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“Crazy cat lady.” That phrase has always annoyed the hell out of me, probably always will. To me, the thought of an old, lonely woman who’s only companions were cats like on The Simpsons made me sad. There’s nothing “crazy” about loneliness. There’s nothing “crazy” about attempting to break the suffocating silence that follows you home, even if all you have at your disposal are meows and a Netflix account. And don’t get me started on how many of the no-kill shelters are full in my city. If someone is taking good care of their cats, I don’t see how having a few makes them crazy.
Granted, people who call others a “crazy cat lady/man/person/slitheen/whatever” are actually not the objects of my greatest disdain. Not by a long shot. If the people who used that term for others is nails on a chalkboard to me, then the only way that I could describe people using it on themselves is Gilbert Gottfried and Fran Drescher’s rap rendition of Let It Go accompanied by the national vuvuzela enthusiasts’ coalition.
You’ve seen them, I guarantee you’ve seen them. The “oh-so-quirky” crowd in their oversized pastel cardigans, constantly exhausting their keyboards with an endless barrage of slightly sepia pictures of themselves holding a cup of tea with both hands. They talk about what a “crazy cat lady” they are as they order another cheap scottish fold pillow from AlieExpress and reblog introvert humblebrags on Tumblr. Hell, half of them don’t even have cats.
My problem with faking an obsession with cats as a way to appear adorably awkward, is that you are fucking lying. Your calico knickknacks are a conversation piece. Your short hair trinkets are carefully laid stitches in the quilt of lies you craft solely to throw over peoples’ heads, blinding them to the nothingness of your conventional life. The worst part of all is that people mistake me for someone like you. The statues in my house are altars. The paintings are tribute. Each doll, each figure, each plate, each blanket, each shirt, are offerings. It is not an obsession. It is not crazy. You see, I owe cats my homage.
It all started when my first cat saved my life. I was ten. I was overweight. My waist-length, dirty blonde hair had the frizziness only an Italian-Irish girl could have. The combination left me looking like a rusty Stay-Puft man. As you could probably guess, the kids at school were in no hurry to join my fan club. My father worked all day, and would spend his nights and weekends at the bar. My mother spent her days fretting over about how we were going to stretch the little money Dad didn’t piss away. I desperately needed a friend.
I begged for a dog for the longest time. It was out of the question. Dogs took a lot of work, a lot of money, and most importantly, Dad would have to stop drinking, or mom would have to stop worrying, for the amount of time necessary to take a dog out for a walk. Every day I would plead, bargain, and try to prove how responsible I was. Dad just said we didn’t need a third bitch in the family.
I thought Dad had relented though, on my eleventh birthday. Nobody came, so it was just Mom, Dad and I. As mom brought the cake in, Dad told me he had furgotten his camera in the car and excused himself from the table. Mom told me to blow out the candles anyway, and just as the golden retriever of my dreams faded into memory, Dad walked in with the largest gift box I had ever received. It had to be a whole foot-and-a-half wide at least. And it was moving.
With joyful tears and a squeal, I ripped the lid off. And there he was. The ugliest dog I had ever seen. Instead of a fluffy golden coat, he had sleek, short black hair. Instead of droopy, floppy ears, his were pointed and stiff. Instead of a long tongue made for puppy kisses, there were crooked fangs. Instead of a dog, he was a cat.
“We know it’s not exactly what you wanted, but cats are so much easier to take care of.” Mom assured me, a sympathetic smile on her face. “I had a cat when I was your age, and I adored him. I’m sure if you take good care of him, he’ll love you just as much as any dog could. Just give him a chance and I know you two will have tons of fun.”
I named him Dummy.
As you could probably imagine, I didn’t hate Dummy very long. Heck, I doubt a little girl could hate a chupacabra if she was lonely enough. After about a week, I started referring to Dummy as the more affectionate “Dum-Dum.” After the first time I saw him play with a string, I began to pet him. The first time he licked me, I was sleeping with him every night. My heart completely melted, however, when that cat did the funniest damn thing I had ever seen in my short life.
Mom was getting frustrated with Dummy always going on the kitchen counter, and told Dad to buy a cat tree so Dummy would have somewhere high to perch that wasn’t involved in food prep. Dad begrudgingly bought one of those 9ft cat trees from Walmart for about 30$, and began to set it up when he got home, mumbling under his breath the entire time. Just as Dad finished the cat tree, Dummy walked into the living room. His pupils dilated as he took in the glory, and he made a beeline for the majesty that stood before him.
