Kitty Kisses: How I Met My Bestie
Adopting Nena was the greatest gift in life!
There are countless stories of pets saving the lives of their owners: cats saving children from dog attacks or protecting them from the freezing cold; dogs saving their owners from snakes or wild coyotes, among many heroic tails.
But, the way Nena saved me, it was much more subtle:
She became my best friend.
A sweet and loving furball, with glistening eyes and a deep soul, Nena held me together through my hardest teenage years, up until adulthood. She loved me when I couldn't love myself. She loved me unconditionally, and she showed it every day. She brought joy to my life and healed my heart.
This is How I Met My Bestie...
See, I was a shy and lonely girl with tons of insecurities and self-doubt. By the time I was 10, my parents had gone through a very difficult divorce. On top of that, I was often bullied at school. At that point, eating became my coping mechanism for stress, which only added to my insecurity. Attending an all-girl school, snarky remarks and labels like "ugly" and "fat" were my daily bread. Now, I understand those were just comments, sadly, made by insecure teenage girls. But, at the time they affected me deeply.
Thinking about it: Isn't it crazy how early a little girl can learn to judge herself and her body?
During those years, I felt completely inadequate. But, most of all, I was just lonely and sad about the whole situation. Of course, who wouldn't be
However, the Universe sent me a sign that everything would be okay. It came in the form of, well, a cat. And not just any cat, but Nena, the most wonderful cat I could've ever imagined. In her, I found a soulmate.
My First Cat-venture
Before Nena, you could say we were a family of "dog people". During my childhood, we had three dogs who we loved very much: Kaiser, Lucky and Patch.
My journey into "cat-loving" actually began in the sixth grade, when a friend and I found a bunch of kittens living inside a crack in the school building next door. Since then, we made it our mission to take care of them (and Mommy cat), bringing them blankets for the cold, tuna and milk on a daily basis.
Eventually, our teacher found out, and the kittens were taken to the vet and given up for adoption (note: I still feel very strongly about them being ripped away from their mom).
Before that, I'd never been much in contact with cats. However, spending several weeks with the kittens at school got me curious and excited. It gave me a reason to be happy going to school. Since I missed them, I asked my mom if we could visit our local vet and maybe take one home (or at least pet one!). She has a heart of gold and she probably realized that I genuinely needed it. So, she agreed to go to the vet and "just have a look".
But we won't be taking a cat home today, okay?
Any guesses on what happened next?
She Chose Me (or Us)
To this day, I'm completely certain that Nena chose me (and my mom). And, we were a match made in heaven!
When we arrived at the vet, I was hoping that we'd find several kittens up for adoption. In fact, I hoped that kitties from school would be there, waiting for me. But they were not. To my disappointment, the vet's assistant came to the counter empty-handed after my mom asked if they had any stray kittens waiting for adoption.
"We only have one cat, but it's not been adopted yet because it's an adult... and, well, people usually want kittens."
She told us that the cat had been there for over a year after being picked up on the street. Living in a kennel at the vet. For more than a year!
My heart sank (and it still does when I think about it). Why would a cat not have a chance to be adopted just because they're grown-up? That's not fair!
But, sadly, this happens every day.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I felt something pulling at my heartstrings very hard. This has only happened a couple of times in my 28 years of life, but I think of it as "the call of destiny". Do you know it? The feeling that something is meant for you.
I think my mom felt it too because she casually asked the reception lady, "Can you bring it over? Just to see if we click?"
The moment my mom's hand touched the cat, there was a little rumbling sound, like a tiny motor. But a quieter, softer, fluffier and much cuter version. I'd never heard a cat purr so much in my life. And it was the most heartwarming sound in the world!
Our hearts melted like butter with each purr. It was love at first sight! Better than a Hollywood meet-cute.
"Is this a male or a female?", my mom asked. The lady went to check with one of the vets and returned. "Es Nena", she said. In Spanish (have I mentioned this happened in Mexico?), "nena" is a way to say "girl". It clicked.
That was the perfect name: Nena. Sweet and simple. Just like she'd turn out to be.
The Start of Something Special!
My mom was right. We wouldn't be taking a cat home that day. Not because we didn't adopt Nena (of course we did!). But, she had to be neutered before coming home with us. When we picked her up, I was expecting her to be ready for endless playtime...
Unfortunately, that was not the case. Poor kitty was still recovering from the surgery and feeling terrible. During that time, she had to be kept locked in our bathroom (as she wasn't supposed to move), with a litter box and an improvised bed in the bathtub. It was my job to take care of her and give her antibiotics (aka. that horrible pink syrup from our childhood nightmares, yuck!). She was a boss about it.
Throughout those weeks, we developed a very deep connection and she started to trust me, or so I thought!
The moment she was allowed to come out of confinement, she took off! For two weeks, she'd hide and scurry away whenever I'd try to touch her. Fair enough! Change is not always easy. Eventually, I got the message and just let her adjust to being home. Then, I waited for her to come to me.
One lucky day, as I was laying on the couch about to take a nap, the unthinkable happened!
I heard little footsteps springing up the stairs, and across the room to the couch, and then... Whoop! I had a warm, fluffy furball laying on my belly and looking at me with two big eyes. Purring, always purring.
I was so excited that I didn't want to risk touching her, or even moving, for fear of scaring her off. It was the best feeling, and I'm pretty sure this is exactly what I looked like:
Since then, an epic friendship was born! Nena and I would do everything together.
