Archive | Essays

A Cat Lady Testifies: Love Is Love

Though normally an early riser, I could not wake up in these last weeks before daylight savings time. I slept through phone calls, alarm clocks, even my neighbors’ noisy morning sex. Finally, my cat Grace took matters in her own hands. Not by yowling or ruining furniture or biting my toes but by carefully dragging all her toys next to my head, one by one, until I finally opened my eyes. Each morning I was greeted by a pile of soft feathers and strings and catnip mice and her sweet, worried face—the gentlest landing from a flight of sleep I could imagine. It reminded me of how lucky I am to live with such a considerate, tender-hearted little being. And how proud I am to be a cat lady.

These days the words old maid or spinster may be dismissed as outdated, even cruel, but cat lady is still bandied about unreservedly and with the same intent: as a derogatory term for an unattached female. A single woman in a Mrs. Whatsit getup of coffee-stained schlubby layers who reads dog-eared paperbacks, never misses her shows, eats from cans along with her furry wards. Who hasn’t got laid in decades and couldn’t if she tried. Who languishes in a cramped, overheated, urine-stained apartment piled high with dirty dishes, cigarette smoke, ratty furniture, and, of course, cat hair.

If it sounds awful, so be it. That’s the mishegas that gets thrown my way because I am Of A Certain Age and remain unmarried, childless, and domestically solitary save for a feline cohabitant—especially now that nearly everyone can get married and have kids. Forget about the fact that I live in an amazing city, enjoy my work and friends, love my considerate and charismatic roommate. Because she is a cat, there exists a two-word phrase that people can use to dismiss my life.

I am cat lady, hear me purr. Continue Reading →

The Church of Black Coffee, Broken Hearts

Heartbreak creeps up on me domestically.

I biochemically can’t get drunk or eat too much sugar. I’m too old to place vicious phone calls or stage street scenes. I’m too self-possessed to stalk. I’m ill-equipped for sobbing on someone’s shoulder. So being spurned transforms me instead into a befuddled natterer, the emotional equivalent of a violet-haired lady wearing one blue shoe and one brown shoe. Who doesn’t hear the kettle whistling until it’s utterly blackened. Who overflows the tub. Whose unopened mail piles up as she blankly watches her shows.

Which is not to say the distinctly unfresh smell of my car didn’t register with me this week–only that it registered very, very faintly. Really, I didn’t give it a second thought until this morning, when it dawned on me that the half-and-half I’d bought wasn’t in my fridge. That fact penetrated even my Billie Holiday fog for, no matter how bad things have ever gotten, I’ve always taken cream with my coffee. All metaphors attendant.

Upon my realization, I stopped short in my too-quiet kitchen and ran through all the events of the last week, fast-forwarding past the memory of his cold gaze as quickly as I could. My permakitten stood by my side, her tiny ears cocked supportively.

Finally I groaned, threw a trenchcoat over my nightgown, and ran down to the street, where I grimly opened my car trunk.

There rotted my groceries, purchased at Fairway right before I became a broken-hearted lady. The half and half, the parsley, the mint, the sweet little lambchops, the Bibb lettuce, the organic salmon, the locally sourced yogurt, and the toothpaste meant to replace the tube I’d emptied four days ago. Defeated, I stood motionlessly, staring. The spoils stared back accusingly: Where did you go? We’d had such plans together!

One of the neighborhood’s skinny Jeans popped out of her building just then, wrinkling her nose as she scurried by. I felt the sting of her young-girl disdain, her assuredness she’d never don such sadsack chic, never produce such a sadsack smell, never hold such a sadsack conversation with the slime of produce past. It was more than I was willing to bear.

Pride may goeth before a fall but sometimes it’s all that saves you from falling further. I straightened my spine, stowed the toothpaste in my pocket, and heaved the rest of those hopeful purchases into the garbage can on the corner. Then I marched back upstairs and brushed that man right out of my teeth.

And drank my coffee. Black.

The Church of Harriet the Spy: All Grown Up

Early this morning was lovely—clear, bright, and cool enough to merit a light sweater—so I kept wandering after I fetched my Americano. The old Italians were beatifically sipping espressos on their stoops; the neighborhood dogs seemed especially glad to be alive; even the Polish ladies managed thin smiles. It was so lovely that I felt unexpectedly melancholy about being on my own. No family with whom to somersault into the day, no strong arm through which to link my own. So I did what I always do when I feel blue: I wandered some more.

After a bit I stumbled upon a bagel place I’d never noticed before. As soon as I entered I knew it’d been a misstep. Junky mid-’90s music was blaring; the countermen looked like they’d gone from clubbing to schmearing with nary a wink of sleep. I ordered anyway. As a New Yorker, I consider it my civic responsibility to monitor all iterations of the city’s signature baked good.

Ahead of me in line stood an older couple who looked even more nonplussed than I felt. Both were clad head to toe in cheerful pastels that clashed boldly with their sour expressions, and the obvious care they’d taken with their clothing–neatly pressed and perfectly matched, right down to their socks–seemed obstinate rather than fastidious. Overall a fascinating fuck-you lurked in all that Sunday finery. When I leaned in to catch their conversation, though, they clammed right up, so I had to content myself with sneaking tiny looks at them as I inspected the shrilly tinted doughnuts on display. The man’s eyebrows and mustache were so bushy and grey they inhabited a century of their own, and she wore a pout so pronounced that the effect was more of a sulking bulldog than of the coquette she once might have been. Both sported the ornery bulk of people who weren’t going to modify their diets no matter how they’d been advised. I imagined they’d been together for at least 50 years, if only because they were too stubborn to part ways. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy