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I have lived in the same apartment in South Orange, New Jersey since April 1, 2008, when I left my brother’s Jim’s basement in Rockaway.  As you know from earlier stories, I had been homeless, then in a rehab, then in Homeless Solutions in Morristown. I was in Homeless Solutions from the day after Thanksgiving 2007 until February 15, 2008, when I moved into Jimmy’s.

It wasn’t really Jimmy’s idea as much as his then wife Robin’s. I was celebrating Christmas with the family, then left to go back to the shelter. That really bugged Robin, and I guess she stewed on it for a while, and it kept bothering her, and finally she told Jim, “Your sister should not be in a homeless shelter. Tell her to come stay with us until she gets back on her feet.”  They told me in the beginning of February, and I moved in two weeks later. How glad I was to leave the homeless shelter! Sad too, though, leaving the family with seven children behind. I worried about them for so long, and tried to find out what happened to them, but I never heard about them again. But, after 2 1/2 months, I was well-prepared to leave. I was mentally revved to begin my new life. Robin let me come live with them, but only for 1 1/2 months. I had to get money together and get out on my own as soon as possible. Great rule! Within a week of moving in with them, I had a job. I saved quickly, and Robin helped me look for an apartment.

My teenage son had lived with me during my darkest hours, but things got really bad, and I asked him, “Do you want to live with Aunt Karen?” Of course, he said yes. He was in desperate need of a normal life. So, he went to live with her in South Orange, and for a while, I continued careening down my path of self-destruction. Then, I finally made it to the rehab, shelter, Jimmy’s home. Now, we were looking for an apartment, and I was praying that my son would want to live with me again. So, we looked in South Orange, and I tried to find an apartment big enough for both of us. One that he would like, one that I could afford. Me affording and him liking had every indication of being conflicting scenarios, but I proceeded with the hope usually reserved for the believers of the world.

We tried several buildings and homes. We were turned away almost immediately from most for credit issues. Some we ran away from (just so gross), and some were way too expensive for my measly savings.  We finally went to a building on a main avenue in South Orange, and met with the Super. He was standing in front of the building, looking disheveled and greasy with a slimy smile on his face, but I looked past it all, because I was running out of options and had to find an apartment in South Orange, dammit.

We went into the dreary brick building and walked into a large apartment with two kitchens and two stoves. It turned out that it was two small apartments, but there was no wall between them. If you wanted both apartments so that you could have two bedrooms, you could rent both. Or just one. It was up to you. Up to me? I said, “No thank you.” This is not at all what I want. I knew I had to get out of my brother’s house, but I couldn’t imagine myself living in that creepy building in that creepy apartment…or apartments, depending.

The Super said, “Wait” because he had something else around the block. It was above stores, a Chinese restaurant and a coffee shop on another busy avenue. There were only four apartments above the stores, and the one he was showing me was the last one down the line. It was a one bedroom apartment, but with very big rooms and the door between the living room and the bedroom had a lock on it. I thought, “it’s not the best apartment I ever saw, but it could work”, so I said I would take it.

I moved in on April 1, 2008. Zach was 15 going on 16 when I moved in. I was so excited…he was going to come back and be my son again. However, when I moved in, he said he wasn’t ready yet. So, I spent a few months alone in the apartment, trying to make what I was earning cover the rent, utilities and travel expenses from South Orange to my job in Dover. They really didn’t, but I received some help from my friends…yeah, like the song.

By July, I was feeling pretty lonely, and I saw on Maplewoodonline that someone had this beautiful rescue Siamese kitty that I kind of fell in love with. I never really was a Cat Person, but this little girl was so pretty. So, I arranged to go meet her, and asked Zach if he would like to come with me. He was excited, because he really loved animals, and was even volunteering at our local shelter. We got to the rescuer’s home, went to the cage, and there was this little sandy muffin sitting next to a jet black Helion. I fell for the little Siamese immediately, but Zach really wanted the Blackie, who was hissing and puffing up and being a tiny scary thing.

I said, “If I get both, will you move in with me? I don’t want the black cat, but I will get her for you. She can be your cat when you ‘come home’.” He said, “Yes”, and these two little puffballs were packed up and put in the car and brought to my apartment, where they proceeded to run under the couch in terror. We named the Siamese “Cherie’ and the Blackie “Wednesday” after Wednesday Adams, who was really scary, too. We nicknamed her “Wendy” after Caspar’s Witch friend.  We bought them all sorts of cat toys. They loved the toys on a stick and string, and we would get them to run after them. But, they wouldn’t come near me or let me touch them. They let Zach touch them though. I guess they sensed how gentle he was.

