essay - nonfiction
You can come up with a bunch of reasons to do something, and then a bunch of reasons not to. For me, it was because my cat Mia was hungry. She had been meowing at me from the foot of my bed, her green eyes pleading and angry.
I think it took me a long time to recognize that my marriage was just an attempt at normalcy, the same way I thought I could will things into existence, the same way I thought I could force things into place. I remember thinking that everything would be so much easier if I just gave in and lived the way everyone on my phone did, the way all the girls from my high school did. All the time I wanted to make my ex-husband into this evil person, this person who hurt me. I had only allowed myself publicly to be the victim, to be the one who had been hurt. It was so easy to point my finger at him and say: he cheated.
It is much harder, it hurts more, to point a finger in a different direction and say: I am difficult. I am depressed. I am anxious. I am selfish. I looked for validation. I have done bad things. I take up too much space. I need help. I want to be comforted. You have done bad things but that doesn’t make you evil. You hurt me, but I hurt you in smaller, less obvious ways. We are young people who want love and comfort and acceptantance and that is ok. Forgiveness is very hard. It’s harder than people say it is.
I didn’t have a car then, I had crashed it, and that was one of the things on a list of reasons I had made, but I lived only a few blocks from a PetSmart, so I patted Mia on the head and said I would be right back. Every time I stepped outside I felt like a traitor. My apartment was dingy and old, but it was surrounded by palm trees and less than a ten minute bike ride to the beach. Every day the sun came out, and every day the temperature rested around 70. My life has seasons now, snowy days, rain. I have been warm and cold and comfortable and sweaty and chilly all in a year. But living there, facing every day, I would squint at the sun like a vampire, I’d stay in my room with the blinds drawn all the time. I didn’t feel like I deserved the warmth.
I don’t know if I looked sad, on my walk to PetSmart or in my room writing, or when I’d wander out for errands or to the bank always alone, lost. I’d forget what I was doing all the time, I’d look around like someone else had plopped me there, not remembering why I had started to move my body. My grief had made me selfish, unable to be present or aware. If tourists would ask me where something was, I’d tell them the wrong direction. To be mean, maybe. Or just to see if I still knew how to speak.
When I got to PetSmart I went to the cat section and found Mia’s favorite food, a $16 organic brand with glittery packaging. I checked my bank account on my phone and saw that I had $50. I meandered around the store because I liked the smell, the sterile-ness of it, but also probably because I was putting some things off. I had spent the day before Googling how to kill yourself and how to kill yourself the easiest and how to kill yourself the fastest and when you start to kill yourself do you want to change your mind? But the thing is, when you Google things like that, you won’t get answers the way it normally works. You will instead get numbers to hotlines and therapists and articles with lists about why you should stay alive. So of course I was scared. I have always been able to master physical pain fairly well, sometimes I feel like my small body was built for it, with the endometriosis and the skin disorders and the tangly hair and the aching feet. My skin and my uterus and my feet and my scalp were always reminding me that I was going to be hurting, that things were going to be difficult and there was nothing I could do about it.
When I got to the front of the store I looked through the glass window into the room where they sometimes had dogs and cats for adoption. That day, there were seven black kittens playing together on the floor, jumping and rolling around. I pressed my face closer to the glass to watch them.
Do you want to see the kittens? A man in a polo shirt said to me. He had a sticker on his shirt that said volunteer and Ethan.
Oh no that’s ok, I said and stepped back. I was just looking.
Are you sure? He asked. All the adoption fees are waived today. He smiled at me.
He shrugged. Black cats are the hardest to get adopted. Maybe because people think they’re bad luck. He laughed. I probably scowled; my face was always in this unpleasant mask, I was tense like a rubber band.
I kind of have something to do, I said. I moved Mia’s bag of cat food into my other arm and looked outside. Ethan nodded. Just for a minute I guess, I decided.
He took his keys out and walked over to the door where the kittens were playing. I followed him inside. There was an old woman sitting on a plastic chair that I hadn’t seen earlier. One of the tiny black kittens was sitting on her lap, it’s little body moving up and down, breathing and purring. Have fun Ethan said and left.
