The cat was named Spotty. She was snow white with 11 black spots.
I met her while she was squatting on the porch of a monk's residence. The house and its attached buildings served as a community living arrangement for the monk and a group of people with schizophrenia. There was a strict no-cat policy in place.
I learned from neighbours that Spotty had lived in one of the buildings in its previous incarnation as a crack house. Some say the tenants took Spotty with them but she made her way back to the porch; others say she was abandoned.
I first saw her in early spring. Sometimes she would ignore me as I walked by; other times she would dart in and around my path, forcing me to stop or risk pitching forward onto the pavement.
I began feeding Spotty dinner, and, as a cat would, she began expecting breakfast. These mealtime trips were easy to make as I lived only half a block away.
One day I met the monk on whose property Spotty was squatting. Noting my affinity for her, he tried to fast-track an adoption process in the smooth, efficient way that Catholics have of dealing with lost souls and loose ends.
"Just take her, look, she's cleaning herself so she can look pretty when you take her home."
He's shameless and I'm a sucker. A match made in
I took Spotty home. I had some explaining to do. I already lived with three roommates and four cats. I was also due to be moving in with my boyfriend in a month.
It was a big step. I'd just come out of a year-long depression and my boyfriend had been living in a rooming house.
That night I came home drunk and learned something about Spotty. She wasn't looking for the type of salvation I had to offer. She wanted her damn home back, the one the monk and his schizophrenic housemates had invaded. I was kept awake by Spotty's frantic search for an escape.
Her panic was deeply unsettling to me. I wanted her to rest, to feel some peace. In an extremely ill-conceived fit of inspiration, in my inebriated state, I decided to give Spotty a cat-sized dose of my human sleep aid. I know, I'm going to hell.
But it did the trick. She slept through the night. In the morning I was horribly ashamed of inappropriately and recklessly administering pharmaceuticals to a cat. She was awake but dopey.
For the next few days, Spotty was calm. Perhaps she was fearful of another pharmaceutical assault. Then came the morning that my boyfriend and I were moving in together, and I discovered Spotty had not been taking advantage of the three litter boxes available to her. There was a small sea of urine and feces along the basement wall. I decided not to mention this to my boyfriend.
In our new home, Spotty found her own private space. For three months she lived in a blue box in the closet. We knew she was eating and it was clear she was using the litter box; we just never witnessed any of these activities.
We took Spotty to a vet who informed us that she was a he, an assertion we rejected even if there was evidence to the contrary if you looked closely. Spotty is proudly a she; has been since the day we met her, so we honour her identity and continue to use her preferred pronoun.
A few months later, after yet another drinking binge, my boyfriend was in bed and I was sneaking a cigarette by an open window in the office. I was also enjoying an unnecessary nightcap of a large mug of wine. I didn't even see Spotty; my head was turned away and as I turned back she was in the process of stepping into mid-air.
A one-storey plummet.
My boyfriend woke up and yelled.
"You've been smoking!"
He threw on pants, grabbed a flashlight and headed for the back alley.
I peered out the window.
I could just make out Spotty below.
I tore downstairs to the laundry room. With a knife I cut the screen away and gently pulled her in through the barred windows. Everything was intact. She seemed mildly stunned but uninjured.
I stopped drinking shortly after this. If my alcohol consumption was affecting the house cat, you don't have to work hard to imagine what it was doing to the rest of my life.
Over the next month, as I was fighting to not pick up a drink, Spotty blossomed ... became braver. One night on our balcony she caught a mouse and swallowed it whole. Spotty had her mojo back.
My boyfriend and Spotty are supportive of my new sobriety. Spotty cuddles incessantly, which I take as forgiveness that I don't deserve. It's as if we are collectively holding our breath - please don't let me screw this up.
And by the window in the office, my boyfriend has taped a new commandment: No Smoking/Drinking with Cat in House.
Shannon Quinn lives in Toronto.