On October 4, 2015, I drove to my 100-year-old creaking house with a meowing cardboard box in the backseat. I ascended the two flights of stairs to my attic bedroom, cautiously handling the box that held the absolute love of my life.
Betty Jo was a 13-pound cat with a hanging belly and piercing green eyes. She'd never met a stranger and was the ideal date in most situations. Unlike the dogs and cat I had as a child, Betty Jo was fully mine. I was completely responsible for providing to her never-ending needs. The nighttime was her time. When 5 a.m. rolled around, she'd wallow and meow throughout the house looking for any bit of attention from her sleeping housemates, much to our dismay.
But to come home to a living, breathing being that was ecstatic to see me nearly cured my depression. As if she'd read over and memorized my class schedule, Betty Jo never failed to greet me with a perky meow and a whooshing tail as she rubbed against the wooden staircase she knew I'd eventually ascend. She was the perfect companion when I fell victim to pneumonia just a month after bringing her home.
She offered security one night after I'd attempted to watch the first episode of American Horror Story. I was alone in the house on a Friday night when my bed began to tremble. It wasn't unusual for her to gently shake the bed as she cleaned herself, but this time she was just lying there.
Every possibility of ghosts or paranormal activity in that senior house came flying through my mind. My doorless walk-in closet was the perfect place for an apparition to saunter across my room. Of course, cats can see ghosts, right? So if anything, Betty Jo would know something was going on before I would, right? It turned out to only be an earthquake, though. So, everything was OK, but I still felt better with her by my side.
A month before graduation I totaled my car, leaving me even more clueless as to where my college education would lead me. With a borrowed bike to get me to and fro, I took the insurance money and graduation checks I'd received from family friends and distant relatives and fled to New York City.
But, I couldn't take Betty Jo, aka Elizabeth Josephine. Not yet, anyway. I had to maneuver finding a job while living in someone else's home on Long Island. I needed to be able to give her stability. You see, she was eight years old (or so her papers say) when I adopted her. She was a young grandma, but a grandma nonetheless. Her adoption fee was waived, but that didn't save me from the $500 I spent when I found out she had stress-triggered cat acne.
My duty as her owner was to keep her as calm as possible. The first time she flew our flight made an emergency landing in Philadelphia. I was like a newly single mother trying to keep her from ripping out of her carrier. I thought she'd find reprieve outside the carrier at one point. She'd clearly had enough when she wriggled out of her harness and leaped across a cat-opposed woman's lap. I was mortified and had failed at keeping her as calm as possible.
Her time in New York was not something I'm proud of. I was busy juggling a full-time job and a social life. Often leaving my apartment by 8 a.m. and not returning until 10 p.m. or later did not keep Betty Jo happy. I wasn't happy about that. Although, the excuse of needing to go home to feed my cat came in pretty handy when I no longer wanted to be out.
So I took her home. My mom willingly agreed to take care of her, and I knew Betty would be happier.
I spent two years in New York. Two years away from Betty. I moved home seven months before she died. Moving home was bittersweet. New York was insanely good but also insanely bad at some points. I'd decided that home would be a landing place until I was ready to flee the coop again.
My days were spent talking to and mocking Elizabeth Josephine. We'd play chase around the house which ended with heartwarming laughs and sincere cuddles. She taught me internal peace.
Soon, she'd begun vomiting frequently. During one episode, I was able to intercept and get her to the bathtub, saving the carpet or bedspread from a stain. While she paced in the porcelain tub, I sat on the floor trying to read her expression. I had an overwhelming feeling that something was seriously wrong.
It was cancer.
One of two types of cancer. One could be treated with chemotherapy, the other could not. At this point, Betty was 11 years old. As a single mother of an elderly cat, I couldn't afford to put Betty through treatment financially or mentally. So, I prepared myself for the waiting game. I filled diffusers with lavender and peppermint oil to soothe any chance of an upset tummy for her. I gave her space to nest but was right by her side at any peep.
She died within 24 hours of diagnosis.
On December 21, 2018, a body-shaking sob took over my relatively emotionless person as Betty Jo took her last breath. There hadn't been a time in at least ten years that I'd shown anyone that much emotion. There I was, in a room with a veterinarian I didn't know and my mother, completely losing it. My best friend was gone forever.
I had dreams for her, thoughts of a ring for her. She was supposed to move to New Orleans with me in 2020. And live with me until I was at least 30. But death comes unexpectedly.
Three months later, my sister gifts me a cat of my choosing from the local humane society. I chose Gracie, a 6-year-old one-eyed blue-haired girl. She's great, kind of quirky, but she's not Betty. She runs away when you look at her and only wants to be touched when she approaches you. She's talkative but not exactly personable. She's nothing like Betty, and finding contentment with that is taking some time for me.
Did I replace Betty Jo too soon? Will I ever stop reminiscing about her? I'm not sure those questions can ever be answered. But I'm confident Gracie has found a good home in me.