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Cleo, the breakup kitten

By Kate Torgovnick, The Frisky
Cleo drives her owner insane, but also teaches her about love.
Cleo drives her owner insane, but also teaches her about love.
  • Some little thing was always wrong with all her boyfriends, columnist recalls
  • After her last breakup, she adopts a kitten and feels less alone
  • Kitten shreds toilet paper, rolls on keyboard sending weird e-mails
  • Columnist realizes kitten has taught her to recognize when love is right despite quirks

(The Frisky) -- Jesse was too attention-starved. Brendan was too spacey. Darrick was too needy, not to mention a big-time conservative.

But for the first few years of my relationship with Chuck, he didn't seem to have a fatal flaw

When Chuck and I broke up, there was no big flame-out or slamming of doors -- just the mutual acknowledgment that we were no longer right for each other.

Still, I was devastated. After 48 hours of eating the proverbial Haagen-Dazs, I found myself walking the 13 blocks to the ASPCA Adoption Center. For the past four years, Chuck's allergies had barred me from getting a cat. Now I was ready to adopt one.

I sat in the waiting room staring at the cats frolicking beyond a Plexiglas wall. I noticed a fluffy gray cat staring at me. His eye contact seemed confident, even a touch noble. I'd assumed that I'd be adopting a kitten, but I just had a feeling that this was the cat for me.

The volunteer returned. "His name is Chuck," the ASPCA volunteer said. "

Why did this cat have to share one with my ex? I knew I could change his name the minute we left the building, but the idea here was to do something I'd desperately wanted while I was in the relationship -- not to replace my ex. I told the volunteer I wanted to see the kittens.

Most of the kittens were asleep, their tiny bodies curled into furry balls. A few pairs of siblings chased each other, playfully biting each other's necks. I walked around the room, feeling overwhelmed, unsure of which kitten could possibly be the one for me.

In the final row, I glanced at a teensy gray kitten sleeping with her tail under her head. As if she could sense that she was being watched, she stretched her body to its full length -- maybe 7 inches -- and rolled onto her back to reveal a peach fuzz belly with the subtlest gray and white stripes. From there, she flipped over excitedly and scurried to the door. Her tail seemed more fitting to a squirrel than a cat -- it was white and bushy, and she held it high in the air as she carefully surveyed my face.

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I opened the door to her cubbie and she cocked her head to the side, leaned forward and butted her forehead against mine -- a move a friend would later tell me was her attempt to "mark" me.

"This is Gwendolyn," the volunteer read off her chart. "She's 3 months old. She was adopted last week, but didn't get along with the cat the family already had, so they brought her back. All of her siblings have been adopted."

Like me, Gwendolyn was on her own. "I want to adopt her," I said, rubbing behind her ears.

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Gwendolyn had big, almond-shaped eyes that looked as if someone had spent hours lining them in white. She seemed vaguely ancient Egyptian, a cat version of Cleopatra. I decided her new name would be Cleo.

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At home, Cleo curled up in the scoop of my waist and went to sleep. For the first time in days, I stopped thinking about the breakup and simply allowed myself to feel loved.

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The first few weeks and months with Cleo were ... exciting to say the least. There was the time when I walked out of the kitchen and discovered Cleo rolling on the keyboard of my computer. On the screen, I saw an e-mail window. I rushed towards her, but the window vanished and these words appeared: "Your email has been sent."

I opened the sent mail box to figure out what had just happened. My little kitten had sent an email to a very important editor, one I'd been trying to convince to run one of my stories for six months. Here is what the email said: "jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj';;;;;;;;;;;;;'nnnnnnnnnn=====?"

Worried this editor would think I was a nutcase, I wrote him quickly. "So sorry, my new cat somehow managed to send you a rogue email. I think you know what she means."

He didn't seem amused. I never heard from him again. Also, the "L" key on my computer had gone missing.

Cleo had several other annoying habits. She insisted on knocking over unattended beverages, so I had to invest in squeeze bottles to drink from. And she loved, when I left the apartment, to go into the bathroom and unravel the toilet paper until it all lay on the floor in a pile. Then she would shred it to bits.

But even though she drove me crazy on a regular basis, Cleo helped me navigate the rush of negative emotions that come with the dissolving of a long-term relationship. When I woke up in the middle of the night and felt disoriented in bed alone, I'd feel Cleo jump onto the mattress and walk towards me, purring maniacally.

And when I spent the walk to my apartment thinking that I was unwanted and unneeded, when Cleo heard my key in the lock, she would come prancing towards the door, meowing loudly, as if to say that all was right in the world now that I was home.

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It's amazing how much Cleo has taught me about love in 2 ½ years. Even in those moments when she is driving me insane -- like last night, for example, when she pounced on my foot every time I was close to drifting to sleep -- it's never once occurred to me that maybe Cleo isn't the cat for me, that maybe she doesn't respect my space, or that maybe we just don't have enough in common for this to work.

These thoughts have all run through my head with significant others, as if my brain is a CNN ticker tape of maybes, questions, and doubts. With Cleo there is no "Are we meant to be together?" There is only that I need her, and she needs me.

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It's always baffled me how two people realize that they can spend their lives together. Happy couples, especially those of the married variety, have this annoying habit of saying, "You just know." You just know? The phrase always made me want to grab them by the shoulders, shake them, and yell, "Please, for the love of God, can you be a little more specific?"

But now that I have Cleo, I think I finally understand. It's not that you get hit with a magic lightning bolt of knowledge -- it's that you just stop questioning. The analytical part of your brain shuts off and allows you to just exist. There is no "Do we have a future together?" Because you just do.

Cleo, my breakup kitten, has seen me through another breakup and there's a good chance she will witness many more. But now I know that when I meet someone whom I can build a life with, I'll at least be able to recognize it.

I won't ask myself if he's too quiet/loud, short/tall, introverted/extroverted, needy/detached -- whatever combination he may be (unless, of course, we're talking something really serious), I'll be able to put up with it. Because, hey, I've actually come to love Cleo's quirks.

All I can say for sure is that, whoever this mysterious guy may be, he better not be allergic to cats.

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