An old, square brick building greeted us from the neighborhood street, heat and humidity pouring into the car the moment I get out.
“I’m sweating,” I told my best friend.
She laughed as we crossed the street, meeting up with the girl we followed here. We all spent the night together at my friend’s apartment, the three of us awkwardly spread out between a bed, an air mattress, and the couch—three queers not yet sure of sleeping arrangement etiquette when none of you are actually dating dating.
My friend met Alicyn on Tinder. And in the small world of sapphics, Alicyn and I knew each other from a year or so of mutual Twitter following. I knew she was a funny and talented graphic design student; she knew I was a writer in a long-distance relationship with my British girlfriend.
We met inside her shared apartment, taking seats on a futon, setting water on a hand-painted coffee table. We small-talked while all three cat residents entertained us.
One leapt onto an unstable cat tree, teetering there to reach out for my fingers. She meowed at the attention, flashing spring green eyes and rolling her head into my hand, chirping into the movement. Sunlight blasting in from the window illuminated orange freckling against her black, shiny coat.
“That’s Eloise,” Alicyn said. “She’s mine.” The others belonged to her roommate.
Eloise on the Move
Alicyn moved back home for a summer—much closer to my parents’ house than the westward trips out to Grand Rapids where her and my friend stopped dating before they started dating.
Eloise screamed for attention when I caught her skidding through hallways of the family home paneled with hard flooring. Alicyn’s sister made a brief complaint accompanied by the playful gratitude that Al would be taking Eloise back to Grand Rapids soon. The cat never made a quiet appearance.
I spent four months abroad visiting my girlfriend, and Alicyn started dating someone new. I came home to her in a honeymoon bliss and met them when the three of us helped move Al to a new apartment in GR.
I talked to Al’s girlfriend at her birthday party, laughing over the matching diagnosis they shared with my girlfriend while Eloise crawled over the back of the couch, chirping instead of wailing. Her fur ran softer under my fingertips after a few Whiteclaws.
In less than a year, Al planned to move to Detroit with them. But they were extremely allergic to cats. Al planted the idea then—“You and Eloise are perfect for each other”—and I discarded the offer the moment she said it, knowing my dad would never agree to housing a cat again.
Dad, Can I Have a Cat?
With a signed lease for Detroit and Al set to move the following spring, Eloise needed a new home. Depressed and aching every day I spent away from my girlfriend, I found an Eloise-shaped hole in my life. I confronted my dad with her offer.
I laid on the bed with him while he watched a sporting match, beer on the nightstand, Dad’s formula for a good mood. I gave him my rehearsed lines.
“You know how Al is moving?” He did.
“Yeah, her girlfriend is super allergic to cats.” He nodded.
“I thought, you know, maybe I could take her? She could stay upstairs with me. You wouldn’t even know she’s here.”
His body fell, collapsed almost, shoulders drooping in, finger and thumb pinching the bridge of his nose. “Don’t tell me you have a cat up there right now.”
My throat burned, knowing I’d never given him a reason to believe I’d do something without his permission, even at my big age of twenty-three. “I wouldn’t do that,” I wanted to spit at him, but it came out with a laugh.
“I don’t want a cat here.”
I swallowed. “I know. But maybe…think about it, okay?” He didn’t respond, and I jumped out of the room, ensuring the cries escaped only after I made it out of earshot. We never talked about it again.
Cat Cookies on a Crocheted Blanket
Alicyn drove me to the Chicago airport to pick up my girlfriend in the fall. We spent the night at her temporary home in GR where I brought my newly-crocheted lesbian blanket for my girlfriend to use that night we brought her back. Eloise crawled all over the blanket and made cookies with it. She welcomed ear scratches and strokes down her lanky body, mewing constantly and shifting around in my lap for as long as I would pet her. With paws tucked into a comfortable fold, her head leaned into each stroke, purrs vibrating us both.
When we got my girlfriend back to the house, she curled up with the blanket on the couch, sleepy from jet lag. Eloise laid with her, offering noisy complaints when my girlfriend’s hand grew too exhausted to continue stroking.
Eloise on the Move pt. 2
Alicyn didn’t move to Detroit. Instead, she spent a family cruise drinking away a breakup that lasted for months and stayed in GR to finish out the school year. Glimpses of her private Twitter told me that she wasn’t handling life. And with my girlfriend traveling back home after our two months of holiday bliss, neither was I.
“What if I come stay with you for a week?” I offered, desperate to find a way to make sure Al was taking care of herself, desperate to find a way to not cry at the sight of my half-empty bed.
I traveled there at the end of March, right as the entire state shut down at the first scares of the coronavirus. Al lost her job at Applebee’s and we spent the entire week on her couch watching Desperate Housewives with her roommate.
I worked from that couch before Al woke up in the morning. Sometimes her roommate would sit on the other couch, and we’d work together while Eloise and the other cats did their best to distract us with crying, walking over laps and keyboards, and, in Eloise’s case, relentlessly chewing on the windows blind strings.
We watched two of the cats skirt around the apartment each day with a laser pointer, while the other found himself too smart to be tricked by a gleam of red. Eloise and the other fool raced to catch the dot; Eloise won every time. Sometimes I purposefully pointed the laser away from Eloise just to give the other girl a chance.
