I live with two cats. One is my special baby. He is old, nearly 18, and flat-faced as they come. He is a white persian, whose given name is Rumi. Mostly I just call him Manwhich The Magical Sandwich for reasons I cannot explain. If it were socially acceptable, I’d carry him around with me everywhere I go. Thankfully it is not.
Rumi and I are a lot alike. We’re fluffy, big-eyed, strangely-built creatures. We often look angry, but that’s just because we’re lost in thoughts about squirrels or boys' butts, respectively. We love being loved. Rumi is the only cat I’ve met who will willingly loll over so that his belly can be scratched. He wakes me up in the mornings by purring gently, if wetly, into my face. It’s sweet and disgusting. Because while I appreciate the sentiment, I know where his mouth has been and that is mostly buried deep in the slick filthy cavern of his own anus.
When Rumi is sick (which is often now that he is as old as the hills) my heart stutters in my chest. Not so long ago I nearly lost him for good. Then, after making it rain on a team of Brooklyn vets who surely frequent champagne rooms nightly and own a veritable fleet of Maybachs, we found an easy solution: We changed his food. Rumi is reborn, a new cat. That’s not quite true, he’s the same cat, only fatter and not shitting blood on every rug in the house.
But I live with two cats.
I didn’t choose Zoe. We wound up with each other. Rumi’s assorted nicknames are all fond. They are cooed, nonsense songs so sickly sweet I am surprised each morning to arise and not find Wilfred Brimley in my kitchen ready to talk to me about diabetes. Zoe doesn’t have nicknames. Not really.
I met her five years ago. She was already living in the apartment, with my now-former roommate. Zoe was here first. “And don’t you ever forget it,” her eyes seem to say almost constantly. It might as well be her family motto. I bet if you shaved her naked it would be tattooed on her chest in black gothic lettering. There would also be scars left behind from bullets and knives that did not kill her. She is fierce. She incites violence. She holds a grudge.
She is black and white, a mutt. Her eyes are the color of dijon mustard that’s been left out too long at a restaurant. No one used it. Everyone went for the butter. Her ears are big, bigger than you’d expect. “I bet she’s part Abyssinian,” I said once. It was the nicest thing I’ve ever said about her. She promptly pissed on my bed.
Zoe is an unholy terror. She’s the alpha. Because Rumi and I are so much alike, it’s not surprising to say that we both immediately made ourselves submissive to this powerful, bitchy beast. Rumi is now her slave. He sits there with the glazed over expression of a victim as she bites his neck and pretends to put a penis she does not have inside the vagina he does not have. She wakes me up at all hours for feeding and cuddling. Is it three am and you are sitting up in your bed from a dead sleep nervously petting a cat because you are scared if you stop she will bite your nose off? Then you are that cat’s bitch.
Zoe cries in the middle of the night. You’d think being queen of the night terrors I’d be sympathetic. I’m not. She sits in the window and wails like her heart is breaking. “She gets upset when the seasons change,” my then-roommate explained. I think she fancied Zoe to be a far more romantic soul than she really was. Another favorite spot of hers to wail? Outside my bedroom door. She jammed her face into the crack between frame and knob and sobbed. I caved every time and let her inside. She’d perch herself on my ass, digs her nails in and purr. The message was clear: “I own your ass.” Then, just to be sure there was no confusion, she threw up on the back of my neck.
When my former roommate moved away for graduate school, she couldn’t take Zoe with her. No one was more surprised than me when I said she could stay. The night my roommate left, I sat beside her on the couch and watched her as she sat beside me, staring at nothing. My ex roomie was Zoe’s third owner. I scratched Zoe’s head. She hissed at me. “Oh fuck you,” I said. I stopped petting, but I didn’t move from the couch. If every person who had ever cuddled me, doted on me, fought for me, left -- I’d be a pain in the ass monster-cat too.
I woke up and Zoe was in a heap on the floor. I remember reading in a book a description of a woman who fainted, how she looked like a marionette with her strings cut. I thought it was a dumb description. It is, still, I guess. But that’s what Zoe looked like. I called her name and she didn’t answer. I put my face right up to hers, she looked at me and blinked and purred. She tried to stand and looked drunk. Her head wobbled around on her shoulders like someone’s grandmother. She fell back over. Rumi was hiding under the bed, his ears flat. I felt like my left tit had been twisted right off.
At the emergency vet I thought, If I loved her more this wouldn’t have happened. If I didn’t yell at her this wouldn’t have happened. If I hadn’t tried to pawn her off on others, this wouldn’t have happened. I know these things aren’t true. But I’ve always made it all about me in the worst way when something terrible happens. I carried her home many hours later with medical jargon bouncing around my head: Cerebellar Ataxia, Serology Panel, Brain Tumor, Brain Tumor, Brain Tumor.
We’re waiting for one more test to come back before we make a decision. I don’t know who ‘we’ is here. I guess me and her. I’m on my belly on the floor of my bedroom and I’m staring at her while she sleeps on the safe soft nest I’ve made for her in the corner where she can’t fall over and hit her head. “Please just be an infection,” I whisper. I can’t believe this rude, loud, jerk has me nauseated, has me weepy. I poke her to make sure she’s alive. She opens one eye, tilts her head drunkenly and hisses at me. If Rumi has my heart, I don’t know what Zoe has, but it's more than I thought.
Cats will destroy your heart. Cats will rip you to shreds and you will never even see it coming.