My mother used to make me macaroni and cheese from the box all the time before she left. During my parents’ custody battle, she argued for sole custody on the basis that she knew how to make it the best for I liked it stiff and rich and hated when it was runny or when the cheese was just a soupy mess in the bowl divorced from the noodles entirely. This was really all her evidence. My ex-boyfriend, G, used to make macaroni and cheese, too, although he made his from scratch. You can dote on someone even if you don’t really love them. Now I spend all my time with the cat from hell. Radar is his name, and after we broke up, G saw a picture of the cat and told me he loved little “Ray Ray.” It stuck to my gums like powdered cheese that doesn’t dissolve.
Ray Ray doesn’t like me so much he bites me. I guess he prefers the taste of pain to table scraps. It’s like he can smell my desperation. He knows his procurement means that I am at the end of my life, rapidly succumbing to the loneliness I feel, somehow maturing to sixty, seventy years old in a fortnight, staying in to liquidate my savings on cat trees and chef inspired cat treats and perish penniless in my bed stripped of sheets, beguiling Radar to snack upon my eyeballs in one last final hurrah.
“Love bites” say some on the Internet, but it all hurts so much. I lather my fingers with lemon peels, discovering delicious new cuts each time. Citrus seems to stop him from biting, from tasting me, so sour and bitter, but it also stops friends, peers, and other humans from getting too close to me. I rub lemon peels on the walls at four in the morning to prevent him from scratching the walls and eating the card stock posters taped haphazardly to the walls frameless and untamed. He has eaten, and bitten, and scratched his way through my home and some days it feels like he’ll never ever stop.
G broke up with me and I adopted a cat because I wanted something to love—something that wouldn’t say anything ignoble like “I’m honored by the feelings you trust me with, I just don’t feel the same way.” Truth be told, Radar often looked at me with disdain whenever I dared profess my love for him, too. It’s only been three weeks, you’re just confused, I felt him purr early in our relationship. Although, the ambiguity of his cat-speech also made it seem like he disdained any future actions, knowing before I did that I made it a habit of acting idiotic, like texting my ex “JK!” in order to salvage any sense of pride. Just kidding! Jokes on you, I don’t love anyone, not even myself! It’s only been three weeks, you’re just confused, I felt Radar purr again.
I can’t imagine entertaining as I once had, inviting a man over to my apartment for dinner only to have to wrestle forth the stove knob covers and unclip the cabinet locks and explain that everything smelled like rotting lemons because cats generally hated lemons. In my studio apartment, the litter box sits forlornly out in the open for all to behold, silently shaming any forthcoming romantic actions as if this were the town in Footloose. It has just been the two of us since the day I brought him home. G and I broke up because he was depressed: so unhappy that not even I made him happy when everything about me should have made him so ridiculously delirious. He thought we were simply meant to be “estranged companions.” He needed to be alone.
This plagued me for months so I spend my nights torturing myself with the etymology of the word ‘companion.’ A companion can be an animal, like Ray-Ray or the puppy that tailed G through his neighborhood once. He couldn’t catch it, so he led it around in a circle, trudging through a park trying to get it back home while people remarked on how cute the little dog was, thinking it was his, so he smiled and lied, gave it a fake name, not knowing how to explain that it was technically stolen. Finally, he returned to the house and the puppy bounded back into the yard as if nothing had ever happened.
There are also sexual connotations with the word ‘companion,’ like a sexual partner that exists outside the bounds of marriage. This kind of companion isn’t the purebred puppy one would bring home to the wife and kids. This kind of companion is the stray you leave a can of tuna for out in the alley. My dad said when he met my mother idle gossip whirled about her sexual promiscuity. Alley cat, some of her coworkers called her. It didn’t stop their marriage but it’s why they would eventually get divorced. My mother didn’t like to be alone, in any sense of the word. The minute she felt lonely in her marriage she found someone new. I tried to let myself stew in the loneliness to spite her but I couldn’t—so I let the cat nibble on my fingers and I pretend it doesn’t hurt.
I have since stopped with the lemons and all the other Pinterest hacks and I simply let the little bastard cat bite me. In many strange ways, I love him for it. Before, I would shout “no!” and “bad!” as if to deter him but it never worked because he seemed to grow excited by my exclamations and only bit me more. Everyone says it’ll take awhile to get used to one another and this, I think, is why I do not find anyone else. I just sit in my chair and let the cat bite my hand which feeds him twice a day. Sometimes when the cat bites badly, I pick him up and cradle him like a baby where at first he squirms and writhes attempting to extricate himself from the prison of my arms, but soon he falls defeated, sinking into the soft comfort of those same arms. He stops biting then, unsure of what to do next. I will bounce him slightly, swaying him in my arms, and remind him that he does not have to claw his way from the womb like I did. He doesn’t need to scratch himself free from my home; we’re both safe here now, and can only hurt each other.