I picked up the book I’d started three months ago, traded the harsh gray overhead light for the old fashioned metal work lamp on the night stand, undid the top button of my pants, and lay back. Like clockwork the cat was already at work kneading my belly, nudging the book out of my hand with her little head, soft clawless paws pushing out and in, out and in. As the motions swelled in intensity a paw veered dangerously close to my sometimes ambivalently undescended left testicle. Her little pink mouth dropped closer and closer to the fabric of my shirt, stopping an eighth of an inch before landing and smudging a couple hot drops of saliva.
I scooped her up and kissed her roughly on the mouth, pressing the small protuberant fang with the pillow of my bottom lip, clumps of hair sticking to recently applied Vaseline like sticker burrs. The cat blushed, turned her face away in coquettish embarrassment; wriggling free of my grasp she turned a woozy circle on top of me, exhibiting her posterior in the direction of my face just long enough for me to catch a glimpse of a petulant sideways squid beak dotted unevenly with white fur. A quick journey down from the familiar, gender neutral, endearingly comedic asshole. The beak’s lips parted slightly like a Muppet mouth, just enough to hint at a vast, black, cavernous recess within. Unnerved, unsettled by this sudden display of primordial sexuality, I tossed the animal off the bed and resumed reading my book for a meager fifteen minutes before switching off the light.
“Where are Cookie and Phyllis?” I asked the next morning at Blake’s new apartment. I knew full well what it meant that the litter box was no longer in his closet but I asked anyway. I stared at the clumps of fur and the mottled shit scoop sitting, shadowed and impotent, next to where the box had been.
“Nick said he didn’t want any more cats and it’s Nick’s house and Nick makes the rules. “ Seeing my face fall, Blake quickly added, “It was Safe Pets, a no-kill shelter.”
I didn’t mention it again that morning. I do everything in my power to avoid face-to-face confrontation because I know I’ll start crying at the first raised voice, in the way that my dog runs to the back room and cowers under the bed if he hears anyone use the word fuck. I blocked the cats out of my mind and stared listlessly out the car window as Blake drove me to school, hoping to evoke a thick mood of understated drama. He had had those cats as long as I’d known him, when he lived in that shady efficiency off Lincoln Avenue. They were skittish and unfriendly but they’d earned a place in my heart in the way that a hideous piece of furniture becomes endearing if you keep it around long enough.
“I love you, Mark,” Blake said as I exited the car.
“I love you too.” I smiled so wide my gums showed.
Within seconds of his departure my cell phone was out and I was composing a text message. “Blake just told me he left his cats at a shelter. This is so disturbing to me. Can I break up with him for this?” Because I only sent the message to girls—girls are particularly ruthless at character judgments in situations where animal cruelty is alleged, while guys have an obnoxious tendency toward sensible, mature, egalitarian, hard knocks pronouncements about such things—I received a unanimous vote of yes.
Feeling justified, I continued raking Blake’s reputation over the coals for the rest of the day to any female who would listen. Women love hearing about fag relationship problems in the way they love dressing animals up in tiny clothes. They think it’s so fucking cute that fags have their own little relationships with their own little problems and their own little break ups, and the fags just eat up the attention like fat hungry suckerfish.
I was thrilled that I’d found a terrific reason to break up with him again. He was irritatingly absent of glaring flaws—he never yelled or cheated or did anything irrational or complained that I always topped and he always bottomed. We rarely fought. I was just so fucking bored that the little things began to get to me: his sloppy table manners, his endless parroting of my opinions back to me as though he’d thought of them himself, his insistence on watching movies he knew he’d find boring with me, just because I wanted to watch them, just to be nice, just because he wanted to spend time with me.
A more sinister list of complaints had begun pooling subconsciously beneath the surface trivia as well. His stale morning breath. His ogre-smelling feet with their visible cartoon stink waves—I worried that people would think it was my feet that smelled like that. The revolting conditions of his bathroom, with its urine-splattered toilet seat, quarter inch layer of shaving stubble, and wads of toilet paper littering the ground. The pervasive smell of shit when I fucked him, a perverse thrill during the act but a source of neurotic terror afterwards. The mucousy animal presence of his large uncircumcised member, so different from my own small, dry, callused, all-American cut one with its safely decreased tactile sensitivity. The stretch marks and large pockets of loose skin that hung down from his abdomen--battle scars of a former fat kid that mirrored everything I tried to deny about my own body.
My stomach in knots at the thought of actually talking to the person I’d been trashing all day, I prepared myself with several fingers of scotch. I thumbed the icon on the phone that represented his unmemorized number, put it to my ear.
“Hey Babe,” he greeted me.
“Hi, I just wanted to tell you that I don’t want to see you anymore because I think what you did to your cats is wrong, totally wrong,” I said without a breath. “I will need my Hitchcock set back, though.” I did my best to sound authoritative and firm.
“What? Mark…” His voice sounded high and creaky, like he was going through puberty.
“Just what I said. What you did to your cats is wrong. I want my DVDs back though.” I hung up on him. The bastard had decided to break up with me the first time while he had all of my Mary Tyler Moore and Degrassi Junior High DVDs and I’d had to harangue him endlessly until I received a huge white box in the mail, shipping cost $16.95.
