90: Welcome to the Navy

90: Welcome to the Navy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

Welcome to the Navy

A meow massages the heart.

~Stuart McMillan

I walked in laps through my new home. My fingers glided along the glossy walls. My home! Under my brand new last name! Jason had had enough time to get the residence key from the naval base housing office and walk through the apartment with me before he had to report for duty. Our luggage sat in the corner of our bedroom. Outside, a moving truck held all my worldly belongings and several pieces of second- and third-hand furniture.

The carpet smelled new, though it scratched at my soles like sandpaper. I had grown up near a United States Navy base, so I knew all the stories about how base housing wasn’t always a pleasant place to live. That didn’t dim my excitement, though. This was my house! I imagined where everything would go as we unpacked — where the mattresses would sit until we could afford a proper bed, where the tiny TV would rest.

That’s when I heard the yelling.

The next-door neighbors were engaged in a full-on fight. He yelled. She screamed and cried. Doors slammed. The walls filtered the noise like cardboard. Wherever I stood in my new house — even thirty feet away, through closed doors — I could hear them. It didn’t sound violent, but it did sound awful, profane, and unlike anything I had heard before.

My new home didn’t feel so welcoming now. It felt scary. I was keenly aware that we didn’t have a phone yet. I couldn’t call for help if things turned worse. Other than Jason, I didn’t have any loved ones within three thousand miles.

I burst out crying. I wanted my mom. I wanted my familiar house, the place I’d lived from age seven to twenty. I wanted my cat, Adventure, who always sensed when I was upset and knew to curl up on my lap and purr.

That thought made the tears worse. Adventure was slowly dying of cancer back at my parents’ house. I had moved away, knowing I’d likely never see him again.

The horrible argument continued next door. I couldn’t stay and listen to them and wallow in my own self-pity. I dried off my face and then I headed outside and began to ferry boxes from the truck.

Over the next days and weeks, I busied myself by unpacking everything. The possessions that had completely filled a moving truck looked very spare inside our small two-bedroom apartment. We were so poor we couldn’t afford a car. I walked a mile in the sticky South Carolina mornings to buy packs of ramen and cake mix at the commissary. As hot as it was, we wore clothing more than once to avoid trips to the Laundromat.

I had known it would be a hard transition, financially and emotionally, but logic didn’t prepare me for reality.

Jason did what he could, but he was away most of the day in training. I looked for a job, but no place nearby was hiring. Therefore, I wandered the house all day long. The apartment felt so empty. I called my mom every few days and tried not to cry as I asked how things were going, how Adventure was doing.

I loved Jason so much. I didn’t want to end up like the couple next door. I desperately wanted to be a good wife, but the simple fact was that I was miserable and full of doubt. I had married a sailor. If I couldn’t cope with being a newlywed, how would I deal with deployments? How could I survive on my own?

A few more wedding gifts trickled in. One came in the form of a check. As we shopped for a much-needed microwave, we realized we would have a bit of money left over.

“Maybe we can stock up on cheese. There’s a good sale at the commissary this week,” I said. “Macaroni is cheap.”

“I was thinking of something else,” Jason said.

“What?”

“I know where the SPCA is,” he said. “I think this would be enough to get a cat. It wouldn’t be a replacement for Adventure, but…”

“A cat. Really?” My eyes filled with tears — this time, tears of joy.

We headed to the SPCA as soon as we could. Puppies whined and birds cawed for attention, but I went straight for a cage holding four kittens. A black and gray one pressed against the bars and mewed at me.

“I want to hold this one, please,” I said to the attendant.

As soon as I held the kitten, she began to purr. My terrible loneliness began to melt away.

“There’s another one,” said Jason. Sure enough, there was another tabby at the rear of the cage. A minute later, I cradled both kittens against my chest. I looked at Jason, biting my lip.

“We can’t split them up. They’re brother and sister. Spaying and neutering will be really expensive and I don’t know if…”

Jason held up a hand. “Stop. I know you’re already trying to figure out the budget in your head. You need these cats, Beth. I can eat less if it means we’ll save some money, if it will make you happy.”

We returned home poorer and richer at the same time. I dubbed the kittens Palom and Porom, named for twins in one of our favorite video games. The two rambunctious tabbies immediately made themselves at home. Within an hour, they managed to explore every nook and cranny, break a candleholder, and damage the kitchen cabinets.

That night, we sat on our itchy secondhand couch. We each had a kitten; Palom, the boy, had claimed me, while Porom latched onto Jason. The kittens were exhausted from their rampage, their striped bellies rounded with dinner.

I looked around the room. My house. My couch. My husband. My kittens. Sure, the place still looked empty, but something major had changed. No matter where the Navy sent us in the coming years, no matter how much Jason worked, I wasn’t going to be alone.

Palom purred and nuzzled against me, perfectly cozy. With my kittens close by, I realized I was finally cozy, too.

~Beth Cato

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