Something made me say yes.
It wasn’t love. Despite his name, there was little about Romeo that lassoed my heart. He was enormous. And toothless. His claws seemed permanently poised to strike. His fur was dull and he had a bad case of dandruff and he reeked of a pack-a-day habit.
Nonetheless, the word that escaped my lips when asked if I’d give Romeo a temporary home — “just a week” — was “yes.”
He spent the first 48 hours AWOL. We finally discovered him, wedged in a closet beside a dresser. His girth rendered him unable to turn around and so he faced the wall, unable to back out. We lifted him up and his claws came out, swiping at the air.
He must be hungry, we figured, so we offered him some food. He didn’t touch it and soon skulked back to his hiding place in the closet.
Slowly, over a week or so, we began to see him more often. He still hardly ate, but, to be honest, he looked like he could afford to skip a few meals.
It was like living with a shadow. He tolerated our presence but seemed completely uninterested. The other animals terrified him, though they were only mildly curious about him and largely left him alone.
His owner, who had sought his temporary refuge, was hard to contact. A week became two, then three.
In the meantime, Romeo was settling in. He began appearing at his bowl each morning, decidedly more slim than when he’d arrived. Although he’d been unable to get onto our rather high bed at first, his trimmer self found it possible, and he began settling at my feet when I read before bed.
We discovered he could purr.
When his owner finally announced that she’d found a rescue willing to take him in, I felt relieved. Our house had enough animals. This sentiment was shared by our 21-year-old cat who had been on his own hunger strike — except when I broke out the lobster-based cat food — since Romeo’s arrival.
But in the days after Romeo left, the house felt too empty. Hard to believe with a family of five people, three dogs, two cats and a rabbit. I worried that Romeo had been uprooted yet again. I wondered if he’d found another closet retreat.
Two days later, I sought out the rescue. Although I have no doubt the women who ran it were large-hearted souls, my own heart sank at the conditions. No fewer than a hundred cats lived in a roughly 800 square foot area. They were on top of couches, beneath tables, in cages and perched on chairs. The place reeked of cat. I wondered whether I’d be able to find ordinary-looking Romeo in this feline sea.
But I did. He was huddled at the back, looking bewildered.
I plucked him up and left.
He’s been back with us for more than six months now. He has slowly grown chubby again and we routinely tease him about his “memory foam stomach,” as my daughter calls it. Perhaps not surprisingly, the same things that made him less-than-appealing at first — his toothlessness, his tubbiness — are part of what we love most about him now.
Each of us secretly thinks that he loves us better than all the rest. He’s the consummate diplomat — or just blessed with enough love that he can afford to spread it around.
We routinely seek him out when we need a pick-me-up. He’ll happily listen to us, no matter what we say. He’ll purr at the first sign of a chin rub. And he’ll curl up on the bed of whomever seems most in need of comfort.
Sometimes “yes,” when “no” makes much more sense, really is the right answer.