If you’re a cat owner, you know that the majesty was not the cat tree, but the box it came in. I howled in laughter as Dad repeatedly placed the cat onto the tree, only for him to belly flop back into his box. Looking back, I don’t know why I found it so funny, but I laughed until I was sore. Maybe it’s one of those “you had to be there” moments, maybe I just really needed a reason to smile. All I know is, I never let that night go. That year for Halloween, I went as a black cat. The week before, I had made Mom drive for 30 minutes past houses until we found a cardboard box big enough for me to sit in, just like Dummy had, for a picture to send to my grandma. I’ll never forget that mom drove all that time to find a box that we would just toss in the garage after one picture. Mostly because that would be the last kindness she would ever show me.
I never got to go trick-or-treating that Halloween. We were waiting for Dad to come home so he could be on candy duty while we went out. I was getting pretty frustrated, because he was already seven minutes late. While that’s not a lot of time, to a fat kid on Halloween those seven minutes were everything. He finally got home about 15 minutes late, which wouldn’t have been so bad if he didn’t stab Mom in the stomach with a hunting knife as soon as he took his shoes off.
Mom screamed for me to run, and grabbed Dad’s face, digging her thumbs into his eyes. I ran into the hall, past the kitchen, and into the pantry. I held back heaving sobs as I listened to glass break and my mother’s screams. Shuffling. Scream. Thuds. Scratching. Scream. Slapping. Scream. Gunshot. No more screams.
I heard Dad’s feet shuffling across the hardwood floor of our living room, with the occasional stomp. He was drunk. “Here, kitty, kitty kitty,” he slurred, making occasional sloppy clicks with his tongue. Given my attire, now smudged with Ben Nye as from wiping my tears, I wasn’t sure whether he was calling to me or Dummy. Not that it matters now, since Dummy was the one he found. Purr. Meow. Hiss. Scream. Snap. No more screams.
The shuffling started becoming slightly lighter, as if he were walking farther away. There was a stagnant, terrifying silence for what must have been the longest minute of my life, followed by the sound of a door being broken open, and furniture being thrown against the walls. When I heard the creaking, strained, death rattle of my Anastasia music box, I knew that he was in my room. I waited until I heard more furniture being broken to mask whatever noise I would make creeping out of the pantry and into my garage.
Somewhere to hide. I had to find somewhere to hide. I had to find somewhere to hide. I had to find somewhere to hide I hadtofindsomewhereto hide Ihadtofi
My box. The box I had taken my Halloween picture in. A parting gift from Mom and Dummy. I grabbed the box and gingerly placed it near the boxes we used to store Halloween supplies, put a piece of packing tape on one of the flaps, and gently closed it over me. No sooner than I had, Dad busted in the garage. Terror washed over me, and I wasted every ounce of resolve I had trying not to scream. I thought of Dummy, safe and warm in his cat tree box. A sharp intake of breath escaped as I thought of sweet, trusting Dummy lying on the living room floor. I had to stay alive for Dummy. Dummy never let me down, so I needed to return the favor. I pretended to be Dummy, asleep and silent in his cardboard box. Drowning out the sounds of my father screaming my name. Drowning out the metallic echo of him throwing his tools at the garage wall. Drowning out the sounds of several boxes surrounding me being kicked in. Drowning out Dad’s sobs. Drowning out the gunshot. No more screams.
I moved with my grandma after that. After the first few weeks I started to settle down and adapt, despite my new-found habit of curling up in a box when I was anxious. I even made a few friends at my new school. After my first quarter, Grandpaw brought home a new kitten. This one I loved from the start. She was a gorgeous Russian Blue with ice-colored eyes who I named Bella. Despite the occasional spite puking and hissing, Bella was an angel. I spent all of my free time time with her, much to the dismay of my new friends. I loved sitting in boxes with her, brushing her, playing with string alongside her… I even learned that I liked tuna when I tried to eat some from the tin can on the ground like her! For me, Bella was half pet, half big sister. I was never bored, or lonely when I was playing with her. Since I let her choose most of our activities, I figure she saw me as a sister too. Bella never let me down.
