The last thing Gwen Cooper wanted was another cat. She already had two, not to mention a phenomenally underpaying job and a recently broken heart. Then Gwen’s veterinarian called with a story about a three-week-old eyeless kitten who’d been abandoned. It was love at first sight.
Everyone warned that Homer would always be an “underachiever.” But the kitten nobody believed in quickly grew into a three-pound dynamo with a giant heart who eagerly made friends with every human who crossed his path. Homer scaled seven-foot bookcases with ease, survived being trapped alone for days after 9/11 in an apartment near the World Trade Center, and even saved Gwen’s life when he chased off an intruder who broke into their home in the middle of the night. But it was Homer’s unswerving loyalty, his infinite capacity for love, and his joy in the face of all obstacles that transformed Gwen’s life. And by the time she met the man she would marry, she realized that Homer had taught her the most valuable lesson of all: Love isn’t something you see with your eyes.
BONUS: This edition contains a new afterword and an excerpt from Gwen Cooper's Love Saves the Day.
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|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||8.28(w) x 11.28(h) x 0.69(d)|
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* Socket to Me
Yesterday made the twentieth day that I have been tossing about upon the sea. The winds and waves have taken me all the way from the Ogyian island, and now fate has flung me upon this coast.
—Homer, The Odyssey
Years ago, back when i still had only two cats, i was fond of saying that if I ever adopted a third I would name him Meow Tse-tung and call him "The Chairman" for short.
"Don't look at me like that, it'll be cute," I would insist when my friends regarded me as if I were a loon. "Little Chairman Meow."
The joke was twofold: the name itself, and also the idea that I would adopt a third cat. I might never have taken the monumental step (so it had seemed to me at twenty-four) of adopting two except that I'd been living for three years with Jorge, the man I was sure I'd marry. We'd split up recently, and I had gained custody of our feline offspring—a sweet-tempered, fluffy white beauty named Vashti and a regal, moody gray tabby named Scarlett. I was grateful for my two girls every day, but also painfully aware of the potential complications they would create in my newly single life, complications I had never contemplated back in the days when I'd thought Jorge and I would be together forever.
I was staying in a friend's spare bedroom while I tried to save up for an affordable place to live, for example, but I would never be able to move into a more reasonably priced pet-free building. There was no point in even considering a relationship with a man who had cat allergies. I worked in nonprofit, running _volunteer programs for the United Way of Miami-Dade, and I never had more than fifty dollars in the bank at the end of the month. Nevertheless, routine vaccinations, injuries, and illnesses would have to be paid for by me alone, no matter what their impact on my finances.
"Not to mention the social implications," my best friend, Andrea, would say. "I mean, there are only so many cats you can have when you're twenty-four and single. The neighborhood kids will start calling you Old Widow Cooper and throw rocks at your windows and say things like, That's where Old Widow Cooper, the cat lady, lives. She's craaaaazy . . ."
I knew she was right; I wasn't completely out of touch with reality. In my present circumstances, talking about a third cat was an absurd hypothetical, like daydreaming about what I might buy if I won the lottery.
Then one afternoon, a couple of months after Jorge and I broke up, I got a call from Patty, a young veterinarian only three years older than I was, who was the newest member at the practice that treated Scarlett and Vashti. Patty told me a long, sad story that would have been perfect for a cable movie, if only there were a station called Lifetime for Cats.
An orphaned, four-week-old stray kitten had been abandoned at her office, she said, after a virulent eye infection had required the surgical removal of both his eyes. The couple who had originally brought him in didn't want him. Nor did any of the people on her adoption list, not even the ones who had expressed a specific interest in adopting a handicapped cat. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to face this particular handicap. I was her last call, the last possibility she could think of, before . . .
She didn't finish her sentence, and she didn't have to. I knew there was almost no chance that an eyeless kitten would be adopted from a shelter before his time ran out.
Don't, warned the Greek chorus that lives inside my head. Yes, it's sad but, honestly, you're in no position to do anything about it.
I'd always been an obsessive reader, a passionate lover of books, and I knew the kind of power words had over me. Pitting me against words like blind, abandoned, unwanted, and orphan was like sending someone armed with a toy rifle into trench warfare.
Still, I recognized the wisdom of my inner Greek chorus, even if I couldn't be as coolly analytical as it was. So I said, "I'll come in and meet him." I paused. "I'm not promising anything, though."
