I miss my cat. And yeah, before we get into it, I really like cats. My parents had cats when I was little. I begged my parents for a kitten until I finally got one when I was 11. A few years ago an old boyfriend and I heard some meowing in an alley and I ended up with a litter of 2-week-old semi-foster kittens (my parents kept two). That same boyfriend and I had found Koda through an ad on Craigslist nearly six years ago, and he’s been my furry sidekick ever since. Every time I’ve found a new apartment, new city, or new relationship, Koda’s slept on the foot of my bed. He’s the sweetest, and I’m quite attached.

So call me a cat lady. I’m cool with it.

But there is a point to this – I promise.

The reality of living out of a PT Cruiser for a year is that you don’t really have space for a pet. My parents (perhaps somewhat grudgingly) agreed to take him in for the year, and since he’d stayed with them briefly when I first moved up to San Francisco, I didn’t worry about it. Better food, more space, and three other cats and the dog to keep him company. I was sure he’d be even happier at their house than he’d been in my little apartment.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. My parents called almost immediately after I left to tell me that he was acting out. The food didn’t suit him. The litter box was a problem. There were unprecedented spats with the other cats. And he wasn’t acting like a lapdog.

For me, that was the worst part. This is a cat that would sleep on my face if I let him, that would follow me from room to room winding around my legs, that would see me pulling out my laptop and immediately snuggle up next to me to purr and knead blankets while I binged on Netflix. Koda’s a cuddly animal. And suddenly he wasn’t because I’d left him there.

That guilt – that horrible awareness that my grand adventure was having a such a negative effect on a creature that I love – hit me like a brick. Up until then, there weren’t any downsides. I was costing my parents way less money than when I was in university. I had a blog and checked Facebook more regularly and was making a solid effort to stay in touch with everyone. I was just finally and gloriously free.

And realizing that my cat was missing me, that I’d even temporarily hurt him by leaving, forced me to recognize how my trip affects my family and friends. Suddenly my choice wasn’t all positives. There are people I’ve moved away from and important milestones I’ll miss and lazy weeknight dinners I won’t be there for, and somehow that all felt very okay when I started this. After all, I have a phone. I thought I’d be able to text and call and it wouldn’t be much different than when I was there. But the way Koda was reacting to my departure made me recognize that just because I’m distracted by the adventure and having an amazing time and feeling like I’m not really missing out doesn’t mean that everyone feels that way.

There was a boy in San Francisco who kept telling me how he was going to miss me and I repeatedly brushed it off as a nicety, as just one of those things you say to someone who’s moving. A friend is going through a rough time with her family and all the texting in the world doesn’t make up for having a wine night and being silly. Today my mom was finally able to get her surgery booked and even though she says it’s okay, it kills me that I’m not going to be there. I’m missing out on moments and memories with the people who love me in favor of spending a year among strangers.

That guilt keeps me up at night sometimes, wondering if it’s really worth it. Am I being too selfish?

That turns into wondering if I should quit and go home and get a normal job and find someone to marry and do all the things I dread because it would make things easier for the people who care about me. And thinking about that makes this easier; I can’t give up my happiness for other people, and anyone who asks or expects me to doesn’t really love me. Yes, my travels affect lives besides my own, sometimes not in the best way. But I genuinely believe that the lessons I’m learning and the person I’m giving myself space to become is worth it. Even when it’s hard. Even when I miss Koda and my family and my friends. Even when the guilt and fear of missing out keep me from sleeping. I’m becoming  a better, happier human being. And at this point in my life, I can’t think of anything more important.

So maybe this is a guilt-ridden open letter to my cat. Maybe it’s an apology to the people who miss having me around. Maybe it’s the consequence of one too many glasses of wine. I think mostly it’s me trying to figure out what to do with an impossible feeling and wondering if other long-term travelers deal with the same thing.

But truly – can you look at this guy and blame me for missing him?