Then There Was You

Few bonds compare with those between us and our devoted pets. Here, Anne Roiphe reflects on her incomparable bond with her beloved cat, Joey.

Photo by James Baigrie

In 1993 my daughter—who was 23 and the youngest of my four girls—had gone off to graduate school in Chicago to become a historian. She must have been feeling strange and disoriented in a new city, on the cusp of a new chapter in her life, when she passed a Dumpster outside her dorm room and heard the sad mewing of several newborn and motherless kittens.

She picked them up and carried them off to an animal shelter, before ultimately taking one of them home. He was a black-and-white male with tiny feet and a small pink tongue that he ran across her fingers as he purred a throbbing, low love song—repetitive but intense. She named him Joey, after an old boyfriend.

She fed him with an eyedropper every few hours and let him tangle his feet in her hair. He grew, and shed his white hair everywhere. If she tapped on her chest, he jumped into her arms, put his head on her breast, and slept. The Chicago winter was brutal—the winds howled, and the glass windows of her room shook with the impact of rain and snow and gales from Lake Michigan. Joey played with string. Joey messed up her papers. Joey lay on one side of the dining table when her boyfriend came to dinner.

A few years later, she decided to go to law school in Boston, and she took Joey on a long car trip, during which his complaints about boredom and captivity were drowned out by the music on the radio. In Boston, he would watch from the window ledge until she returned from class. He slept through the long hours of her life elsewhere, her life without him. And then circumstances changed again: The boyfriend was gone, and she moved back to her hometown, New York City, to begin her career. Lawyers, especially young ones, leave early in the morning and come home late at night—so Joey became a sad cat. His fur was matted. His eyes blinked too often. He had been raised to expect comfort and a human hand upon his head.