HOW I BECAME A CAT LADY

As the hot water from the gym shower drenched my tired sweaty body, I felt it: a dozen of fresh wounds all over my knees and arms stinging me like pinpricks. Crap. The wounds are small and shallow but I knew they were going to leave nasty scars. They were red, irritated, and in some I can see my poor skin peeled and shriveled like bonito flakes. I can already imagine keloid or at least dark pigmentation forming over them.

My sister and I just adopted a kitten. A scrawny little black-and-white kitten with bald patches above her eyes and a pair of ears that are too big for her face. My sister named her Nimoy, as in Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy is not one for the Instagram fame (we couldn’t even manage to take a still picture of her). She gets excited over the stupidest things like plastic bags and dangling keys. So excited that she gets aggressive over chasing them, clawing into whatever comes between her and the items. Hence, the scars.

I dried myself, got ready and jumped into the car. It was thirty minutes past the time Flo, Olive, and I were supposed to meet. I knew they were going to be late anyway. Flo and Olive are practically my only two friends in Jakarta in these past two and a half years. Sure, I do have a lot of “friends” – from work, from school – but do they really count as friends when our interactions were limited to double-tapping Instagram posts, sending birthday wishes on Facebook, and exchanging high-pitched niceties in reunions?

When I came back to Jakarta two years ago, I didn’t really have any friends in the city. I left Indonesia five years ago and people moved on. They made new friends, got married, made babies. I tried to get myself out there, met people who I thought would be interested to welcome me back into their lives. It turned out, I had changed too. In the five years that I was gone, I lost touch with the religion I was assigned to at birth, stopped caring about people’s opinions, and became a feminist. Jakarta seemed so familiar yet so foreign. So crowded yet so lonely.

It was then in my loneliness that I met Olive. She’s a familiar face, a friend from high school who had also spent the past two years abroad. We hit it off right away. We met up every evening after work and decided to rent an apartment together. We were living in our own world, Olive and me. We went to Jakarta expats’ parties on one night and attend a Javanese military wedding on the other. We cried over Trump’s victory while munching on our favorite warteg food. We created our own safe space, our own little comfortable bubble.

That’s when Flo came in. I met her at work and invited her over to the apartment one night. Unlike Olive and I, Flo never lived abroad. And unlike Olive and I, she has friends. A lot of friends. But that night, we hit it off. The three of us became inseparable.

Until Olive had to move to Bangkok for work.

I was happy for her, I even encouraged her to go. But deep inside I was slightly panicking. Oh no, I must make new friends! What am I going to do in weekends and after work? How does one even make friends as an adult? Flo has her own bunch of friends and I’m going to be one of those naggy people who hangs out too much with one person.

I moved back with my family as Olive left the country. It was around that time that my sister brought home Nimoy. I fell in love. I came back home right after work every day and stayed home most of the weekends to play with the kitten. I became a literal cat lady. Yup. Here I was in my mid-twenties playing with her kitten all day. But you know what? I have no regrets.

I realized in these past two years that I am happier with my small, close-knit group of people than I am with a group of large, distant “friends”. It’s quite liberating to admit it, really, that my social well-being does not rely on surrounding myself with shallow relationships. It instead relies on surrounding myself with people who understand and accept me for my own, unique self.

I parked my car and walked over to the Korean BBQ restaurant Flo had wanted to go since a month ago. They had just arrived. It had been four months since we last met Olive. We were exchanging stories about what happened in Bangkok and Jakarta. At one point, Olive said to me in an annoying bragging voice, “Chani, you know, I made friends in Bangkok!”

I replied, “well, you know, I adopted a cat!” Flo shook her head and sipped her tea.

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