I was just joking around when I pulled on my cat’s leg. He was sleeping on the couch. “Ha, gotcha!” I said.
“Would you fucking stop that?” he said. “I am so fucking sick of this shit.”
“I’m sorry. I was just joking around,” I said.
“That shit needs to stop,” he said.
“I’m really sorry.” I didn’t know what to say. I’d rarely seen Shawn (my cat) like this. I was scared. I was going to cry. I stifled it, because I didn’t want him to see any weakness in me.
“It’s always the same old shit,” he said. “You pull on my leg or rub my fur too hard. I tell you I don’t like it, and you keep doing it.”
I started crying. I hadn’t really listened to him, I guess.
“I need to get out of here,” he said. He left through his cat door and went into the forest behind the house.
I felt overcome with grief. I was really afraid he wouldn’t return, and I’d be alone for good. It was the way he stormed out. Before, if I were crying, he’d stay behind and we’d work it out. He never just stormed out his cat door like that.
I calmed myself down and went into the woods behind the house to look for him. It was possible that he needed my help, that he’d sprained his ankle in the woods. Or maybe he’d had a stroke or a heart attack. Or maybe he was being attacked by a bear.
I reached the end of the woods and stopped because, up ahead, I saw Shawn jump into my neighbor Roberta’s arms. He just jumped from the ground to her arms. It looked like some sort of acrobatic trick you’d see on TV. He rubbed his face on her cheek.
“Oh, Simon,” she said. “You’re so sweet.”
I hid behind a tree and watched them. Shawn licked her cheek. That bastard. I needed a cigarette. I couldn’t believe that was the week I’d decided to quit.
I thought about how I rescued Shawn. I found this tiny kitten in my backyard. He was filthy, and he smelled. I took him in, no questions asked. I gave him a bath (I’d never before seen a cat that needed a bath), got all of his shots, and bought him scratching posts, beds, and toys. I gave him everything he could ever want. And now he was messing around with Roberta.
I’d heard things about Roberta. I suspected that she worked in the sex industry, that she ran some sort of pornographic website or talked dirty to men on the phone for money. I’d also heard that her children had been taken away from her. I’d heard that she had “facilitated” her husband’s death, whatever that meant. People in the neighborhood weren’t too pleased with her presence.
Roberta was up at all hours. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep, and I’d go to the kitchen. I could see her house through a clearing. I could see her lights on no matter what time of the night it was. I would get out the binoculars, and I could see her walking around in her living room or wherever. She’d usually be wearing something inappropriate or nothing at all.
And then to see my cat with her. I wondered if his foul mouth had come from Roberta. I could picture Roberta swearing all the time. I couldn’t believe I ever let Shawn’s mouth and tongue get anywhere near my face. I couldn’t believe he was cavorting around with that woman. And then to hear her call him Simon. He actually had a different name when he was with her. I didn’t know what to make of that. It was as if he had erased me from his life whenever he was with Roberta.
I turned around and went home. I went to the kitchen and grabbed the binoculars. I could see Shawn and Roberta climbing the stairs to the deck. Roberta was carrying Shawn. They went inside. Roberta put Shawn in an incredibly gaudy cat condo that I’d never seen before. She must have spent a fortune on that.
Roberta stripped naked (yet again) and put on a bathrobe and sat down. She picked up Shawn and placed him in her lap. It looked like Shawn was laughing and carrying on. He was talking nonstop. I wish I could hear what he was saying.
Roberta turned on the TV. I wondered what they were watching. Probably something on HBO. Shawn had told me I should get HBO. I wasn’t sure why, and he wouldn’t tell me. Seemed like HBO had a lot of questionable programming, programming I wouldn’t want my cat to see.
Hours went by, and Shawn still hadn’t returned. I was a wreck. I thought of calling Roberta, but I didn’t. I thought of calling my mother, but she’d just be happy that the foul-mouthed cat was out of my life. She’d just tell me there were millions of other cats out there, ones who treated people better, ones whose every other word wasn’t a swear word. Then I’d have to tell her that Shawn wasn’t out of my life. It’d only been a few hours. He’ll come back. And she’d laugh. I’d tell her that Shawn wasn’t usually like this, but by then, I’d regret calling her.
