I didn't know you could be depressed as a 9-year-old.
I lost my grandmother when I was six, and she was the only person keeping our family together. Without her, the seams came undone. Everyone shut down, became bitter, became hateful. It also didn't help that my 4th grade teacher told me I would never amount to anything. How can you tell a 9-year-old girl, who's just not the best at math, that she'll never amount to anything?
With all of this going on, I was also dealing with my older brother at home. I won't gore you with details, but let's just say he was very unhinged, and very abusive. My parents did their absolute best, but I believe some people are born broken, so broken he stayed. I would hide in the bathroom sometimes while he beat on the door, threatening to hurt me, just because he thought it was fun. The sadness, and feeling of worthlessness, was getting worse.
Then, something miraculous happened: Licorice. My first ever pet.
Licorice was supposed to be a Christmas present, but we got him around Thanksgiving instead, because he wasn't doing well with my aunt and uncle. From what my parents explained, he was the runt of his litter. He was smaller than his brothers and sisters, and he was the only black cat amongst them. They had originally found him under a highway in Lansing, Michigan, in a box marked "free kittens." He was only a few weeks old. I know in my heart that we got him at exactly the right time in all of our lives. There was a lot of stress in the house: We were planning to move to Nevada, my mom was battling my brother on everything, my dad developed a debilitating fear of tornados, and I was just trying to survive 4th grade math. But this little kitten brightened our lives. He had a big head then, so big that his little body couldn't hold it up. He'd throw his own head onto the floor when he "flopped" down onto the ground, and that made us all laugh in a time where our house was silent.
At first, he was a very playful cat. He would do what we called a "hit and run," where he'd dart out from underneath the couch, attack our legs, and run right back into his hiding spot. I would run back and forth for hours, trying to catch him. He even helped me with homework. He would bat at my pencil and lay right on top of the paper, giving me happy memories in a time where it could have easily been bad ones.
When we finally moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, we brought Licorice right along with us, of course. He was a saint during that time. He never meowed, and he never got distressed. It was as if he understood that this had to be done. Honestly, the move was one of the best things my family has ever done, because we got away from the toxicity of our extended family. It was good for everyone, except my brother. He seemed to have gotten much, much worse. He became even more angry and spiteful. He got into a bad crowd, and thusly got into drugs. Heavier and heavier drugs. Which only made him more and more violent. My brother became a monster.
In a demented way, that trauma brought Licorice and I closer together. You see, Licorice became distant towards all of us because of my brother. He became fearful that we were going to hurt him, because my brother certainly would. Licorice went from loving us, to hiding from us. I was only 11, but I took a lot of the blame for that. I felt personally responsible for his safety and well-being, but there was nothing you could do to stop a monster when your parents are busy working to keep a roof over your head, and that monster easily has 100 pounds on you. Because of that trauma, Licorice developed Iris Melanosis, or a dark spot in his eye. We found out it wasn't cancerous, and so he can live with it just fine. And while I feel awful when I see it, that scar from his past made him more like me. We both shared scars from our abuser. I have scars from knife wounds, and Licorice has his own. Licorice and I seemed to have realized that, with the help of each other, we can protect ourselves.
I began hiding Licorice in my room, and crazily enough, I know he understood. My brother would come bursting into my room, asking about the cat, and I would tell him I haven't seen him. He never thought to check the bottom drawer of my dresser, where Licorice slept, quiet as a mouse. More and more, Licorice began putting his trust into me. Understand, that even before this, Licorice was never the type of cat to cuddle. He hates to be held, and for a while, he wouldn't even let anyone pet him. We had had him for two years, and finally, he felt comfortable enough to lay in the same room as someone else. At this point, Licorice started to become my cat. My cat. I had never had a pet that loved me as much as he did, and that still rings true today. Remember when I said we protected each other? I meant that. One day my brother went after me. And would you believe it? Licorice attacked him. My baby might not have front claws, but he still has back claws and teeth. And they hurt. He saved me that day. And I'll never forget that.
Let's fast forward. It's 2016. We've had Licorice for nine years. My monster of a brother is long gone. He's been kicked out, and will never come back. I have past trauma I haven't fully dealt with. I'm 18, and am already smoking like a chimney. I had just gotten dumped by my first love, who turned out to be a coke addict. We had a toxic relationship, so when he left, I had no idea who I was anymore. Even video games, which are my livelihood, weren't fun anymore. I would come home from school, and sleep for 16 hours every day, because all I really wanted to do was end everything. And here Licorice comes, to save my life yet again.
Nine years with this sweet, adorable, yet apathetic roommate of a cat. He never slept with anyone on their bed. He never followed anyone around. His purr was quiet at best. You could look at him wrong, and he would leave the room. One afternoon I woke up, and looked over. He was sleeping against my back, purring. I reached over and picked him up. He let me. He kept purring. He even licked my face. I'll tell you what, I've never cried so much than I had in that moment. Not because I was sad. Not because I was lost. But because I had found my genuine reason to live. I've had this guardian angel my whole life, and I just realized it now. In the span of nine years, he went from being distant, to the warmest, goofiest cat I've ever met.
He turns 11 on the 12th of September. And as I write this, he's sitting on the back of my chair, purring softly. I love this cat more than anything. I love him in a way I can't even describe. It took a long time, but finally, throughout both of our life journey's my cat and I are one. He follows me around everywhere I go, and he sleeps with me every night.
This may be a long-winded way of saying this, but my main point is this: Love really is patient. Just because an animal or a person doesn't seem to reciprocate the feelings you want right away, doesn't mean they don't love you with all their heart. I see far too often people who drop off animals back at the shelter, saying, "It wasn't what they expected," (my friend works at a no-kill cat shelter in Florida; it happens daily). It took nine years of patience and love to get my little baby where he is now, and I'd do it all over again. I hope, at the very least, people are a little inspired by this, if anyone reads it at all. Sometimes, love takes time. It may even take a long time. But I promise you, if you keep loving, love will come back to you in this world. It just might not be in the form you expected.