How Much My Cat Loves Me

My cat is a dog. And a toddler and a sweet little angel cuddle bug. He is also a minion sent from the depths of Bengal cat heritage. He must be. He is wild.

I return to the living room from microwaving my soup a bit more, and I find my cat on the end table, nose down, licking the butter off my toasted baguette. I clap and stomp and shout at him to get down. Bad Kitty! To which he jumps off the table and stares up at me from the floor, smacking his lips and cleaning his face with his tongue. It is my own fault. I know my cat will get into anything; I am a foolish, foolish human to leave my carbs unattended. 

My cat loves me so much he follows me about the house, jumping onto desk, counter, and couch. Wherever I am, he needs to be. He walks over my keyboard, my papers, and my plate. 

He roams the hallway of our house, screaming and howling gutturally as if he’s being dismembered. He annihilates a fuzzy rattle mouse in minutes, first detaching the tail and then ripping the fur from the plastic rattle body with fang and claw. And then he gnaws and grinds, killing the toy dead a thousand times over. I find the pink felt ears on the bathroom floor, the tail behind the toilet, and the pelt in the closet because my cat has violently tossed it about, eventually losing it under the door.  

He treats the litter like sand under which a treasure is buried. Like a dog, he digs, shoveling out pilesof litter behind him onto the tiled floor. 

We can’t have plants or flowers, real or fake, because he nibbles and tears off blades and petals. He knocks over my coffee mug because he is trying to cover it up, apparently to hide evidence of food and protect us all from predators who might come to drink it out from under me. He flips his food and water bowls for the hell of it. He is a terror

He loves me so much he sprints at the last moment to slip through the open door of my bedroom. He knows he’s not allowed in because he sharpens his claws on our upholstered Wayfair furniture, bites the wicker basket that holds my yoga mat and blocks, jumps into the 3-inch space between the television and the bottom edge of the cubby that houses it. In the shower, he wets his paws and lies on the tile. In the closet, he makes the clothes innocently hanging there his own personal string things for clawing and yanking and punching holes into. I cannot extract him from the room because he hides under the bed, smackdab in the middle. 

I’ve pulled a muscle in my trapezoid reaching for the rascal. I’ve slid in fuzzy-socked feet attempting to grab him, practically snapping my pelvic wishbone in two. He must enjoy making a fool out of me.

He loves me so much he nestles into me, purring like a miracle, and head-butts my Facebooking hand so I will pet him instead of scrolling my newsfeed. 

He opens the pantry by pulling the underside of the door. He heads for the pork rinds and macadamia nuts and bread and chips, destroying the bags and their contents. He climbs into the way back knocking over Corona bottles, shattering them into bits, spraying beer over everything. He hunkers down, drags his feet, protests in the biggest way he knows how.

When I make food, I must clean before I eat or I will discover him counter surfing in all his naughtiness, opening the container of grape tomatoes, eating breadcrumbs, and smearing his litterbox paws over stove and granite. He will crouch to lick bowls in the sink, slurp milk-water, scoop ice cubes and bat around lids and spoons and the plastic strips you peel off shredded cheese packages. 

My cat plays fetch. He demands my attention. He noisily climbs through the shutters to lie along the cool window glass. He shreds unopened Amazon boxes and leaves pieces of tape and cardboard all over the house. He is a pain in the ass. And sometimes when I look at his sweet kitty face with his big eyes and whiskered mouth, as he sleeps curled up with all four paws in a pile, my heart swells ten sizes.

My cat licks his furry body, he roots in the cat box, he sniffs his brother’s butthole.

And now my baguette has cat tongue slime on it somewhere. But I refuse to fall for the old “I licked it, so now it’s mine” trick. 

My cat is smart, but I’m smarter. I’m his human, and I have parenting to do. The easy thing would be to throw away the baguette. But that only teaches him he’s won. 

Dear Auntie,

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You’ve been gone for almost 18 years, and I miss you every day. There is so much I would tell you if you were here to challenge me to a game of Scrabble over a box of donuts. Remember the day we practically made ourselves sick? We didn’t eat all the donuts. We had some semblance of self-respect, nibbling a little on each flavor to take it all in without literally taking it all in.

Remember the day we shoplifted earrings and makeup from Woolworth’s? We used our stealth, our sly desire for cheap, criminal beauty to slide those silver, dangling things and plastic-wrapped lipsticks into our purses. I was a thief but also a bolt of lightning, coming alive under fluorescent lights, following your lead. Ethics aside, you taught me to lay down my fear so I could hold excitement in my hands. At your apartment, we counted our loot, and somehow, the lipstick I’d lifted didn’t make it home. We retraced our steps to the car and under the seats and floor mats. I didn’t acknowledge then the irony of my dismay. I didn’t deserve that lipstick. I hadn’t earned it. But what I got was the memory—the sweet rebel memory of being with you.

When we discovered you’d died, Phil and I arrived at your place to clean it up and divide your belongings. Strangers had already been there, rifling through your things like trash. The air in your apartment stunk of death—you had left, but you still remained. You lingered there like a foul perfume, like a soul angry about the life you’d lived and furious about when and how you’d died. I held my breath as I stepped over the stain of you, the spot where you fell, trying not to get you on the soles of my white Adidas. My mind rattled—and my teeth and my chest. I heaved and tried to pass through the thought of you like a shadow through the mist. My task was to clean up, clear out, and move on as if you’d never existed. That was how I was supposed to get it done.

Phil and his friend Tim rented a U-Haul, and they had everything under control—everything but me—so I left them standing in your space, their hands on your glass animal menagerie, Elvis vinyl, and the couch where Mom tried to strangle me in my sleep. I left them alone because they had each other, and I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t be an adult, couldn’t be responsible enough to do the stoic and objective job of throwing you away.

When I look back on that moment, I wish I’d been made of stone and steel. My brother grieved the loss of you, too, but he was built out of resolve and duty, love and respect. So he let me go. He knew that your death had broken. I wish I’d had that bolt of lightning in me so I could have blasted through the project, lifted your precious items from your home, and reinforced my love for you with inner strength. But I was weak and small. I cried in my car, letting the 80 degree weather layer through me like the fire of great loss.

You were my favorite. You, with your frizzy hair and chip-toothed smile. You, with your easy laugh as you danced to Gary Numan’s “Cars.” You, with your non-judgmental eyes and unconditional support. And your untimely death showed me a new kind of loneliness.

Sometimes I daydream you’re here with me. We stroll through the mall and lift lipstick and shiny earrings delicately from unsupervised counters. We make it home with everything and each other. And there is no death, no fear, no facing the day without you. But those are dreams. You’re gone, but the memory of you is so thick I can almost touch it. Thank you for hanging on. Don’t ever let me go.

Love, Me

photo: David Taffet