So I didn’t. I had a Tab instead and watched the news. Then I soaked in the tub for a long time. I found a coconut oil bath bomb and dropped it into my bath. I cried some more. I thought about taking the bottle of sleeping pills—just being done with everything.
Around 2:30 in the morning, he reappeared. He came in through his cat door (which I had thought about latching). I had cried myself asleep. I promised him I’d never pull on his leg or rub his fur too hard. I was blubbering pretty bad at this point. I would have agreed to anything.
“Hey, hey. I’m sorry for overreacting,” he said. “Don’t cry. Everything’ll be OK. I’d had a really hard day, and I just needed some calm and quiet.”
“I know. I know,” I said. “I’m really sorry. I’m so sorry.”
What a relief, I thought. When Shawn came back, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. But I was also angry at the little bastard.
“I saw you with that woman,” I said. I almost couldn’t bring myself to say her name. “With Roberta.”
He looked surprised. He had that same look of surprise and fear on his face as he did when I turned on the vacuum. I thought he was going to run to the bedroom. “She was sad,” he said. “I was just trying to cheer her up. People in the neighborhood are pretty fucking mean to her.”
“I don’t want you going over there anymore,” I said. “I don’t want you to be an outdoor cat anymore. It’s too dangerous.” I latched the cat door. Shawn looked pissed, and he started flipping his tail around like crazy.
In the morning, the cat door was missing. I really thought that Roberta had something to do with it. I found the door in the backyard all beat up. I was surprised I hadn’t heard anything. I was always a light sleeper.
This time I called Roberta’s house, and Shawn answered the phone. “What are you doing? Why did you leave?” I said. I was almost panicking. I felt he’d chosen Roberta over me for good.
“You gave me an ultimatum,” Shawn said. “I don’t like ultimatums. Listen, I’ve got to go.” He hung up.
I tried to look over there with my binoculars, but I couldn’t see inside in bright sun because of the glare. I could see Roberta was sunbathing on the deck. She was naked. I wondered how many people in the neighborhood could see her. I cringed.
I fixed a cup of tea and sat at the kitchen table. I sat there for a long time until I felt a sort of inner calm come over me. It was this sudden realization that Shawn was an asshole, and I’d been in denial for all of these years.
Stop fighting it. He’s an asshole, just move on. There are plenty of cats out there.
Later it felt really good canceling Shawn’s cell phone. He went bye-bye from my AT&T Family Plan. I canceled his iPhone preorder. I wouldn’t be updating his iPhone to the latest model. I went through and deleted his old emails and any digital picture with him in it. I was going to pour bleach all over his bedding, but then I realized that, as a cat, he was basically colorblind, so he probably wouldn’t notice. But I wasn’t sure. I thought maybe he could see white streaks on his blankets. I was thinking about it too much. I ended up putting all of his toys and bedding in the garbage can. I burned all of the pictures I had of him. There was something satisfying about burning pictures of Shawn. I thought about printing out more pictures just so I could burn them, but I had already deleted them off my computer.
But then I felt it had been a huge mistake. I searched through the ashes in the fireplace in a panic. I wanted something. I didn’t want to get rid of everything. Luckily, I found some partially burned photos in the fireplace. I cut off the burned parts. I searched around the Internet for a program to undelete pictures from my computer, but I gave up after a while. I couldn’t figure out which program to get. Shawn usually did all of the computer stuff. He’d know how to undelete pictures.
I went to the end of the driveway and took some bedding and one toy out of the trash. The garbage truck hadn’t yet come, so I was lucky again. I took his favorite blue blanket and fluffy mouse toy back to the house and ran them through the washing machine. Maybe he would come back.
I was sure he’d get bored with Roberta. It didn’t seem that she could offer him anything of lasting value.
Well, it’s still hard to talk about this now, but I never heard from him again. I vacillated between love and hate. I finally got rid of all of his pictures for good (after trying to rescue them from several different purges). He never called or stopped by or anything.
And then he moved away with Roberta. I guess I didn’t mean anything to him after all. He had plenty of opportunities to contact me, but he never did. I never had any interest in where he went, except sometimes when it’s late and I can’t sleep. It’s completely over between us. My mother had been right after all. I’m going to stay away from cats for a while, probably a few years, to get him out of my system.