She'd sleep with me and we'd cuddle every night. Each morning, she followed me out of bed and gently bit my calves while I walked to the bathroom. I called them "kitty kisses". They were my favorite! She'd sit out on the bath mat while I showered, and then she'd join me for breakfast.
Whenever I had to go to my dad's place for the weekend, she'd lay down on my bag and then follow me to the door meowing "goodbye". I'd give her a kiss when I left, and then I'd wait the whole weekend to see her again.
For years (from middle school to college), my highlight was coming home to my Nena every day, cuddling her and taking a nap together!
A Kitty Full of Life and Love
When we adopted Nena, we were told she was an adult cat. And she may have been in age, but at heart, she was still just a little kitten. She got excited about the tiniest things, like chasing a twisted pipe cleaner (or a hair tie) down the stairs whenever I threw it. Just like an excited puppy!
If there's one thing that Nena taught me, it was to enjoy the little things in life! To make the most out of every moment in this world. Whether it was taking a nap, cuddling, playing fetch, sunbathing on the porch, or munching on tuna: everything she did, she enjoyed!
She also taught me to just be myself and not take everything so seriously:
As cats are, Nena was incredibly smart and funny. She had tons of tricks up her fur. Her favorite one was knocking down the handset of our landline phone and sitting on the "Dial" button, making it ring on speaker until she got our attention. It was quite effective, too!
But, behind her playfulness, there was something deeper. You know what they say, "the eyes are the window to the soul". It’s true. And Nena had the most beautiful, knowing eyes. I'd often feel like talking to her. Telling her my secrets. She'd stare at me intently, blinking. Her ears would lean back as she tuned in. I know she understood my words, or at least my feelings (other people may not believe it, but I’m certain).
She had a beautiful soul.
Living with Nena, it was impossible not to grasp that animals experience love, excitement, pain and fear in the same way as us, humans. I already knew this, but she made me more aware of it.
In fact, during my 20's, Nena was the reason that I became a vegetarian. I couldn't bear thinking that any living being who had consciousness, like her, would have to experience pain and suffering. Animals are amazing creatures! Loving, feeling and thinking beings with beautiful souls. Nena was proof of that.
She Helped Me (To Save Myself)
Throughout my teenage years, the negative comments piled up. The toxic self-talk and insecurities grew stronger. They became something bigger. When I was 17, I developed an eating disorder, which threatened my life.
I don't feel ready to share much about those times, but I can say one thing: I lost myself and I didn't know how to get back.
There were moments when I didn't see a way out. But, she was always there as a grounding presence. Every time I sat down on the bathroom floor crying and defeated, she'd stay by me and extend one of her paws to my leg. Purring, always purring. "I'm here".
I can't say that Nena is the only reason that I'm here today (as I was blessed with an incredible amount of help along the way). But, she certainly was key in keeping me sane during the hardest times and in motivating my recovery. She was a reason that I fought to regain "my normal life". And she was my loyal sidekick when I was fighting my inner demons.
The day I left for an in-patient treatment center, I cuddled her goodbye and told her that I'd fight hard. That I'd come back okay. I kept my promise and that allowed us to have more wonderful years together.
Goodbye, I Love You
That first day at the vet, we didn't rescue Nena. She rescued us. She injected sweetness and happiness into our lives. She brought us together as a family, through her playfulness and loving nature. She comforted me during the hardest stages of my life. She saved me.
But, at one point, there we were again. At the vet clinic, in a different room.
In 2015, we found out that Nena had a tumor in her stomach which was the size of a ping-pong ball. It was obstructing her digestion, so she could barely eat. She lived for a full year, taking medication and even undergoing a major surgery. She was a warrior.
I tried to be there for her in the same way she was there for me. But, by the end, she was in a lot of pain. She deserved better.
Saying goodbye to Nena was one of the most painful things I've had to do in my life. I was torn when I had to decide when to take her to the vet, so she could take the ultimate nap. But, as fateful as her arrival, the day she left for "kitty heaven" I could feel "the call of destiny" once again.
As we were driving to the vet clinic, there was a rainbow in the sky. A sign.
I stared into her big, bright and deep eyes while holding her in my arms. She blinked at me longingly and started purring softly, like that very first time. I know in my heart that was her way of saying, "It's okay. I'm ready".
Some days, I still wish I had more time with her. That I wouldn't have been so sick with my eating disorder; that I'd stayed more time at home and hadn't gone to study abroad; that I wasn't so busy and caught up in my job, working late every night.
I wish that I would've seen that some things matter more than stress or problems. Like family. Because that's what Nena was, she was family.
Yet, today, what remains in my heart is the pure joy of having her in my life. I think about the happy moments the most. Each nap, each cuddle, each playing session, each laugh. I miss her every day, but I treasure every second we had together. Most importantly, I'm deeply grateful that I got to experience such an incredible connection with her.
After all, she was my best friend.
A Final Note...
Adopting Nena was one of the greatest gifts of my life! That's why I wrote this memoir, as a way to honor her. But, my goal is also to raise awareness about how life-changing adopting a pet can be. Both for you and for them!
If you're thinking about getting a pet, please consider adopting. There are so many loving and beautiful animals out there, looking for their forever home. You won't regret it! If you do adopt, however, please make sure that you're ready to make a commitment and love your pets for life. Because I can promise you that how long they'll love you!
Thank you for reading! This story is a personal one and very close to my heart. Writing it was a journey, but I'm happy that I can honor my dear Nena with it. And raise awareness about an important topic!
If you liked this memoir for my furry best friend you can give it a like or share it with your loved ones. Tips are also greatly appreciated! ♥️