It wasn’t until a little after my 13th birthday that I started getting into trouble for hissing at school. Eventually, my teacher had enough and gave me detention. After about 30 minutes into the dull punishment, I asked if I could leave. Keeping her eyes on her grading, she curtly informed me that if I wanted to act like an animal, I shouldn’t mind being caged up like one. To be honest, I barely remember scratching or biting her, but the next day I wasn’t allowed back at school, and a week later my grandparents were taken to court for Mrs. Alwell’s stitches and antibiotics. A week after that, they gave Bella away.
I was inconsolable. After the first week I ran out of tears to cry, but moving at all felt like wading water. Imagine the worse case of the flu you’ve ever gotten, minus the fever. The cloudiness, lethargy, and all-around shittiness was there in spaydes. Eventually, not even sitting in a box made me feel better. I guess it made sense. I felt closer to Dummy when I sat in boxes, but all I wanted now was to feel close to Bella.
So I began spite puking. Whenever I was sad, mad, hurt, anxious, and sometimes for no reason at all, I’d sneak into the bathroom and pay my food tax to the porcelain god. And that’s how I lost 70 pounds.
The next couple of years are kind of a blur. After I lost Bella, I just sort of shut down. When I wasn’t in school, I spent the days sleeping. Except on Saturdays. Or as I called them, “Caturdays.” Grandma and Grandpa never let me get another cat, but once I turned 16 I volunteered at the local shelter every Saturday. And for the first time, I was really, truly, genuinely popular. I learned so much from my new friends. Honestly, I think I learned more about life talking to Whiskers, Boots, Crookshanks and Mittens than I ever did in school. Not that I didn’t do well in school. I ended up being suspended for only two weeks after a very long apawlogy and a few visits with some quack counselor. I figured the only way I was going to get out of this city was to get into college, and studied my ass off accordingly.
By the time I was 17, I was a svelte, 110-pound young lady. Well, my grandparents would never refer to me as a “lady.” I had died my hair a dark, bluish grey, tended to stay up all night and I’ll admit it; I tried a few drugs. Nothing hard, just the occasional marijuana cig or Ketamine a couple of times to take the edge off. Still, after a while my grandparents’ protests died down, and we all kind of did our own thing. I still performed well in school and got a scholarship to a very respectful college a few states away in (you guessed it) veterinary medicine. When it was time to move, I packed my few belongings into my ’01 Ford Panther and chugged off. Grandma and Grandpa didn’t even leave the house to see me off. The last I saw them, they were waving through the screen of the front door, forced smiles pinned to their faces.
Teachers in high school always told us that we would discover the focus of the rest of our lives at college, but I didn’t think I’d find it at orientation. His name was Tom, and he was an English major. We were sitting next to each other during the Dean’s entrance speech when he noticed my Grumpy Cat notepad. “That’s how I feel a lot of the time,” he whispered, pointing to the cover and winking at me with ice-colored eyes. I quickly and silently nodded, not really sure how to respond the rare event of a person talking to me for no discernible reason. Tom ran his fingers through his sleek, short black hair and turned back to me.
“So, what’re you in for?”
“V…vet…veterinary medicine,” I mumbled. Tom heaved a sigh, shaking his head at me in feigned sympathy. “Geez…I heard that carries a pretty harsh sentence. What is it, like 8 years?” I couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah, yeah. Once I finish up here I’m getting transferred to Doctorate Penn.” “I guess it’s a safe bet to say you’re an animal lover?” “Yeah, but I really want to specialize in feline care, um, cats.” “Oooooh, cats. Love cats. I have one at home, Peter Gunn.” He unlocked his iPhone and pulled up a picture of him holding an absolutely precious moggy in sunglasses. As the cavernous echo of the Dean clearing his throat reverberated throughout the auditorium, we snapped to attention and stared forward at the stage.
I don’t exactly know how many minutes the Dean’s speech was, but it was all the time I needed to decide that I really, really liked Tom. And when the speech was over, and he jetted out with a “see you around, kitten,” it was all I needed to decide that I loved him. The next time I saw Tom, it was at the campus coffee shop. I was sipping on a Caphin and working on some useless gen-ed assignment when I jumped at the sound of a chair scraping against the concrete floor. Tom invited himself down, asked how classes were going, and that simple question transformed into a three-hour-long conversation about life, ideals, and of course, cats. When we finally decided to pack up and go our separate ways, Tom told me the next time we see each other should be soon, dinner, and on him.
