“I brought home a kitten,” my older brother Michael texted me one afternoon when I was at Shire University. “He’s in the spare bedroom in the basement. Can you check to make sure he’s okay?”

My eyes widened. My parents weren’t going to like this. They had a pretty strong no-pet stance at the time. As kids, we’d always begged for a dog, but they never wanted one. They believed cats and dogs belonged outside the house.

“A cat?!” I texted back while my professor droned on about Phonetics. “What’s his name?”

“Burnsy.” Michael replied, “Give him a quarter of the can of wet food I left in the armoire.”

It wasn’t out of the ordinary for Michael to unexpectedly bring home a pet. At one point, he had a total of five rabbits living free range inside his bedroom. That wasn’t as exciting as having a dog. All they did was chew on things nonstop. I wasn’t really a fan.

I met Burnsy for the first time that evening when I got home from school. Before dinner, I stealthily snuck into the basement without my parents noticing. I slowly crept open the bedroom door not knowing what to expect. Was he going to be angry and mean? Was he going to attack me?

I hadn’t decided how I felt about getting a kitten. I’d never been a cat person per-say, all the pets I ever loved were other people’s dogs. To be fair, I hadn’t met many cats. When I first met Chloe, she had a cat named Erika that she terrorized in her basement. Unfortunately, her dad made the family give Erika away soon after we’d met. I only met her once. One of my friends from high school had a Siamese cat named Aqua, who could be sweet at times, but at other times he’d get angry and launch at my face out of nowhere. It was terrifying. I wasn’t okay with that. I didn’t want to live with such an unpredictable animal.

I scanned the bedroom quickly, no cat. Then I saw him. Right there, in the middle of the maroon comforter of the queen-sized bed was a tiny ball of grey fluff. His yellow eyes locked into mine hesitantly, and I instantly knew we were going to be the best of friends. As I walked over to the bed cautiously, he didn’t move. He just watched. I slowly reached over to pet him, and he didn’t resist. He was perfectly still. I couldn’t believe how small he was. My hand covered his entire rumbling body. He sounded like a tiny little motor. I couldn’t believe he was purring so easily. We’d only just met. It was love at first sight.

For that first week, Burnsy had to be physically transported from the bed to the floor to get his food and water. He was too small and too timid to venture around the room on his own. He was probably in a slight state of shock. I made it my mission to make him feel welcome in our house. Every day, before and after school, I would go to his room, lye on the bed and snuggle with him for hours. I was attempting to help him, but it was therapeutic for me too. 

Slowly, my brother and I started to introduce cat toys to him. He feared the cat wands at first, with their crazy colours and unpredictable movements. Actually, he was initially scared of every single thing he encountered. But every day he grew more and more confident, and by the end of the week, he was jumping and doing flips midair!

One day after a rather exciting play session, we were getting ready to snuggle on the bed when Burnsy, to my complete surprised, rammed the top of his tiny head forcefully into my left cheek. What the hell? Before I had time to process this unexpected action, Burnsy had turned around and was repeating it on my right cheek. All 2.5 pounds of might smashed into my face. Satisfied, he started purring, crawled onto my tummy, curled up into a ball and fell asleep peacefully, leaving me to piece together his bizarre cat behavior. I realized it was love. Unadulterated, unabashed love. My heart swelled two sizes. It was the purest form of unconditional love I’d ever experienced. I was officially converted. I was going to be a crazy cat lady for life. And my parents were none the wiser.

It took my mom about a week and a half before she realized there was an extra body living in her basement. She was significantly more easy-going than my dad. She agreed to let Burnsy roam freely around the basement after she heard him cooing at the door once, calling for me or my brother. She did laundry in the basement, so she began to interact with him regularly. Luckily, my father had absolutely no business down there. Our plan to conceal Burnsy had real potential, we probably could have kept him hidden in the basement for years, or at least until the internet went out and my dad would inevitably go downstairs to check the modem.

But Burnsy wasn’t on board with just living in the basement. After giving him freedom to explore the basement for a few days, he wanted more. He could hear us upstairs, he wanted to come up with us. He was lonely. He began violently scratching at the basement door, howling to be let upstairs. He was so noisy that my dad eventually heard him, and we had to come clean. At first, he remained stubbornly firm about his position. “That animal better stay in the basement.”

Little did he know, Burnsy had concocted a plan to break free. As I attempted to exit the basement one day, he wove between and then through my legs, flying up the stairs with cat-like speed and determination. I ran after him, terrified that my dad would see him. My mom came chasing after me when she heard all the commotion. We searched for him frantically on the main floor. We froze when we spotted him in the worst possible place; my dad’s study.

In the middle of my dad’s favourite room sat my determined little buddy engaged in an epic faceoff with my father. They both stared at each other, fighting silently for dominance. It was like Burnsy knew my father was the reason he wasn’t allowed upstairs, and he was challenging him. It was very uncharacteristic for this little guy

My heart couldn’t take it anymore. I was so worried my dad would freak out and send him away like Chloe’s dad sent away her cat. I couldn’t let that happen. I love him too much already. I swept in and picked up Burnsy, freeing him from the confrontation. “Meow.”

“No,” my dad said, suddenly a changed man. “Let him stay.”

And that was it. From that moment onwards, Burnsy was more than welcome throughout the entire house. His favourite spot became my dad’s lap. Fast forward 7 years and they’re the best of friends. Sometimes, I suspect my dad likes Burnsy more than he likes me or Michael.

I get it.

2010

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