5.12 / December 2010


She comes home from work to find that her cat has died.

Unlike most cats, her cat has died in the middle of the kitchen floor. Quietly, she crouches down beside it, tilting her head to the side as she looks across the surface of the cat’s belly to see if there is any movement, to see if there is still breath within it.

There is none.

The tears come as quickly as the shaking — rocking on her haunches as she hugs herself as tight as she can. She has bit her lip so hard that she can taste pennies in her mouth. The lifeless cat, dry tongue sticking out between dry teeth, tears raining into fur. The silence of the apartment is overwhelming — the faint sounds of the streets below making their way up the twenty-two floors and through the concrete and steel. They are not enough to drown out the silence.

The cat had been her companion for years. She doted on it, as if it were a sickly child — spending thousands of dollars on veterinary bills for supposed allergies and actual behavioral issues — a child that she felt as if she could mold into being what she wanted it to be, a subservient ally, a living and breathing plush toy she could control at her whimsy.

Gathering herself as much as she can, she unfurls the pashmina from around her neck and gently covers the cat. Between gasps and tears, she pulls her cellphone from her purse and immediately dials her mother. Only her mother could understand this pain she is in, as her latest therapist had already fired her, telling her that her obsessions about the health of her cat “bordered on Munchausen syndrome by proxy.”

Pacing her apartment with her phone to her ear, she picks up empty pill bottles off of surface areas — Klonopin, Xanax, Valium, Lexapro, Adderall, Zoloft — running her finger through the powder of each empty bottle and bringing the dust to her mouth to try and bring her feet back to the ground, to try and find the center of her storm.

Her mother does not answer, so she leaves a rambling and cryptic message begging for her to call her back as soon as possible.

She curls herself up into the fetal position in the corner of her couch, still clutching at her phone so hard that heat emanates from it — trying to will her mother to call her back. With her other hand, she twists her fingers into her hair, violently pulling at it and removing huge broken chunks of it off that she then stuffs into her pants pocket.

This ritual with her hair is something that she has never even spoken to her therapists about — she is so secretive and embarrassed that she changes hairdressers as soon as they make mention of it. Once, she forgot that there were handfuls of her broken hair in the pockets of her wool coat that she dropped off at the dry cleaner — when they called her to ask her about it, she told them she had no such coat and that there must have been some sort of mistake.

When things were really bad, when it felt like she could no longer suppress the urge to step off of her balcony and drift to the street below, she would shove handfuls of the hair into her mouth, soaking it in saliva before swallowing it all in one choking gasp.

She did the same thing with her nail clippings that she kept in a music box under her bed.

The last ten minutes have felt like a lifetime. Her tears feel hot, as if they were made of blood. She tries to make herself stop, but she cannot breathe. She picks up her inhaler and exceeds her recommended daily dose in less than half a minute. There is a brief moment of elation from the high, and then she feels queasy. Her cat is dead in the middle of her kitchen floor, covered in her pashmina. She picks up a book from her coffee table and flings it across the room, smashing a porcelain figurine of one of her favorite comic book characters, scattering shards down onto the carpet. She loved that figurine — had it since high school.

It was that moment, looking at the broken pieces of something she cherished, where she realized she had loved her cat to death.