Zach decided not to move in, however, and I was stuck with these two kittens that really didn’t like me. After a while, the Siamese started coming around, and a few months later, when it was time to have them spayed, she was relatively easy to catch and put in a cage to take to the vets. Wendy, however, was not, and I gave up. She didn’t have to go. At nine months old, Wendy went into heat. It was a horrible, horrible week with that crazy cat losing her mind even more. She caterwauled all day and all night, and for the first time, wanted me to pet her…all the time. Pet, scratch, please scratch, please scratch!

I called the local Cat Whisperers’, and they came the next weekend to help me trap her to take her to be spayed. It took us well over an hour to catch her, and by the time we did, she was traumatized. The woman whom I received her from took her to the vet, then called and said that she would keep her to recover. When I called to see if I could pick her up, she said her vet told her that the cat was not tameable, and she should let her heal, then put her back outside. It’s not like she came up with the idea on her own. I had told her what a difficult cat she was, how she wouldn’t let me touch her, and how she hissed at me when I came near her. So, I tried to resign myself to this cat’s fate. But, I kept thinking about how she had lived inside with me since she was tiny, and how I had her for nine months, and that she wouldn’t survive outside. I still don’t really think of myself as a Cat Lady, but I am not heartless.

So, I called the rescuer, and asked if I could see the cat. She said that wasn’t a good idea, and told me Wendy was a horrible cat who hissed at her and tried to scratch her when she came near. I said I still really needed to see her,  and she finally relented and let me come over.  When I got there, we went into the dimly light basement to find my cat in a cage in the corner, looking as forlorn as a feline possibly could. When she saw me, she started crying plaintively, and I swear she was saying, “Please. Please. Please take me home. I just want to go home.” Ugh. I started crying and said I had to take this cat home. Her rescuer told me that was  a bad idea, and reiterated that the vet said the cat wasn’t tameable. I said, “She’s still my cat, and I want to take her home. If it doesn’t work out, well, at least I tried.” I was pretty adamant, so Wendy was put in her crate, and once again, she came home with me.

Cherie was so happy to see her. Wendy was so happy to see Cherie. And, Wendy was so happy to be home, with me. She learned to chill out, a little, and it seemed that she learned gratitude, which is really weird in a cat, but I don’t know how else to explain the change in her. It was like she thought, “Oh wow. I have it pretty good here!” Whatever accounted for the change, it made her bearable, and sometimes, she was a pleasant, friendly cat. Not that she wasn’t still batshit crazy.  On the contrary, her whole spaying experience made her even more paranoid and distrusting. She still hid and hissed, but not as often.

Cherie was like that child that you have that never gets in trouble and is always a pleasure to have around.  She loved to be brushed, loved human food, loved just hanging around, and you couldn’t sense any angst in her. Wendy had enough for the both of them, I guess. Then, as I wrote about in “Loss”, Cherie got sick and died in January 2013.  That was hard, because she was such a good cat, and now I was stuck with the cat that I didn’t want in the first place, the one Zach said he wanted, and no Cherie and no Zach.  I didn’t get any sleep for a week after Cherie died, because Wendy just walked around the apartment crying all day and night. It was worse than when she was in heat, and I felt so bad for her. My Niece Rachel felt bad for her, also, and sent her a stuffed cat to sleep with to help with the loss. It was so sweet, of course I cried.

Eventually, as always is the case, Wendy and I got on with our new normal, and I kind of became her replacement for Cherie. She stopped hissing at me, unless I was making the bed, looking for my shoes under the bed, or sweeping or vacuuming. Her bed issue is that Wendy is a Bridge Troll, as Zach calls her. She has created herself a little world under my bed, and is pissed when we clean under there or go anywhere near her Underworld. I think she hates brooms because we used one to corral her into the cage when she was spayed. And the vacuum freaks her out, but I don’t have any hypothesis as to why, except that it’s freaking big and noisy.

Life went on for a while, just me and Wendy, until March of this year, when Zach finally moved in, temporarily, as they sold the home he lived in. He wants to go back to college, and needs to save money for another apartment. I know it’s a little late. I still call him ‘Kid’ and he’s 22 years old. But, I am so happy to have even just a fragment of the normal life we should have had years ago, at least for a while. And, I am very thankful for all that has happened to lead me up this point. My crazy cat has ended up having a pretty good life, instead of being thrown back on the streets. My kid had me to turn to, and I was so grateful to be there.

And me? I am happy. There’s no magic elixir to make everything right after so many years of it being wrong. But, it’s okay. Maybe everything isn’t supposed to be right. Maybe, at least for me, okay is freaking fabulous…as long as I keep working towards great!

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Comments on: "The Story of Me, Zach and the Cats in South Orange" (2)

  1. Peanut sent her that kitty. That’s the kitty that stayed with her when she lived in that box and I had to wake up every four hours to feed her from a bottle.

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