Sketch’s cat is dying. It’s down to a couple of pounds and it feels like a sock filled with radio dials, all claws and bones and bulging eyes. “He’s OK,” Sketch insists. He loves this cat, carries it purring around his studio. It likes to be hoisted by its scruff, limp as a chamois cloth, all its toes spread wide and its black fur sticking out at odd angles. You wouldn’t think anyone could love something so ugly; it gives me hope.
“Maybe you should take him to the vet. He’s too skinny.”
“No, he’s OK.” He gathers the cat protectively into his body, where it blinks at me, probably 90% tumor. “I don’t want to think about what I would do without this guy.”
This is not my cat, but it has kept me separated from a solid night of sleep for the last thirteen years so I’m not uninvested. When I first met Sketch, his cats were kittens, one black, one white, both determined to make sure the other never got to eat from the bowl. The black cat ate a bunch of thread once, when I left a spool on the coffee table, and it needed six hours of surgery to remove it and I think it still holds it against me. They call them string cats, which sounds like a children’s toy or a physics theory; Sketch’s cat is a survivor.
We are not, it seems, going to own up to everything that is true here. It’s OK. Sketch loves me, the way he loves this dying cat. He likes to carry me around too. We have a bunch of the kind of sex we both like and I sleep right at the edge of the mattress, encouraging the cat to go sleep on Sketch’s side of the bed because it keeps waking me up, pacing the margins of my pillow like a prison guard. I dream that Sketch and I are flying to Australia, and I wake up feeling argumentative and dissatisfied; even asleep I have to admit to myself that as much as I love him, I prefer to travel by myself, to get to be in entirely in charge of the agenda and to make my mistakes in private. If I want to join a wallaby gang, I will join a wallaby gang (I think their initiation rites involve a lot of hugging).
So here it is: I am a sex and love addict who also needs to be free and alone. The happiest times of my life, when I have felt most perfectly myself, have been when I’m off exploring on my own, or when I’m sitting at my computer at six in the morning, before anyone is up. I like to be alone. I don’t know why this is hitting me with the force of revelation this week, but it is hugely comforting to just admit out loud that I’m single because I want to be.
Or maybe it’s because I finally printed out a copy of my book; seeing it unspool from the printer unpacks something in me, looking with my fists balled under my chin at this thing that I made. It makes me laugh: the manuscript is as thick as a phone book, one where you can find the numbers and advertisements for all the people I have loved and the hostages I have taken. Its bulk reminds me of being at Columbia and how my graduate thesis was twenty times longer than anyone else’s, and how humiliating that was, but how it was too late to do anything about it but drop it on the pile like a bomb in a backpack and walk off quickly with my head down.
I message Michael Cunningham, once my thesis advisor, on Facebook, to apologize for being so lame all those years ago. He assures me that no time was wasted. I want to paste that up on the book jacket. No time was wasted.
I haven’t wasted my time. I’ve spent it, exactly the way I needed to, exactly as I was always meant to. I was always meant to wind up here, sitting naked in Sketch’s rocking chair with his computer, with him but still contentedly alone, working, listening to him snore softly. Nothing distracts me. I will have to show him the book soon, and I wonder if it will be like revealing that I have a tail or am secretly Portugese. Will he read what I have written and wonder: how could I have gone all this time and not known these things about her?
There is a scrawny cat, pawing at my ankle the way you would tap someone on the shoulder, looking for attention, hungry. I run my hand along its vertebrae. What do I know? Maybe Sketch’s cat is not dying, or at least maybe it isn’t dying soon. Maybe it is just supposed to be skinny.