The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes, focusing mainly on relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, and self). I will be publishing the series on Wednesdays.
I’m 22 when Simone comes into my life. She — I don’t know she’s a she right away — shows up at my doorstep several days in a row, and on the third day I pick her up and take her to the neighbors’ place. The two girls live in the apartment behind mine and have said they’ll take her in.
After five days, they bring her back, drop her in my arms and say, “Here, we can’t take care of her anymore.”
“Well, what does she eat?” I call after them as they walk away. I’ve never had a cat before, let alone a 10-day-old kitten.
“We feed her hot dogs,” one of the girls replies.
The vet tells me she has fleas, ringworm, and ear mites. He also says she’s got a temper, but with the right person she’ll make a very good pet. I name her Simone.
My ex-boyfriend lives right across the street from me and this time of year he hangs out in the front yard with his shirt off playing hackey-sack with his friends. Sometimes I see him watering his garden and sometimes he just sits on his porch, smoking a pipe, staring off into the distance, thinking about God knows what. We broke up seven months ago and when I pass his apartment I still slow down and dare him to look at me. But he never does. It’s like I don’t even exist.
I get a leash for Simone and start taking her out for “walks.” Mostly I just carry her in my arms and coo at her like she’s a baby. I walk past my ex-boyfriend’s place and stop right in front of his porch. I know he sees me. I know he sees my cat. “I am so over you!” I mentally scream at him. “I have a cat and I am so over you!”
In the fall I start dating someone else. We get serious. I stop taking Simone on walks. Now I take her to my new boyfriend’s place. I take her over so we can all be together — my new boyfriend, me, his two cats, and Simone. I want to show him we can be a family.
I want to get away from Springfield. I want to get away from my ex-boyfriend and everything here and go to Chicago and start over, but I don’t want to go alone.
“You can come with me!” I say to my new boyfriend. “We can all go together — you and me and the cats and we’ll be a family.”
So we find an apartment and quit our jobs and load up my car and a moving truck and drive to Chicago. I ride in front in my car with Simone and when Springfield is a dot in my rearview mirror, I tell her: “We’re starting over, Simone!”
In Chicago Simone gets an infection on her tail and the vet thinks it’s cancer and cuts the tip. It gets gangreen and won’t heal. I take her to a new vet and he cuts a little more. The gangreen spreads and soon the whole tail has to be amputated. That summer, Simone lives with a plastic funnel around her neck and takes kitty vicodon at every meal, and I slowly realize Chicago hasn’t solved all my problems like I thought it would.
The year I turn 27 Simone and I are on our own again, just the two of us in an apartment I paint a rainbow of colors. For two years, before Miles and before Drew, it’s just us. It’s just me and this cat and these walls and my friends and I learn to stop pantamiming. I get a bike.
I get a bike and I ride all over the city and sometimes I think about old boyfriends and what could have been and what I’m glad is not. I ride for miles and miles and look out over the lake and think about how it’s almost like an ocean and the horizon’s so far away and it’s fun to imagine another continent on the other side even though I know it’s just Michigan.
When Simone is eight and I’m 31, and it’s no longer just the two of us anymore, we pack up and move to New York City. I carry her in a bag under my seat on the plane and when we get to the apartment in Manhattan, I open it up and say: “Welcome to our new home!” It doesn’t feel like home yet, but I’m willing to give it a chance and I hope she will, too.
A year and a half after we move in, Drew asks me to marry him on a snowy afternoon in Central Park. I say yes, and then I say, “Let’s go tell the cats!” We go home and tell them the news and Simone leaps seven feet in the air.
A year after our wedding, we all move to an apartment on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn. Simone spends sunny days on a leash on the balcony, as content as I’ve ever seen her. I get pregnant and have a baby. Simone, the cat who hisses at anyone who looks at her funny, decides the baby is hers. She dotes on him, following him from one room to another, sitting next to me as I feed him, playing with him on the floor when he gets mobile. He pulls her whiskers and she purrs. He pokes her in the ear and she rubs her head against his hand. She is like I’ve never seen her before. She is maternal and patient and generous. She is, after almost 13 years, living the life she always wanted.
“This is our family,” I say to the baby one morning when the five of us — Drew and me and Jackson and Miles and Simone — are piled in bed. We’re a family, and it’s what we always wanted.