The best way to introduce you to my client Robert is to introduce you to his cat, Miss Kitty. Miss Kitty is a small gray and white cat with one eye. She lost the other in an unfortunate run in with a mean dog. She is Randy’s emotional support animal. He is her human. Miss Kitty and Robert live together in a ground floor apartment with a broad front window where Miss Kitty likes to perch next to the spider plant with a small American flag stuck in the pot.
When I go to visit with Robert Miss Kitty makes herself scarce for a few minutes and then she begins to come a little bit closer. She hops onto the window sill to observe me from a distance. I set my open notebook on the table and listen as Robert, a veteran, tells me about how he’s doing.
Robert’s favorite pass-time is building and playing with computers. Every month he shows me whatever new items he has rigged up on his machine. He has an impressive array of media systems, data cards and memory banks; all sorts of things I don’t understand. If I ask Robert how he’s doing with money, he jumps on the big screen that dominates his living room into his account online to show me. Then he scrolls over to his cable account to show me how he pays that bill. In many ways Robert is an open book – or computer.
Robert and Miss Kitty have been together for years now. Robert lives with anxiety and PTSD from his experiences in the service and on the street. Having Miss Kitty in his life gives him someone to focus on and take care of, and Miss Kitty is always amusing. Robert cannot open the door without her making a dash for freedom. She usually gives us something to laugh about during our visits. This month she steals the show.
Robert and I are about 30 minutes into our conversation and Miss Kitty allows me to pet her a number of times. We are getting along well. Then Miss Kitty hops on to the table where my work notebook lies open. She plops herself down on it and proceeds to give herself a good scratch on its smooth pages and angled edges. Rolling from side to side she rubs her neck and scratches behind her ears in purring bliss. No matter that she is on my very important work notebook. No matter that suddenly our conversation stops and we begin to focus only on her. Miss Kitty is an unabashed show stealer! It’s like she’s Robert.s alter ego. He is soft spoken, unassuming and private. Miss Kitty mews loudly and grabs attention. She thinks she’s a superstar. And she is.
How do you figure a one-eyed cat can make such a difference in a man’s life?
Being homeless is a lot like living on the battle field. You are never safe. A surprise attack or incoming fire can and does wake you out of your sleep or worse. You get your Obama phone but while you take a nap one afternoon someone steals it and your wallet right out of your pockets. You can set up camp somewhere with others and get nicely settled in only to have bulldozers destroy the whole set up one morning while you are out grabbing breakfast at the soup kitchen. You have your guys who protect you. Robert had his. He scrolls through the obituaries and shows me their death notices. “They’re all gone now,” he tells me somberly, voicing his regret and loneliness. Miss Kitty has jumped onto his lap and she is languishing there getting a good belly rub.
Robert is excited that he has been vaccinated. He looks forward to getting out and about so that, as he adds shyly, “Maybe, you know, I can meet a woman or something.” Meanwhile Robert and Miss Kitty, the one-eyed cat, will keep on taking care of each other.
Whit Stodghill is a Housing Case Manager for the Permanent Supportive Housing Program at St. John Center and an ordained Episcopal Priest.