My cat is just getting over a rash on his belly. To treat it the vet gave me an antiseptic spray to squirt him with three times a day, and by squirt I mean really soak him with each dose. He despises this with the heat of a thousand suns, hating only the vacuum cleaner more than being sprayed with this mentholated gunk. But he puts up with it because he trusts me. He hates the vet, and all the stabbing and blood-letting and anal violation it entails, but I feel like he’s noticed that he only goes when something’s wrong, and always ends up feeling better pretty quickly after coming home. He still shows his displeasure, but mildly. Some cats would bite or scratch, but he just gives a pitiful little groan and squirms a bit. A minute later, he’s eating cat treats and curling around my ankle. He loves me and knows I love him.
Whenever my cat suffers a health issue, I want to sit down with the universe and ask why it finds the suffering of a small fluffy animal so amusing. This is hyperbolic, of course, and I’m sure my cat has gone full Mengele on a few unsuspecting chipmunks in his day, so it could be hypocritical as well. We love to despair over the unfairness of life and the apathy of the universe, but I’ve come to suspect the universe actually does care. Generally speaking, anyway.
I mean, yeah, politicians sell out the lives of their constituents for the gain of corporations they own stock in. Assholes will cut you off in traffic and pass stopped school buses. The neighbor will subtly encourage his dog to shit in your yard when he thinks you aren’t looking. Meteors may or may not play shuffleboard with human existence.
But the universe keeps growing and evolving. Star systems keep forming. New flowers and fluffy, adorable woodland critters pop up all the time. People kiss. People fall in love. People masturbate. There’s hurt, sure, but the universe also trusts us to find happiness.
Mo and I dated for about a year and a half before becoming serious. It was mostly necessitated by distance, but additionally it seemed like a good idea. Latching onto a relationship with little knowledge of the other person rarely seems to go well.
On the day we became official, we’d spent most of the day tramping around an abandoned asylum a few towns over. We picnicked in a cemetery that had been converted into a park, and took photos of graffiti warning us not to trust voices in white coats. We were dirty, sweaty, and breathing heavy when we finally got back to my place.
We were in my bedroom, but not on my bed. I forget why but we sat on the carpet, and after a while I pulled down a couple pillows and a blanket. We cuddled and talked about nothing. I told her I loved her and she said she loved me too.
“Then we should be an item,” I said. “Just us.”
She smiled, and traced an X with her finger on my lips before kissing me. “There,” she said, trusting me to understand. “Sealed with a kiss.”
A month or so before moving out of Nashville, a neighbor cat took to wandering into my apartment whenever I’d come home. We’d feed him and play with him, and soon he’d stay whole weeks without leaving the place. I’d come home and he’d be begging to be let in. I would find myself anxious to be away from home, afraid he’d be left outside if it started to rain. It would take me a few moments before I remembered he was somebody else’s cat.
I got attached to him and started calling him Eddie. He’d sleep under my arm while I read in bed, or curl up on my gut when I went to sleep. He’d tackle my arms and play-bite me when I’d exercise. He followed me to the mailboxes and was patient enough to let me take photos of him with tiny hats on. He was a quality cat.
I say was but I should say is. He was clearly young when he started hanging around, and well cared for. I pulled a tick off him once but he was in good health otherwise. Someone was obviously feeding and sheltering him. But still I got attached to him. And when we had to leave town one weekend, I found myself hanging back till late. He didn’t want to go outside, and I didn’t want to leave him alone. I did eventually, of course, and a day after we came back, he strolled up to our porch while I was reading, mewling to be let inside.
Moving day came, and Eddie weaved between us and our stuff as we broke it down and loaded it up. He’d leave for an hour, then come back and play with someone taking a break. The activity got him excited, and he’d disappear again chasing children and bumblebees. We worked till two in the morning emptying the place, and by the time we were done, Eddie was off somewhere for the night. Probably back home.
