Life has a funny way of reminding us of the best it has to offer, right in the middle of our hardest times. Just as we are sorting through the proverbial rubble, we find a treasure.
For Jennifer Burman of Champaign, Waylon is that treasure.
"I call him 'my blessing from a mess,'" she said with a smile.
Waylon belonged to Burman's ex-boyfriend of five years, who had found him frightened and hiding in the bed of his truck after work one day.
He brought the kitten home with him not long before he started dating Burman and named the Siamese mix after his favorite singer, Waylon Jennings.
Burman loved the playful cat who crooned in different tones, depending on his mood.
When the couple broke up about three years ago, Burman's ex came over to pick up his stuff from the apartment they had shared, but he left Waylon behind.
Waylon has belonged to Burman ever since, and she adores him.
As a student, the Tolono native has moved around quite a bit these past few years (and is in fact planning another move coming up, having just graduated from Eastern Illinois University), so Waylon has had seven homes since the two first met.
Waylon has been Burman's constant through all of life's changes. He makes her laugh when he is being playful; he still acts like a kitten at times. And he keeps her company. In fact, Waylon comes whenever she calls his name, and he is never short on engaging topics for conversation.
"He talks to me. I come home and say 'hello' to him, and he says 'mrarrr.' He is very vocal. We banter back and forth. Once in a while, he can meow for a good five to six seconds, just one long one."
When Waylon speaks, he knows he is understood. For example, if Waylon is sleeping on the bed and Burman walks into the room, he will give a drawn-out "mrououw," which generally means, "Let sleeping cats lie." Conversely, if she is watching TV and he walks into the room, he gives a more demanding "mrouw," which of course means something along the lines of "you may shower me with affection — now!"
Food is a topic that's never far from this feline's mind. He isn't overweight by any means — just a bit fixated on good eats. Waylon can beg for food like a dog, without ever forgetting that he is a cat.
In fact, he cannot see any reason for Burman to enter the kitchen, other than to get him a treat.
"He begs for food," Burman said. "He likes french fries, corned beef hash, turkey and wet food treats. If I'm sitting at the table, he gets on his hind legs and puts his front legs on my knees. If I put food out toward him, he bats at it, stares at me wide-eyed and will be like, 'Now!'"
If Waylon's food bowl is empty, that's a whole other conversation.
"You have to have his food bowl full at all times or he thinks he's starving," Burman said.
But life with Waylon isn't all talk. He also gives kisses by licking.
"He likes licking my arm. He's very loving. He's not always wanting to cuddle, but he sleeps nearby me and comes and sits in my lap when he wants to," she said.
True to his namesake, Waylon also sings.
"One of the things he's done since we moved into my current apartment, he goes into the bathroom, gets in the tub and wails blood-curdling wails," Burman said. "I don't know if he is recognizing the acoustics or what. I try to capture him on video, but when I get up, he stops."
Burman said Waylon has almost human-like characteristics and a laid-back personality. She is grateful he ended up being her own.
Burman remembers a few years ago, during one of Waylon's visits to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, a lump was discovered in his right front leg.
An X-ray revealed what looked to be a BB. There was no medical reason to remove it, so the BB is still there. It doesn't bother the cat at this point, but it did have an effect on his owner.
"On the way home, I was white-knuckled driving. Who would do that to a cat? But I had to let go and recognize that he's recovered and he's in a better place, with me."
Waylon brightens the world around him, and she loves him for it.
"He makes me happy," Burman said. "Sometimes it can get annoying when he's constantly wailing at me, but for the most part, it's just kind of cool. He's got around 300 different sounds to him. And each one can be for a different thing or it can just be that he wants to meow."
Paws for Thought is dedicated to your pets in the News-Gazette's circulation area. If you have a special pet story you'd like to share, please send an email to Siv Schwink at email@example.com. Schwink is a freelance writer and interpretive naturalist. She lives in the country with her three children, a dog, a cat, two budgies and two ferrets.