Al went to bed early the night we watched Gone Girl on the couch with her roommate, and Eloise purred on my chest until my eyelids slipped shut. The weight of her on my heart contained late night palpitations. Her purrs flowed through me, like my heartbeats carried her warmth in the currents under my skin. In the thirty minutes of leg-bent couch napping, I slept perfectly without my girlfriend. Maybe for the first time since she left.
COVID shut down businesses that week we spent together, forcing Al to pick a future in a day. Her plans to move and get a design job in Ferndale dwindled as her parents worried no agencies would be hiring. Instead, she made a temporary move in the coming weeks into a house with her sister on the east side, taking Eloise into a new home with what would soon be three other cats.
Cat as Breakup Collateral
Fall began with partial breakup, Alicyn making that delayed move to Ferndale and picking up a design job at a startup dispensary. No cats in the new apartment. Convinced she would break the rules for Eloise anyway, Al’s heart broke when she learned her new roommate kept her own cat at her boyfriend’s house because of the landlord’s strict rules. Eloise remained at her sister’s place, an hour away.
When we finally saw each other again, we spent weeks together in our desperation to heal loneliness from missing others and missing each other. We drove out to her sister’s house on Thanksgiving to drop off and pickup items, and Eloise chirped at us upon arrival. The other cats competed for our attention.
“Do you think she hates me?” Al asked. Eloise only chirped.
“Did Gabby say she would take her?” Her sister asked, inquiring on an update for whether or not they could re-house Eloise to make room for a new kitten.
Al mumbled a bit, confirming the partial-ex of the summer agreed to take Eloise. “We’re doing fine. We’re like—friends.” We all laughed at the abrupt shift in the sentence and in their relationship. “Don’t really wanna set Eloise up for a divorced parent situation, though.” But the subject moved onto the next before anyone heard the concern.
Snow fell at Christmas this year, and anytime my mom asked what I wanted for this awkward, party-less holiday, I said “a cat,” like a childhood version of myself who begged for a guinea pig three birthdays in a row, knowing damn well I would never get one.
“Have you opened your presents yet?” Al texted me on Christmas day while I waited for my sister and her boyfriend to join us for dinner.
We sat on the living room floor like kids, handing off presents and throwing torn paper at across the room, aiming for an opened garbage bag and missing half the shots.
The last present my mom handed to me was long and skinny. I shook it a few times, trying to guess. It rattled around, almost weightless. Maybe a poster? I peeled back the paper, opening the box, and a toy mouse fell out. I dared not even think the thoughts swirling around in my head. I dared not pin this clue to my wish.
“We talked to Alicyn,” my mom said. “You can have Eloise.”
Speechless, tears stung in my eyes. Burning there, hot and unbelieving. “I might cry,” I said, though everyone could see the tears forming.
Alicyn and I spent a day at her sister’s house in January, playing games and collecting Eloise. She cried the whole way to my house, and I pulsated with guilt over taking her away from cat friends again. She screamed the whole night and for three nights after that.
Taurus Cat Parent, Taurus Cat Child
After a month or two of adjusting, I learned how to take care of a cat again. With $100 monthly checkouts at Chewy.com, I finally found a cat scratching post she likes by March—only took four attempts. Amongst all the toys I’ve scattered over the carpet, she prefers shoelaces and paper.
Each night we go to sleep together with her on my chest, and we spend every morning the same way while I sip coffee and read. She’s noisy and relentless but I admire the way she never stops demanding attention until she gets it. I bought her a laser pointer, and every time she runs wild, the dogs come upstairs to see what all the fuss is about. At four years old, she refuses to let the first two dogs in her life come too close, but she usually refrains from hissing now.
At the start of March, I switched her over to biodegradable cat litter. Regretfully, without mixing it. I forced her to quit her clay litter cold turkey and paid the price.
Eloise refused to shit for three days. After awaking the next morning and noting no use of the new litter box, I bought a jug of her normal litter, pouring it on top of the new litter to ease her into it. When I returned from the store to carry out this plan, Eloise had peed in her own cat bed, too embarrassed to pee outside of the box in front of me and too respectful to pee anywhere but in her own bed.
By afternoon the next day and still no use of the mixed litter, I dumped the entire box, refilling it with only the clay litter. “Back to normal,” I told her. “You showed me! I promise I won’t try that again.” She had other plans. I still had a lesson to learn.
Day three and she hasn’t pooped. Stressed and pacing around, returning to the spot where her cat bed used to be, I knew she was again refusing to use her litter box, though all changes were back to normal: location, litter, all of it. But still, she refused. In a desperate panic, I put a cardboard box in a garbage bag, filling it with litter, placing it on the floor. She immediately pooped and peed in the makeshift box.
Two weeks later and after dumping her normal cat box for the third time and washing it out entirely with soap and water, she still refuses to use her cat box. We’re still on cardboard and garbage bags.
“Bet she’s a Taurus,” I texted Al after providing an update on the cat box situation. “Only a Taurus or a Virgo would be pull this bullshit on particulars.”
“I got her at the start of June and she was 6 weeks old…” Al reported. Taurus. Figures.
When Alicyn visits, Eloise sleeps in bed with both of us, whining in the morning for one to get up and pet her. It’s always me; Al sleeps through it.
Soon Eloise and I will be moving to Ferndale too, into a house with two other cats. Al says she won’t screech as much living with other felines, and I look forward to the day I can poop in peace without her howling and sticking her paws under the bathroom door. But I’ll be shedding a few tears if she prefers sleeping on someone else’s bed each night.
At just four minutes away, Al can see her every day, and Eloise and I will never get sick of it.