On September 25, I drove from Des Moines to Iowa City and I got three tattoos. I smoked a pack of cigarettes, drank three beers, then drove the 109 miles back to Des Moines stopping only once to buy more cigarettes.
On October 2, 2009, I had a friend drive me back to Iowa City for a football game where I was convinced I would find true love. Instead, I finished a half a bottle of Captain Morgan in the car ride down. I passed out crying, woke up, finished the rest of the bottle and went to the tailgate on October 3. Moments later, I was in a port-a-potty with my face mere feet away from a mound of unthinkable mess. I spent the afternoon there.
On October 4, I drove home and brewed myself a pot of coffee. I knew I’d be calling in sick to work the next day. I knew that the drinking and the crying and the wondering and the hoping that something, anything other than the obvious had happened, would continue into the night, and well into the early hours of October 5.
But for now, I had my cigarettes and my coffee. I put on my “end of the world outfit,” a go-to ensemble that I had decided I would wear in the event of World War III, or the zombie apocalypse: Navy Blue Chuck Taylors, Levi’s, a white t-shirt, and my favorite grey hooded sweatshirt with faded Iowa Hawkeyes branding on the front and a cigarette burn in the sleeve. It was safe here, and if this was the beginning of the end, I would be ready.
The coffee pot beeped. I grabbed a mug from the cupboard, filled it, and headed to the porch. The next mug would be half coffee, half whiskey. But it wasn’t quite noon yet, so I’d have a few smokes first.
This mug, like most of my mugs came from a thrift store. It featured nine cats smiling at me and each other with the encouraging words, “You’re very special,” written in delicate script above them.
I lit my cigarette and I imagined the furry ennead with their fancy bows all looking up at me and saying,
“Remember, you’re special.”
It was nice in that moment, and I thought: I can be a cat person. I can love you. You could love me. And you won’t leave me. Will you? I am very special, after all.
I’ll care for you.
I’ll clean up after you.
You can sleep in my bed and sit with me while I read. And you can crap in a little box underneath my bathroom sink. It’s perfect! I already have the pot-pourri to cover up your stink.
We can be happy together.
I’ll get my first kitten and name him Steve Perry after the lead singer of Journey. Steve will help me forget about getting dumped. And I will laugh and share his name with my friends who will play “Don’t Stop Believin’” and dedicate it to my cat. It will be so cute.
When I’m drunk, I’ll blame Steve for everything that went wrong, and someone will tell me not to blame the cat because it wasn’t his fault my relationship ended. “Maybe,” they’ll say, “it just wasn’t meant to be.” So, the Catholic inside of me will start to feel incredibly guilty for treating Steve so poorly and neglecting his emotions. I’ll make my way down to the pound where I’ll find Tigger, an old Tabby who only gets to keep his name because that’s the only thing he answers to. Tigger and Steve Perry will play all day and everyone will say, “oh they are so happy. It’s just adorable.”
On a routine visit to the vet I’ll discover that Tigger has Feline AIDS. Devastated, I’ll spend all my money on special pills and food that smells horrible to keep him alive.
On Friday, I’ll be sitting at home, alone, crushing pills into Tigger’s prescription food (and also a little bit of Fancy Feast because only the best for my babies) and spoon feeding him while Steve Perry watches on from atop the recliner wondering why his friend doesn’t want to play. “I’m sorry Steve,” I’ll say, “This is life. People leave. But we have each other.”
On Saturday morning, I’m back at the pound eyeing Kahlua and Sambuca. I rant on how stupid their names are and how I hate people who name their cats after liquor. Bonita, the friendly clerk who manages the Cat Corral, and who has invited me to join her book club, agrees. She adds that cats aren’t really antisocial, they just hate their stupid names and the stupid owners who name them. I change Kahlua and Sambuca to Sonic and Tails, and they’re in the cat carrier in the back of the station wagon next to the special food for Tigger and the pair of rollerblades that I keep telling myself I’ll use someday.
To my surprise and devastation, I return home to find Tigger curled up, lifeless on my pillow. I am broken. I weep. And I am back to the pound before five, looking for something, anything to fill the void. Bonita suggests Onyx and Sheila.
A week later, Onyx, Sheila, Sonic, Tails, Steve Perry and I are watching Mother May I Sleep with Danger on Lifetime. I open the freezer, move Tigger out of the way and get the mint chocolate chip ice cream. To my surprise and delight there’s a scraggly, mangy looking stranger with a wound on his tail pawing at my screen door. I let him in and name him Matthew. I call and cancel my plans for the weekend, which at this point has come as no surprise to anyone. I throw on my good pair of sweatpants, and I head to bed. I listen to Matthew howl. He’s learning, I think. He’s loving his new life. He’s loving me.
In the morning, I take Mathew to the vet and I learn that “mangy” is not just something cute that people say about rough looking kitties. In fact, there is a skin disorder called mange that equates to scabies in humans. And now Matthew has given all my cats mange and me, scabies. In the line at the pharmacy, I’m scratching my neck as the pharm tech takes a step back and reads the application directions for my medicated ointment form a safe distance. He’s loud enough for me and the rest of the motley crew at the Walgreens to hear. There’s an audible shuffle on the linoleum.
When I arrive home, I release Matthew from the kennel and he runs to the screen door, demanding to be let out. I was warned to keep him indoors, but I can’t say no to a face like that, so I do. I reach into my pocket for my ointment and I realize that I don’t have pockets in these sweats. Damnit, I think. I should have worn jeans today, but nothing fits right now, and they’re dirty anyway. I put my slippers back on and go back to my car to retrieve the ointment. In the parking lot, I see my neighbors, Adam and Haley. I nod. They look to their iPhones. We had drinks once. I thought it was nice.
Ointment in hand, I go back to my apartment. With the screen door and the front door open, I feel the breeze flowing through the space. I also smell the breeze, and it’s telling me that I need to change the litter. But I’ve been out already today and it’s almost dinner time and I can just do that tomorrow cause I need more tray liners anyway.
I walk into my apartment and Sonic and Steve Perry have ripped up all the paper towels. Matthew has returned and hisses at Tails. Shelia is nowhere to be seen and Onyx is coughing up a hairball on the carpet by to ottoman. My babies, I think. Such a handful, but worth every minute. I grab a remaining scrap of paper towel and bend over to clean up the vomit. The “crick” in my lower back—also a cute word people use to describe something much more serious—shoots straight up my spine and down to my legs. God damnit. I collapse. The carpet is moist. It scratches my cheek. My body itches from the scabies. I can’t move. I shouldn’t have skipped my chiropractic appointment. He told me something like this could happen. Sciatica is a very serious problem.
And I am lying here now. Moist. Itching. Sweatpants. I open my eyes. How many days has it been? “Help me Sonic,” I say. “Steve, oh Steve, bring me my phone.” “Babies, please. I love you!” My babies scurry about the room. They meow. There are many meows now. Some unrecognizable. I feel the breeze. The screen door is still open. They hiss. They howl. They lick the salty sweat from behind my ear and my ankles.
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