When my first girlfriend dumped me, it was a new kind of hurt. The songs we had listened to, the fading odors of her hair on the pillows. the smell of her clean body on the towels. I couldn’t stop thinking about her.
I sat in my underwear all day and night, sometimes for over 36 hours at a time, playing video games (mainly Shining Force) and drinking Georgi Vodka with generic ice tea mix. I took breaks to sleep and to go out to buy more vodka and cigarettes. It was a cold winter, but I had a car, I could make it to the car in just a bathrobe and shoes.
Driving to the liquor shop, I thought about her. I was young and stupid in a way that I’ll never be again. I was ashamed of myself then and I’m ashamed of it now, but I was still better in most ways than I’ll ever be again.
The one thing that didn’t remind me of her was her cat. The cat was still catting around. Every now and then the cat would appear, rub against me to say hello, maybe snooze next to me for an hour or two, and then disappear. For six weeks, I forgot all about the cat’s physical needs. I didn’t feed it or water it or let it in or out. A window in my room was missing a pane. I lived on the second floor, but this missing windowpane was good enough for the cat. Looking back on it now, she was almost magical. I didn’t have to do anything except have a warm place to occasionally sleep. Sometimes, more often than not, she would bring me back dead birds and squirrels. I never cleaned them up, but I don’t remember them being a problem.
This being winter, my housemates were all away, back at home with their families for the holidays. That meant I didn’t have to share the gaming console (Sega Saturn) or vodka. It was just me and the cat. I did my thing and she did hers.
Slowly, eventually, I pulled myself back together for the spring semester. I still drank and played video games too much, but I was functional. With other people back in the house, I had to at least pretend to be, and pretending is basically being, at least as far as being functional. I pretended I was able to go to class, and I was.
The cat was still around, too. In retrospect, this was a golden age for us. The housemates, who had originally been against the cat, were now indifferent and sometimes even affectionate. The cat required nothing, she wasn’t around much, and she was killing squirrels and birds at a psychopathic rate. She would bring home a dead bird or squirrel, parade it around, then disappear with it back outside. Sometimes this happened several times a day.
The summer came, and the landlord told us that he had sold the house to a family. We would all have to find new places to live, including the cat.
I hadn’t planned to go home for the summer, but I was broke and tired and it was difficult to find any place that allowed a cat. So I took the cat back with me to my parents’ house. Like everyone else, they were anti-cat at first. They were too old for another cat. It was too much of a hassle.
I told them that this cat was different. They didn’t have to feed her or water her or really do anything. The cat could take care of herself. But I warned them that she would probably find a way into the house, and that she was a killer. My dad had had killer cats before and wasn’t impressed by my warning, at least not at first.
As was typical, I spent most of the summer getting drunk in the woods or in the small towns close to where I lived. I forgot about the cat for the most part. Until it was time to go back to college. My parents, especially my dad, had a new respect for the cat, but they didn’t want to live with her. She was more bloodthirsty than ever. Rabbit parts, strange animal hearts, wings, decapitated heads were turning up on chairs hidden by tables, on the counter where my mom dropped her keys, in the bathtub. The cat seemed to know my parents’ routine, she knew just when and where to leave a stray ear or mangled hunk of fur, these were always warm when my parents found them and my parents were continually startled. They told me I had to take the cat with me.
The cat rode with me back to college. I had to put her in a carrier, she was a good traveler for the most part, but hated the Lincoln Tunnel. On the way to my parents’ house, she had screamed at me in the tunnel. This time, she sat quietly in her carrier, staring at me with a muted rage.
I had to find someone willing to take the cat. We had been through too much together for me to just abandon her in some wilderness, and I wouldn’t be able to find a place to live that would accept her. The college I went to was notorious for admitting more students than it or the surrounding towns could house. Rooms were overpriced and landlords could be finicky. And most of them were anti-cat to begin with anyway.
There was a girl who lived in Ronkonkoma. Like many small towns in America, it was named after the Native Americans who had been dislocated or slaughtered there. She was a cute girl, and I remembered her saying something about wanting a kitten. The cat was no kitten, but she was fairly small, and I thought cute.
Once we escaped the Lincoln Tunnel and got to a less populated area, I pulled over at a gas station and looked through my address book. I found the girl’s name, number, and address, and called her. I told her I had a present for her and asked if I could stop by on my way back in, and she said sure, that would be fine.
The girl was not anti-cat. At least, not at first. She fell in love with the cat immediately, despite the cat giving her a somewhat cool reception. I told her that the cat would warm up to her, and that she didn’t have to feed it or water it or really do much of anything. She asked about a cat door and I told her it wouldn’t be necessary, the cat would scratch or meow when it wanted to get in or out. The cat was considerate in that way.
Two months later the girl called me. I’m not sure how she tracked me down, probably through a mutual friend. She told me that the cat had to go, that the cat was antisocial. The cat wouldn’t allow her to pet it or pick it up, the cat would scratch her and hiss at her. And the cat was also killing a disturbing number of mice, birds, squirrels, rabbits. More than any cat could eat. She had tried feeding the cat, but the cat no longer ate cat food or human food. It wanted blood. It left mangled bunny heads, red stained squirrel pelts, and hunks of animal too mutilated to identify, on her front stoop. She was afraid of the cat. It had to go.
My landlord, as I predicted, was anti-cat. But I told the girl I would figure something out. The cat was proving to be problematic. Still, we had had good times together. I couldn’t just abandon her completely.
I started to wonder where the cat had come from in the first place and I remembered. My ex. At this point, I was beyond wanting an excuse to call. I didn’t want to talk to her at all. But the cat was still technically her cat, at least as much as a cat like this could be said to belong to anyone.
I called her and told her a condensed version of the cat situation and made sure to mention the girl in Ronkonkoma more than was necessary. The ex would be curious about the girl, and that might trap her into taking back the cat. I doubted she cared about me or the cat. But she would have to meet the girl and compare herself to her.
Several years later, I ran into the ex. I asked her how the cat was doing, if the cat was still alive, and she told me that the cat was a barn cat now. I supposed that meant that the cat slept in a barn when she wasn’t out hunting. I told the ex that I had always liked the cat. The ex told me that the cat had gone completely feral. The cat had allowed herself to be picked up in Ronkonkoma, but the ex could tell that something was off. Once the cat was back at her family’s house, it took off into the woods. They spotted the cat in the trees sometimes, or digging holes by the edge of the forest. According to my ex, there was something mysterious and disturbing about the cat, but you had to admire her. If the cat was a person she would be in a mental institution or more likely in prison, but as she was a cat, she could pretty much be left to her own devices. Especially now that she was living in a barn.
All of this made sense to me, but I couldn’t agree with my ex. The cat was more than a barn cat. She was more than the sum of a barn and a girl in Ronkonkoma and the thousands of small animals she had torn to pieces. The cat was unique. The cat was and is the narrative of a part of my life that would somehow be even more incomprehensible without her. And this is true for the girl and the ex and others, too.