I started crying because a break-up is a good excuse to sob about vague, nebulous things of threatening importance like What Will I Do With My Future or I’ve Failed at Everything but you can tell everyone you’re crying about the relationship. I chose to cry this time because I was fat and it’d be difficult to find someone else that liked me as much as Blake did. Through the tears, I relished the moral high ground I had claimed by standing up for the cats even though I didn’t have a car and Blake had been serving as my chauffeur for the ten months of our relationship.
Two months later I was shitfaced at a gay bar and I ran into him. I’d just gotten a tattoo on my forearm and I’d clawed the saran wrap off it and it was bleeding fat drops through the Vaseline. We made eye contact and I ran away and told all the friends I’d come with in the appropriately horrified tone.
“Oh my God, Blake’s here. I haven’t talked to him in two months and he’s here.”
“If he says anything to you I’ve got your back,” replied one of the girls reassuringly.
“I just want to, like, tell everyone here that he’s a pet abandoner, you know?” I sniffed.
Getting drunker and drunker, I made a big production of avoiding him until one of the girls, in a moment of unexplained boldness, brought him over to our group. What the fuck was she doing?
Ten minutes later my tongue was down his throat and I was grinding my knee on his cock. He was even more hammered than me. I told my friends I didn’t need a ride home. They all thought it was adorable. I felt him up on the ride home, shoved his hand into my pubic hair. I’d had several unsatisfying hook-ups with strangers since I’d dumped him in which the overwhelming fear of contracting an STD had outweighed the sexual thrill. I wanted sex with someone that I was used to, that I’d used up, someone I could do anything around unselfconsciously. Sex with an ex-boyfriend where fucking without a condom was considered a forgivable, relatable, possibly cute, lapse in judgment, not the reckless, villainous endangerment it was otherwise.
We stumbled upstairs, through his door, kicked our shoes off. Before he could flop on the bed his cock was in my mouth. How I’d missed that uncut seven-incher, the thick musk that was alternately repellant and attractive. I took it to the hilt, choking on the fumes, running my fingers up and down his crack.
His legs were wrapped around me and I had two fingers knuckle deep inside him when he said, “Wait. I need to tell you something.” His voice was raspy and dry from dehydration. I affirmed interest in a purr of stagey affection and gingerly withdrew the digits.
“You remember when I told you I left the cats at the no-kill shelter?”
My erection wilted, the drop of pre-cum went cold.
“Well, that’s not exactly what happened. I lied.”
“Uh-huh.” A pause. “What happened?”
In the tortured monologue of a Tennessee Williams heroine, he told the story.
“It was about two weeks after I’d moved in with Nick. He’d told me that I couldn’t have any cats, remember? I’d tried everything to find a home for Cookie and Phyllis—I’d posted ads on Craigslist, I’d asked people I knew wanted cats. I called all the shelters in town, and they all had waiting lists. Nick would not let up about them. I couldn’t take it. So what I did…I didn’t take them to the shelter. I packed them up in their crates and drove to a vacant lot in the Meuller development, and I said goodbye to them, and I put the crates on the ground and opened the little doors and let them go in a field.”
“Do you hate me?” he said timidly.
“No. No I don’t hate you!” My concealed horror was proportionate with the false tone of affection in my voice. “No. No I don’t hate you!”
That night I successfully banished all knowledge of the cats and their fate to the furthest recesses of my brain with the intention of piecing them together later. I fucked the shit out of Blake bareback, only pulling out to come on his face. When you find someone that just wants your cock up their ass day and night it is sometimes difficult to sever yourself from these attachments. In a moment of depraved abandon I demanded he fuck me, too; he got perhaps an inch in before I began screaming for him to stop, writhing in agony and thoroughly eradicating the mood. Just like old times. I could never take it well.
In the morning we awoke, naked, reeking and dehydrated. I slipped his boxers on and got some water. When I returned, he was sitting up in bed. “Wanna know something weird?”
“Sure,” I said, thinking it must be some funny little story about an annoying coworker or his annoying roommate. I felt warm and content, having slept in the arms of a man who loved me, a man I might sort of love sometimes. I had missed that simple necessity, the feeling of waking up on a broad hairy chest. I had missed the stale morning breath, the fecal intimacy.
“Well, I hooked up with this doctor, this psychiatrist, on Grindr one or two weeks ago. He was, I think, thirty-four or thirty-five. Anyway, I had sex with him and we were laying in my bed—this was the first time I’d met him—and he said that he loved me.”
“I know. He said that he loved me. So I got uncomfortable, told him he should leave. Then several days ago I was stalking him on Facebook and I noticed several mentions of…his lover that had just died of AIDS.”
My stomach fell at the word. That word. The word that runs through my mind sixty thousand times a day, the word that causes me to think blood blisters from bad shoes are Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions. “Well, you used a condom, right? So you’re fine.”
“No…that’s why I was worried. I mean, I called him and asked him about it. He said he didn’t have it. He was insistent upon that. I panicked and got tested anyway, and I’m clean.”
“Holy shit,” I said tonelessly.
“What? Mark, what is it? I got tested, I don’t have it.”
“You know that those tests don’t work for two weeks. Everyone knows the tests don’t work for two weeks. There’s a window.”
I spent the weekend with Blake and it was like old times, like the beginning of our relationship when we were inseparable. A hung over Saturday spent at Waffle House, just talking about movies, eating, fucking in the afternoon at his apartment. I didn’t go home until Sunday, and that was the last time I ever spoke to him.
I still haven’t gotten tested.