Stephanie has been gone for a year and a half. My pal Joe from back east moved in with me in November, but he moved out again in February; back to Pennsylvania. And now, Stephanie's beloved housecat Minky has left the building, so there's no-one in this apartment but me. The only sound is my keyboard clacking, occasionally a podcast, and me talking to myself. For the first time since meeting Stephanie in 1997, I am alone in the world, without even a cat to pretend is a friend.

By nature, I'm an introvert, or more accurately a hermit. My social skills are nil, and solitude is a good thing … for the most part. Without Steph, though, Minky provided my base minimum companionship. That cat was here, occasionally on my lap, and that made life without Steph a bit more bearable.

Things are gloomier without Minky's specific cat-personality, her unique noises and behavior that told me what she needed and what mood she was in, and all the ways that cat and I semi-communicated. Every time I looked at Minky, I remembered how much that cat  meant to Stephanie. And I liked Minky too, and Minky liked me, so of course I miss that fabulous fluffball.

Distinct from missing Minky, though, I miss having a cat. It's strange not occasionally seeing something move out of the corner of my eye. It's unpleasant not seeing a cat walk by, usually in slinky 'prowl' mode, on her way to who knows where. There's never an unexpected cat cacophony crashing in the next room, as the cat accidentally knocks something over. We have an ample supply of cat food and cat litter, but no supply of cat. Minky can't be replaced, but we have a job opening for a feline.

I've filed a form at a local rescue shelter, and my preference would be a cat who's full-grown, laid-back, and low-energy — like Minky, and like me. The shelter has a brief description of each available cat, and I'm most intrigued by a five-year-old cat named Izzie, who's described as "very shy with new people and will need several weeks or longer to adjust to a new home."

Well, I'm very shy myself, so I can relate to an urge to hide in a cardboard box for weeks at a time. Lots of critters love just about anyone, but if a cat takes a long while to warm up to you, then it means so much more when she finally jumps into your lap!

After name and address, phone and email, and a few questions about the apartment (messy) and whether there are kids (nope) or other pets (nope), the application's last question was, Anything else you'd like us to know? My answer was, "I want a cat because my wife died, and my cat died, and I'm lonely as hell."

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"Congratulations, Doug!" says the email, received only a few hours after I filed the form. "You are approved to adopt from  Madison Cat Project." The note said I'd soon be contacted by Izzie's foster family for a meet and greet, and indeed, I was contacted a few hours later, and met Izzie the next day. Well, sort of "met" her — like I said, she has shyness issues, so I didn't hold her on my lap, or even touch her. But I saw her across the room, and knew I wanted her.

Izzie is a cat with a history. She was born in China, immigrated to America with her 'owners' (she even has a cat-passport), but for reasons unclear her people had to return to China without her, so Izzie ended up at the shelter. And she's shy. Really, really shy.

So I brought her home, and she yowled unhappily all the way in the car. Set her up in the guest bedroom, and she promptly hid under the bed. In the four days since then, I've only seen Izzie's tail, poking out from under the bed.

But I knew she's a special cat, and that I'll need to be patient. So far, things are going well — after starving herself for two days, Izzie has started eating the food I'm giving her, and started pooping in Minky's old litter box. I'm spending an hour or so daily in the guest room that's now Izzie's room, reading a book out loud and in a calm voice, to soothe the new cat's concerns about me. Someday soon I hope to see more than just her tail.

And I'm remembering a short conversation between Stephanie and I, almost fifteen years ago, as we decided to adopt our first cat together and Steph's first cat ever, the cat that became Minky. Stephanie took the responsibility seriously, and described it like this: "We get an adorable cat to keep us company and keep us entertained, and in exchange, we have to keep Minky healthy and happy and safe for as long as she lives." I think all three of us — Steph, Minky, and me — came out ahead on that deal, and all parties lived up to their responsibilities. And now I’m making the same pledge to Izzie, to keep her healthy and happy and safe.

Not 100% certain about her name, though. I might get used to saying "Izzie, Izzie, Izzie" instead of "Minky, Minky, Minky," or I might shrug my shoulders and start calling the new cat by the old cat's name. One thing I'm completely sure about, though, is that Izzie isn't my cat and never will be. She's our cat — Stephanie's and mine.