By sophomore year, we were sharing an apartment. I had starting collecting cat-themed decorations on Etsy during the summer, so by the time we were unpacked, I was in my own little utopia. It wasn’t much, a few pillows, pictures, wood carvings, statues, dinnerware…but it was mine, and it was home. Tom brought Peter Gunn from his house, and on our anniversary, he took me to a shelter and we welcomed Francis and Pascal to our little clowder.
At first, life seemed purrfect. We had both started doing classes that actually meant shit towards our majors, and got decent grades. After we’d get home from class we did our work, and always had enough time to watch a movie or episode of a television show before we went to bed. We took turns doing chores like cooking, cleaning, taking care of the cats…we were a great family. And let me say, the sex was pretty fantastic. We weren’t into anything extreme, but it drove Tom crazy when I would purr and roll onto my back, slowly bat my eyes at him, and streeeeeeeeeeetch out, only to give him a few playful “love bites” if he touched me too early (Thanks for the tip, Francis!). I think that when I die, if I’m really good person, my heaven will be an endless loop of those months.
Of course, I probably wouldn’t be telling you all this if things stayed so perfect. I don’t know if he was depressed, or just stressed out from the coursework, but Tom began to grow confused during the second semester. He started drinking more. He started coming home later, and even stopped having time to watch T.V. with the family at night. He started thinking that he wanted to spend more time with other people, instead of me and the cats. He became irritable, and would take out his anger on me over the smallest things, like leaving out a dish or buying more home goods online. He eventually began asking me if I could “slow down on the whole cat thing.” That’s how I realized how confused he was. You see, I told him about my past, and how important it is that I respect the memory of a lifetime of mentors and teachers, and he said he understood. I told him how cats had never let me down, and he said he understood. So you can probably understand my own confusion, and hurt, when he called me a freak and stormed out of the apartment with his things and Peter Gunn a month ago.
Well, I finally realized what had caused his sudden change in behavior; he was put up to it. For the first two weeks, I had been desperately searching online for some way to win him back, some way to submit to him and show my affection, some way to make him realize once and for all that I was eternally his. Somehow, I ended up finding his Facebook account. And the pictures. Pictures of him and another English major I’ve seen around campus, Robin Miller. Pictures of them together, at pictures of them at parties, pictures of them at a bar, pictures of them sharing drinks, pictures of his arm around her waist, pictures of them smiling. But behind those smiles, I saw the sadness in Tom’s eyes. He missed me.
I immediately called him and told him that I found the pictures of him and Robin, and that he didn’t need to listen to her, or be with her. I know how miserable he is, and he didn’t need to apologize. I would welcome Peter Gunn back and him back with open arms. I heard nothing but the faint white noise of an ongoing call for a while. Finally, Tom let out a sigh, and hung up. A week passed, and on a bright Saturday morning I woke up to one voicemail message.
You have ONE new voicemail Saturday, MAY SIX-TEENTH, THREE. TWENTY-TWO. AM.
Jessica, it’s Tom. I wasn’t going to call you but…it wouldn’t be right to end things like that. Listen. We aren’t going to work. I can’t…make this work. The cat thing, the antisocial thing…I just can’t deal with it anymore. I can’t live my life like a hermit. I don’t hate you, but I am worried about you. You are a wonderful woman, and you have so much to offer to the world. You shouldn’t waste all of your kindness, and humor, and heart on nothing but cats. Robin is the person best for me right now, and probably what I needed for a long time. I know that if you get out there and meet people, you’ll find a guy who is so much better for you than I was. I know you probably won’t want to see me for a while, but at some point, I hope we can be friends. Robin really wants to meet you. I was telling her about Francis and Pascal, and she thought the names were really smart. Heh, she said she was a crazy cat lady herself. Just not…Well, I’ll see you later. Take care of yourself.
I’m not sure how I missed it the first twenty-seven times, but after replaying it again, I heard Robin breathing behind him in the message. A grim realization crept up my back in cleated shoes and whispered into my ear. My poor Tom was convinced that Robin loved him more than I did.
And that brings me to right now. I hope, that by reading this, you understand now that I’m doing the right thing. That you understand that there really is no other choice. I don’t want to be labeled as those Pinterest fodder phonies who pretend that they have some special relationship with cats for likes. I really do. Cats have always taught me what to do, and they have never let me down. To not listen would be taken them for granted. You see, about an hour ago, Pascal left a mangled, red-breasted bird on my porch step. I felt loved.
Written by KreepyKrystal