from him like I was with mom. He was a drinker too, only when he got drunk he became more withdrawn and bitter. Sometimes he would disappear for six months and then sometimes an entire year would go by and I wouldn’t hear from him. But, despite his issues, my relationship with him was the one that seemed the most salvageable at that time, so I came up with a plan. I decided that I was going to call him once a month, on a Sunday, at noon for an entire year no matter what happened. My hope was that my effort would open the lines of communication between us and prove to him that I wanted to try to move forward despite how ugly the past had been.

Back in my room, I opened my eyes and exhaled. It was Sunday and I hadn’t made my phone call yet and in all honesty, I really didn’t want to. Calling dad had proven to be more emotionally complex than I’d expected and I just didn’t feel up to it that day. But I was set on keeping my commitment. So I dragged my cell off of my night table and sat back down on the bed.

I flipped open my phone and scrolled through my contacts until I landed on dad’s number. I stared at it and sighed. I just couldn’t bring myself to press down on the kidney shaped button with the green phone receiver on it. I threw my chin up towards the ceiling and growled out loud to no one. I heard the refrigerator kick on in the kitchen. The damn thing was ancient and it rattled so loud that it made the glass bottles inside jitter and clank against each other. I snapped my head in the direction of the fridge and as I did, I caught my cat, Pooh, sitting as solid as an Egyptian statue at the foot of my bed.

Her eyes looked like round, black saucers and her oversized ears were fixed like triangles on the top of her head. Her calico striped tail was swishing back and forth against the hard wood floor. She licked her lips and blinked softly. I patted the blank space next to me on the bed and asked her, “Pooh, can you sit with me while I make this call?” She blinked again, crouched down towards the floor and then jumped up beside me. I placed my hand on top of her head and she brushed her silky fur across my palm. She twirled around a few times and then nestled right up against my left thigh. Her front paws were curled under her chest and her tail was tucked in close to her body; she looked like a nesting hen. I stretched my left arm over her like a tent pole and suddenly found the courage to call my dad.

When Pooh was a kitten, she was a complete terror. At night, while I tried to sleep, she would initiate games of tag with the roaches that rented space under the stove in the kitchen. She’d claw at the fabric on the couch cushions and drag her full water bowl across the floor until it flipped over. She’d bounce from room to room, sparring with the shadows on the walls, knocking over papers and bumping into furniture. Sometimes, I’d spring out of bed, scoop her up and corral her in the bathroom hoping that a smaller space would calm her down. But as soon as I closed the door, she would meow incessantly until my ears felt like they were bleeding. Eventually, I’d surrender and let her out only to find that she’d pulled the entire roll of toilet paper off the roller and knocked the ones stacked on the back of the toilet onto the floor. In the beginning our relationship was a rocky one but over the years she grew on me and became much more than just a pet; she also became my family.

Just as I’d been estranged from my mom and occasionally my dad through the years, I also strained to keep in touch with both of my older brothers. One ran off to California seeking refuge from a life of addiction and crime while the other wrestled with his fair share of demons that appeared in the form of powders, pills and other illegal substances. At the same time, the adults in my extended family seemed to fall off the face of the earth even though some of them lived just a state or two away. I felt rejected and worthless. I figured that if I died these people wouldn’t even know and if they did know they probably wouldn’t even care. There were plenty of times that I just wanted to disappear and jump face first off the Verrazano Bridge but then I’d remember that I had a little someone at home depending on me to change her litter, buy her food and massage her ears at night. And I just couldn’t bear the thought of abandoning her as I believed my family had done to me. So no matter how bad I felt, I would shuffle home and find Pooh curled up and cozy in the center of my bed and in those moments I knew that everything was going to be all right.

Over the years, I’ve celebrated every holiday with Pooh. For my birthday, alongside my favorite slice of cake, I’d pour her a small bowl of milk and we’d sit together and ring in another year of life. For Christmas, I’d buy and wrap for her a few new toys stuffed with catnip and hide them under our fake tree from Target. And for her birthday, she always got one full can of StarKist tuna packed in water; her absolute favorite.

In her own way, Pooh has shown me what it means to be reliable, consistent, dependable and loyal: attributes that were scarce in my chaotic, alcoholic family. But more importantly, she’s taught me that I am indeed worthy and surprisingly lovable despite what my childhood and the adults in it may have taught me.

Back in my bedroom, I rolled my eyes as dad’s phone jumped right to voicemail. I waited for the beep and left a message, “Hey dad it’s Dawn. Just wanted to see how you’re doing.” I paused, “Give me a call when you get a chance.” And then I hung up and threw my cell behind me. Pooh stood up and stretched her back high in the air. She yawned and jumped off the bed; her brown and orange swirled fur popped bright against the baby blue walls. On the floor, she leaned back into a downward dog and the tip of her tail shot up and curled into a perfect question mark. Just as she was about to leave the room, I called out to her and she stopped and coolly looked over her shoulder at me. I smiled and said, “Thanks my girl.” Pooh looked at me with her big, black saucer eyes, swiped her tail across the floor and blinked at me softly as if to say, “You’re welcome,” and then she turned and quietly slipped out of the room.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Dawn Clancy - Headshot.jpg

Dawn Clancy is a freelance writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Fix, The Establishment, Dame Magazine and others. Her website is