I Fucking Hate My Cat

Sometimes, at dinner or over brunch, my friends will ask me how my cat is.

"How is Helen?" They'll say, in the same tone of voice used to ask after ill relatives or new boyfriends. I think they think they're being funny, but it's really just weird. I have no good answer because my cat is almost always the same. Nothing happens to her. She's a cat.

But I'll indulge them. "The way she always is," I'll say. "A piece of shit. I fucking hate her."

"Ha ha!" They'll say, shaking their heads. "That can't be true." "But it is," I insist. "She's the absolute worst." She's the reason I can't live in some very nice apartment buildings. She's a pain in my ass. She's a questionable decision, at best.

I mean, I love my cat. Duh. But my deep, bewildering love for her is a private affair, and moreover it creates problems in my everyday life. Problems that I chose to have, apparently, when I purchased this animal, which makes me wonder exactly what kind of idiot I am.

They aren't even interesting problems either. Like all cats, Helen's malice is mostly mild. Despite having three scratching posts, she rips up armchairs, LP sleeves, books I'm reading, notebooks I'm writing in, cardboard boxes, luggage, mail. She pushes my shit off shelves and breaks glasses. She jumps on me while I sleep.

This morning she managed to open a bottle of antibiotics and spill it onto my bathroom floor. "Whyyyyy," I said quietly. I didn't even scream, because I am that abused at this point, totally accustomed to this behavior. I get that Helen's emotions don't function like mine (she's a cat), and I'm usually projecting whatever else is going on in my life onto her tiny frame. But I really don't know why I put up with it.

I can't be alone in having this dynamic with my pet, but sometimes it feels like I am. People I know post adorable pictures of their cats online at a near-constant rate, guessing what it seems like the cat is saying, if only it could speak English. Complex stuff like "Hi!" or "Oh no!" or "Uh oh!" Helen is never saying "Uh oh." Helen does not want to talk. We have taken one selfie together, and she looks fucking furious in it. At me for taking the picture, at the world. That's her resting face, too: a look of pure animus.

Women especially seem to identify with their animals and project feminine traits onto them. "Me IRL," one woman says about a picture of her cat on its back with its eyes closed, having a completely unremarkable nap. Another tweets that her cat is prettier than her. I guess I should be impressed, that these women are so observant of their cats. They are their cats, or at least can aspire to be them, IRL. Am I alone in finding this dependency and stereotype fulfillment totally embarrassing? How can you flaunt your loosening grasp on reality?

I know I'm not allowing for the fact that life is hard (so hard!), and sometimes you just want to see a cute animal doing some bullshit, preferably in a situation reserved for humans, because at least that animal doesn't have a horrendous point of view on race, religion, equal pay, and/or gun regulation. But I cannot see a version of myself who is compelled to show pictures of my cat to strangers. I did not give birth to this thing; it is an accident that we crossed paths.

Thus my relationship with Helen is largely carried out behind closed doors. When I got her, I was experiencing intense seasonal affective disorder, dreading the thought of more snow and fewer hours of daylight. In my search for one of those lamps that you stand under for twenty minutes every morning to simulate better times, I read something online about pets being good for your mood. I asked my boyfriend, with whom I lived at the time, if we could get a cat. He seemed into it, as he had always been a cat lover, but I knew he was mostly doing this for me; my depression often would get unmanageable, and he wanted to help.

We walked from our apartment to West 84th Street, where there were trucks and kittens in carriers meowing at the sidewalk and the sky, generally unable to control themselves. A guy in a stained shirt was pacing around the carriers. His name was Des. He asked us if we wanted to adopt a cat. We nodded. Then he asked us to describe what we wanted.

Neither of us had owned a cat in the city, so we were drawing a blank. We decided to admit we had no clue, so Des asked us leading questions. What did we do for a living, what did we do around our apartment, how affectionate was too affectionate? We answered vaguely. We were both writers with day jobs, and we threw parties sometimes in our apartment. Really, we liked to do things most people liked to do. Watch movies, cook dinner, have that sort of blissfully dull life. And we liked affection fine, although expressing a moderate opinion on this subject made me worry that I was coming off as cold. I started to think I wouldn't like having a cat, and the cat wouldn't like me, and my solution would just become another problem, this time involving my boyfriend more directly, leading to fights about litter and cat hair and whatever else I couldn't predict.

Des suggested Helen. Helen was four or five years old, and she had backed herself into a corner of her carrier, away from all the people. She did not respond to either of us. As a kitten, she had been rescued by a woman who, three years in, decided to give her back. Give her back! What kind of horrorshow gives a pet back to the shelter? Des explained with raised eyebrows that the previous owner had "met a woman" and the new flame hadn't wanted to live with the cat. Jesus Christ. This backstory of abandonment immediately endeared me to her, as she seemed to hate everything in her line of vision.

I will never understand the women who gave up my cat. I think of what it must have been like when Helen was dropped off at the shelter, and I almost leap out of my skin. I mean, out of all the cats in the world, why reject Helen? She's extremely cute, weighing in at nine pounds, most likely the runt of the litter. She rarely yowls. She chirps or purrs loudly. Her ears are so soft, and she lets me play with her paws. She doesn't cough up hairballs or vomit randomly, like some cats I've heard about. She can be very cuddly and affectionate when no one else is around, but she isn't clingy. In spite of all her bad traits, she's a pretty good cat.

My boyfriend and I broke up, and we decided to move out of our apartment. It was obvious who would get Helen; the second we split, she clung to me, sleeping by my side and mostly ignoring him. The year that followed, I moved three times. In each move, Helen did very little to stress me out, even though she is a cat and thus hates being moved anywhere. (That's not to say that she's been easy. She has been an annoyance for at least two roommates, and she took great joy in intimidating and stalking one roommate's cat who was about three times her size. She meows loudly sometimes, and I'll have no idea what the deal is. Based on some message board talk, I have decided she's just complaining.)

Now Helen is my only roommate. She will often try to spoon me, attempting to be the big spoon. She drools. She possesses an outsize sense of confidence. Last year I bought an air conditioner, a window unit. When I opened the window wide enough and turned to pick up the unit to install it, Helen decided to explore. I turned just in time to see her stepping out the window, perhaps expecting to feel anything but air, and I screamed. I dropped the AC, grabbed her away from the ledge, and burst into tears. Because I would have no one but myself to blame for her demise by defenestration. I immediately had a panic attack.

Helen is a pain, but she's mine. The thing about her is that she mostly treats the world with indifference, so I have to be the one who cares about her. And, mostly, I actually do. I want to make sure that she doesn't die too soon, that she's happy while she's alive, that she's living the best life she can live. Worst of all, I might not succeed. I could fail. And I fucking hate the thought of that.