Fate moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes it collapses on you, like a tree in the middle of a street full of traffic. It might even rain on you in the middle of a summer vacation. In my case, it meowed at me on my way home from the gym.
Before I begin this story, you should know that I’m not a cat person. This wasn’t always the case. When I was little, I loved cats. My mom told me that I was born the year of the cat, according to the Vietnamese zodiac. This accelerated the need within me to connect with these elusive creatures to somehow better understand myself.
When I was 7, I thought it’d be fun to trick a stray cat who frequented our backyard into being mine. Tactfully, exhausting the supply of sliced turkey that my mom kept in the fridge, I lured it into my house, then quickly shut all the doors, preventing its escape. The poor thing freaked out and hid underneath sofas and behind doors. Being seven, I didn’t understand that this meant it didn’t want to play. “Fetch, kitty!” I’d scream in vain. You could say I learned the hard way that cats could care less about the fact that you want to play with them, and more about where they’re going to take their next nap.
I quit cats cold turkey (ha). I also discovered later on in life that there was no such thing as the Vietnamese zodiac, and that I was really born the year of the rabbit, according to the Lunar calendar. So continued my confused childhood.
Enter Ella, a hapless and helpless stray that instantly pawed at my heartstrings. On our way to our cars from 24 Hour Fitness, Felipe and I found her meowing and running between parked cars, looking for shelter from the world in general. Judging from her bite and scratch marks, she had good reason to be hiding.
I don’t know when, why, or how it occurred to me to catch her. But I knew I had to, or else she’d risk getting run over by someone or something worse (at least that’s what I told myself). The only problem was that I had no idea how to catch a cat. For at least an hour, Felipe and I chased her around aimlessly, to the amusement of other people leaving the gym.
At this point, it was nearing 1:00am, and we hadn’t had any luck. Just when we called it quits, the cat climbed into — yes, INTO — Felipe’s car engine through the undercarriage.
After much debate, we decided to try turning on the car engine to scare her out. No luck. We tried driving back and forth slowly in the parking lot to see if she’d jump out. Still, nothing. My house was only two miles away, so we decided (I decided) that it was getting much later than we intended to stay out, so we should try to drive her home and coax her out there, since she obviously wasn’t affected by the car moving.
Felipe parked the car in the garage and left the front hood open. We left some of my dog’s food out in the garage in case she got hungry and a bowl of water in case she was thirsty.
When I walked into the garage the next morning, I half-expected it to still be hiding in the car, so I tapped the hood to see if she’d make a sound. I heard a timid meow coming from behind me. I turned around and saw her standing on a bookshelf in the garage. So meek, innocent, and eager all at the same time. We fed her some canned dog food from a plastic spoon, which she devoured. She probably hadn’t eaten in days.
That night, I brought her into the house and gave her a bed and her own blanket. Felipe and I picked up some food, litter, and flea medication, the latter of which was of utmost importance. She was infested with fleas to the point that it was disturbing. Some flea bath, a trip to the vet, and 2+ hours of handpicking dead fleas from her coat did the trick.
We still haven’t exactly decided what to do with her yet, but neither of us can imagine parting with her at this point. There also seems to be a separate time zone enveloping her. Whenever we sit down to play with her, the hours pass by without either one of us noticing.
This cat has unexpectedly brought out my maternal side, one I strangely tucked away in my quest to define myself as a strong, independent woman. For some reason, I had convinced myself that being a strong, independent woman had to exclude the desire to one day start my own family. I tried so hard to be the foil to the stereotype without realizing that doing so was denying an inherent need in me to be compassionate, to provide, and to love. I’m grateful for this gift from life. For however long she’s in my life, I’ll always love her for reminding me to open back up.
Now she’s soft, happy, and new. Ella’s story is a testament to the fact that your life can change for the better. Or you can change your life for the better, even if it means having to jump into a car engine and back out to get there.