I should note that, prior to this, I had never taken an I'll meet him and we'll see attitude when it came to pet adoption. It never occurred to me to meet the pet in question first, to see if he was "special" or whether there was some sort of unique bond between us. My philosophy when it came to pets was much like that of having children: You got what you got, and you loved them unconditionally regardless of whatever their personalities or flaws turned out to be. While I was growing up, my family adopted or fostered numerous dogs, almost all of whom were strays or had been abused in their previous homes. We'd had dogs who couldn't be housebroken, dogs who chewed up carpeting and wallpaper, dogs who dug compulsively under fences or who even occasionally snapped when they were startled. My cats, Scarlett and Vashti, had been adopted a year apart from acquaintances who'd found them as six-week-old kittens—mange-ridden, half starved, and covered in fleas and sores—wandering the streets of Miami. I had committed to them sight unseen; the first time I'd met them had been the day they'd come to live with me.
So I felt more than a little dishonest, driving down to my vet's office the following afternoon. Patty might not know it, but I knew myself well enough to understand that when I'd said, "I'll come in and meet him," what I'd meant was, I really don't want a third cat right now, but I'd feel like a bad person if I gave you a straightforward no after hearing this cat's story. So I'm leaving myself room to wriggle off the hook.
"We have to take him. We have to let him live here" had been the immediate response of my roommate, Melissa, when I'd told her about the blind kitten the night before—"here" being Melissa's one-story, two-bedroom, waterfront South Beach home, where I split the cost of utilities, groceries, and other household expenses while I tried to save up for my own place. But Melissa was beautiful, and an heiress, and the everyday obstacles that appeared insurmountable to me at this juncture in my life weren't even blips on her radar screen. Melissa didn't have to agonize over things like higher vet bills, or being unable to eventually find a home for herself and her brood of three (three!), or the prospect of being undateable. (I could already hear imaginary conversations among these mythical men I hadn't even met yet—let alone started dating. Dude, she's smart, she's cute, she's a lot of fun—but she's got three cats! That's just messed up, dude.)
I couldn't decide if I was even the right person for a kitten like this, a kitten who would undoubtedly have special needs I couldn't begin to anticipate. What if he never learned to get around on his own? What if my other two cats hated him on sight and made his life miserable? What if I simply wasn't up to the challenge of taking care of him? I could barely take care of myself. Arguably, given that I was living in somebody else's home at the moment, I couldn't take care of myself.
I'd been encouraged, briefly, by Melissa's use of the word we. I wouldn't be in this alone. In some small, crafty corner of my brain, it occurred to me that I could bring the kitten home and, if I proved unequipped to handle him, Melissa could always . . .
"Of course, you're the one who has to make the final decision," Melissa had added a moment later, "because he'll go with you when you move out."
The thing that was speeding me toward my vet's office as surely as the wheels and motor of the car I was driving, the thing that had gotten me to agree to meet this kitten in the first place, was guilt. If I didn't take him, no one would. I had always been an easy mark when it came to animals and everybody knew it. I was a veteran weekend volunteer at Miami's various animal shelters, and—back when Jorge and I were still living together—I'd always come home in tears, pleading with him against all reason to consider adopting one of the dogs or cats who stood to be euthanized if nobody stepped forward. My only run-in with the law thus far had been the time, in college, when I'd been arrested at a protest rally outside of my university's primate research center. I'd been the kid who stray dogs and cats followed to school because I would give them all the food out of my lunchbox, without considering how I planned to feed myself at lunchtime.
And it was exactly this kind of hazy, immature thinking, I told myself somewhat viciously as I slid into the parking lot outside my vet's office, this heedless disregard for future consequences, that had landed me exactly where I currently was in life—broke and alone after years of carefully constructing what I'd thought was an unshakable future.
I realize now that I was trying to manufacture a sense of anger. It was far easier to convince myself I was angry and put-upon than it was to admit I was terrified.
Reading Group Guide
1. 1. Homer teaches Gwen many life lessons. Which would you say was most transformative in her life? Why?
2. What makes Homer such a special cat? His personality, his challenges, his circumstances, or all three?
3. Homer's life has often revolved around taking a leap of faith. What universal themes, such as this, does Homer’s story evoke?
4. What do you make of the quotes from The Odyssey that start each chapter?
5. Gwen comes to New York looking for success: in business, in life, in love. Was she right to worry about being a single gal with three cats? How does Homer help pave the way?
6. How much of a role do the Miami and New York City settings play in this book?
7. Which of Homer's abilities did you find most surprising? Why?
8. Has reading this book changed the way you think about animals with special needs? If so, in what way? What about your assumptions about people with special needs?
9. What’s your favorite Homer story? Which one made you laugh the most? And which was the most touching?
10. Do any of Homer’s habits remind you of cats you’ve known or owned?