I could be a cat killer, he doesn’t even know me, I said as I sat the bag of cat food down. The older woman didn’t hear me or acknowledge me. She was in another place, a happy place. I wondered how long she had been sitting there.
When my marriage was in the good parts, when we were feeling in love and having parties, wearing rings, sharing things, I remember that I had gained a lot of weight. Sometimes I look at pictures of that time in my life and my face is so round, I am fleshy. But no one ever told me I was fat or that I’d gotten bigger. People just kept telling me I looked happy.
One of the black kittens had attached itself to my shoe, attacking the laces like it was a wild animal. I kneeled down and scratched its head. Ethan came back in a few minutes later. How’s it going in here he said.
Is this one a girl or a boy I asked, pointing at the one that was still on my shoe. He picked it up and swiped it like a store item on this machine. They’re all microchipped, he explained and I nodded. She’s a girl he said, handing her back. Ok, I said. I will take her home.
My ex-husband and I had made plans to drive to Las Vegas for Labor Day weekend, just for fun. We were having sushi and drinking and laughing and I said what if we got married while we were there. He said ok, yes, let’s get married. I remember sitting in the back of this ridiculous white limo in a seven dollar dress holding his hand wondering how I was supposed to know if I was doing the right thing or the wrong thing, or if I was just doing a thing. It was hot and sweaty in Vegas and everything was passing me by so fast, but I felt like I was moving slow, inside. I sat in the waiting room of the chapel looking at my chipped nail polish feeling like a child. On the drive back to the hotel I squeezed my new husband’s wrist and I said are you ok to him and our driver groaned, thinking I had been asking him, and said I’m alright, it’s been a long day and we laughed and laughed.
Ethan had me sign some papers to take the little girl cat home, she came with a packet that told me how old she was, and that she had gotten all her shots and was healthy. She and her siblings were found under a flooded house covered in mud, Ethan said. They were very sick and almost dead. He gave me a bag of kitten food and a cardboard carrier that kind of looked like a small house to put her in. I paid for Mia’s food and I said thank you and I left. I felt happy that I still had $34 dollars.
I tried to hold Mia’s food and the new kitten’s food and folder under one arm while I carried her house box with the other. There were little air holes for her, so I kept peaking inside to make sure she was ok. She seemed fine, quiet. I got home and filled Mia’s dish, she devoured her food loudly. I opened up the little cardboard house and the little black kitten poked her head out.
You live here now, I said. Mia hissed at the little kitten, then looked at me like I was some kind of idiot. I don’t know what I’m doing, I said to the room and I felt like I was going to cry. It didn’t take much to make me cry then, I was always on the brink of melting down, feeling hysterical, irrational.
The black kitten had already begun to explore, inking her little body under and over furniture, smelling the air. Watching her, for the first time in a long time I wasn’t embarrassed of myself or my home or my life.
There is this memory that I have that is particularly hard to revisit, but it plays on a loop in my mind whenever I hear Ofege’s “It’s Not Easy”. My ex-husband and I had rented a motorcycle when we were in Thailand, and we drove all around the city, laughing in the sun with the wind in our hair. I remember holding onto his waist and feeling like we would be ok, that I could forgive him, that we could keep each other safe in this way. My fear is not so much that the pain won’t subside, or that I’ll supplement one pain for another. My fear is not being alone in my room with my cats, not knowing how I’ll pay rent. I know I’m supposed to name what my fear is, rather than what it is not. I always come up short.
I walked into my room and let the little black cat follow me. I guess I need to give you a name, I said as she crawled under my bed. On my desk there was a letter, an unfinished letter to my friends and family, apologizing for a lot of things, explaining things that were not their fault, saying goodbye. I didn’t finish it then. I never did. Instead I crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling and thought about what I was going to name the little black cat.
I know that cats are not the same as people. I know that the little black cat likely doesn’t have memories of her life under the house, covered in mud, sick and almost dying. I don’t know why she was trusting me to make her life better, but she had. That night I went to bed without a drink, and the little black cat without a name hopped up and under the covers with me. She fell asleep purring next to my heart.