Mo had gotten a place an hour away, on the opposite side of the city. I was leaving the state altogether, but I crashed at her place for a few nights, sorting through things of mine that had been mixed with hers and building up the courage to finally, permanently go. I went back to the apartment once more, to clean a little before we dropped off our keys. We’re the kind of people who are paranoid about deposits, and we wanted to make sure we got ours back. It was dark when I pulled up, and as soon as I got out, there was Eddie, on the rail, mewling at me.
I spent a couple hours there, scrubbing, vacuuming, trying to usher the cat out every now and then so he’d go home. But he just batted at my pant legs and purred when I’d pet him. When I was done, I cooed at him to follow me out, and locked up.
I loaded up the vacuum and Eddie hopped onto the roof of my car. I petted and kissed him, and a neighbor commented that he obviously didn’t want us gone. I waited until he got distracted by something in the grass, and climbed inside. He looked back once when I started the engine and began backing out, then went back to playing in the weeds. I trusted him to be okay.
I try not to think about it, but sometimes I’ll get the image in my head of Eddie mewling on a darkened porch. In my mind he paws at the door, trusting it to open, until the empty echo from inside convinces him to go home.
The annual family reunion is always a mixed bag. There are relatives I can actually, like, relate to, and relatives who seem as though their parents were likely related too.
Somehow, I always end up watching everybody’s kids when I’m there. I don’t quite understand how this happens. Kids seem to like me, parents seem to trust me, and somehow I’m put in charge of a small line of young’uns who insist on following me around.
Not that I’m complaining. I never want to have children, but I do enjoy their company. They’re simple and earnest and when things get irritating, I can always hand them back to their parents and go on my merry way.
I also remember what it was like to be little and opinionated, and how desperate I was to be regarded by adults with anything approaching respect. I try to keep this in mind whenever I find myself locked in a conversation a few grades below the general age of my peer group.
One reunion I found myself on the porch swing, watching over some cousin’s eight year old. He was as average a kid as you could get. He liked bugs and Pokémon and was just discovering the wonderland that is the Transformers franchise.
Every few sentences, a wrinkled old woman in the bench beside us would lean forward and say: “Have you ever heard a child who talks so much?”
The boy didn’t seem to hear her, and I’m not one for dignifying cruel statements with a response, so we kept talking. If anything, the kid was a little on the quiet side. He liked the talk but I was definitely the chattier one between us.
“Hush,” the strange old woman eventually scolded when the boy was answering a question I’d asked him. “He doesn’t want to have to listen to you.”
The boy looked at her then looked away. I don’t think he knew she was talking to him; he was just vaguely aware she was speaking nearby.
We kept talking.
“Shhh.” I looked over, and the hunched old woman was leaning forward, scowling. She was staring directly at the (thankfully) oblivious little boy. Context was irrelevant. She did not consider my presence, our talk, anything. It dawned on me that all she could see was something small she wanted to crush, something she was furious with for being out of her reach. We trust family to be there for us. Maybe that’s why so many predators choose to hide in the brush of blood relations.
“Blood is thicker than water.” The phrase is exploited frequently by relatives desperate for an excuse to be accepted despite their bad behavior. It’s paraphrased out of context. The original line is “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”
Bonds are forged. DNA is coincidental. No one ever intends to be related to monsters.
A year or two after the breakup, Mo and I sat on her mother’s porch during a rain storm. She visits every so often, and we usually find at least one night to sit around and catch up.
That night was the first time we’d seen each other since I’d left Tennessee. It’d be a lie to say I was over her already.
We drank coffee and ordered pizza, and sitting on the porch, we listened to the rain. Midnight crept up on us, and we dozed off despite the caffeine.
We woke up to a crack of lightning and intense thunder. The wind as screaming and rain blew hard enough we could feel the mist. We watched the storm and I put my arm around her. She trusted me to move on, but at that time it was beyond my abilities.
So I sat quietly with the woman I still loved and watched the storm. The breakup had come up in conversation, and I told her I was fine. What I meant was that I would be. I at least owed her that minimal honesty. Holding her, I was determined not to break the trust she put in me to move on.
The rain fell, and we trusted it not to wash us away.