By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Johna Till Johnson and Vladimir Brezina
“You don’t go out and get a cat, ” Vlad would say. “The cat will find you!”
He’d had three cats that he loved dearly: Sergei, April, and Clara. They were memories of happier times, when he’d lived in the first throes of romance with his then-wife in a New York apartment. I don’t think I ever knew how Sergei found him, but April and Clara were abandoned kittens that his wife discovered crying in the street, and which adopted her on the spot.
That marriage ended, and one by one the cats grew old and died. He buried each of them in Central Park (which of course is highly illegal.)
He told the story hilariously: “There I was, in a black leather jacket and skullcap, carrying a shovel and a dead cat in a duffel bag. Its feet were sticking out, already stiff with rigor mortis. It was the middle of the night–I don’t know why the cops never stopped me!”
But it was laughter tinged with sadness, as the last vestiges of his once-happy existence ended and he remained alone in the apartment that had once been vibrant with life. Not coincidentally, that was when he began to take ever-longer kayak excursions, and ultimately met me.
So it was natural that we discussed getting a cat together. I’d had cats for most of my life (despite being allergic), and we both thought a cat would be the perfect addition to our household.
Just one problem: Vlad’s adamant stance that you don’t get a cat. The cat gets you.
And unsurprisingly, given the amount of time we spent on the water, no cat managed to find us.
After Vlad died, I sometimes thought about getting a cat. But I live in a high floor in an apartment building with a doorman: how was a cat going to find me?
Online, as it turned out, just like so many things in this world.
Despite Vlad’s death, I’ve stayed engaged in the Facebook cancer forums that were so helpful to us while he was alive–in no small part because people dealing with cancer are some of the funniest, most honest, and best people around. Cancer has a way of stripping the superficial and extraneous out of people’s souls. If it doesn’t destroy you, it leaves you with a greater appreciation of the world’s beauty–and a much lower tolerance for daily B.S.
One of my forum friends had been keeping us all entertained with her online saga about a feral black cat that appeared on her deck one day this spring.
She promptly named him “Mully”, after a nearby brewpub, Mully’s Brewery. Over time, Mully went from showing up to be fed to sleeping in a crate that she put out for him. He allowed himself to be petted, gingerly at first, then with full enthusiasm (and a throaty purr).
In short, he adopted her.
Just one problem: The family already had five dogs and another cat, and my friend’s husband, not unreasonably, put his foot down when it came to a seventh animal. Mully could be a “porch cat”, nothing more.
My friend started looking for a permanent home for him, with no luck. For several weeks he continued living on the porch.
Then one day he disappeared.
Mully reappeared days later, sick and bleeding. He had puncture wounds in three of his paws and was running a fever. He’d come back to the only place of safety and care that he’d ever known, begging for help. (The puncture wounds, we found out later, were from some kind of attack. Whatever creature had gone after him, Mully had fought back fiercely.)
My friend took him to the vet, where they treated his wounds and infection, dewormed him, and vaccinated him. When he came home, she put him in the guest room, against her husband’s wishes.
“Porch cat” had become “guest room cat”.
But the situation couldn’t last. Mully had to go. The husband was adamant.
My friend posted again on Facebook, asking for any takers for an “indoor-only cat”. She explained that he’d already exhausted several of his nine lives, and needed to spend the rest of them indoors.
Indoor-only? I could do that, I thought, as I read her post.
The only problem: how to go get him? She lived 200 miles away, in southern Maryland. Moreover, I’d be out of town for several weeks, and not able to pick him up.
We made tentative plans for me to drive down on my first free Saturday. Then I ended up unexpectedly spending that weekend in Los Angeles, and we missed the date.
The husband wouldn’t budge. My friend couldn’t keep Mully any longer. He had to be out of the house that week, no more extensions.
She made plans to send him to a foster home. “Unless,” she wrote, “You could pick him up Friday?”
I couldn’t, but by this time neither of us were willing to give up. She came up with a plan: She’d bring the cat up to her daughter’s on Friday, and I’d pick him up from there on Saturday.
That’s how I found myself on a sunny summer morning, driving down the familiar stretch of I-95 once more, this time in pursuit of the cat that found me.
I realize I’d fallen in love with him long before that day. “How is our Mully?” I’d written, earlier that spring. And “I think I love this cat,” another time. Not only was he adorable, but his feistiness and spunk were undeniable.
And with everything that he’d survived, his sunny and loving disposition was still intact. When I met him for the first time, he crawled into my lap and began to purr, nestling his face into my arm.
Vlad was right: The cat finds you.