Home is Where the Cat Is

(Disclaimer: This is a rather lengthy personal essay, with little to no headings or subheadings. Paragraphs go on and on while topics shift in weird ways. Please read at your own risk.)

Home is weird. No, that’s not how I want to start this … houses are weird? No, that’s not it either; how about this? My home life has always been a little weird. Let it be known here that I didn’t move out of my parents’ house until I was 28. Was it right before I turned 29? Details slip from my brain now, but the point is, I lived at “home” for a long while – at least, if we insist on looking at things through the outdated lens of rugged capitalist individualism. But that’s a subject for another piece – or is it? Okay, I’ve digressed and diverted attention enough. It suffices to say that some strain of collectivism and/or communism is always running through my brain, and it will probably permeate this piece in one way or another. Thought it would only be fair to warn you. Let’s continue, shall we?

I didn’t move out of my parents’ house until I was 28. This did not work well for me. Long story short, my stepdad has never been a nice person, and he has been verbally abusive since my mom brought me and my siblings to Nevada so she could be with him. I think the catch-all term that folks like nowadays is “toxic” – my stepdad was toxic. Still is, though I don’t spend long stretches of time around him anymore so I don’t experience his bile nearly as often. To best describe the general gist of his poison, I’ll sum up his exchanges and attacks as “totally unsupportive.” More often than not, if he was not doing well financially (which was often), he would blame it on my mom, and/or me and my siblings. He frequently concluded that we would “amount to nothing,” “become failures,” and “live on the street” in the future. As though his failures at work were inextricably tied to my playing video games at all hours in order to escape the living hellscape he manifested. (Emphasis on “man”; I attribute most of his toxicity to narrow and harmful definitions of white masculine success, by which he became embroiled in a lifelong struggle of fitting into a cultural mold that will never accept him. I fall back on attacking him as a person, but this does me no good. It is better to recognize that our culture and its prevailing systems are stacked against most folks, and even a resilient, stubborn person like my stepdad can’t escape the heteropatriarchal capitalist trap that is set for all of us in the U.S. … )

What the hell was I talking about, again? Oh yeah, my home life hasn’t been all that great, historically, and it’s amazing and alarming that I stayed in the poisonous confines of my parents’ house for so long. Or it would be, if my stepdad wasn’t onto something when he railed against my (lack of) work ethic.

Work has never been for me. Not the way that work has been structured in the U.S., with time clocks watching the very minute you begin and end a shift, and salaries tying ambitious folks and fools alike to long hours that drain the soul … no, the bureaucratic trap that is late stage capitalism never held much appeal for me. I didn’t have the terminology to describe these factors and systems back then, but even when I was young, I knew that going to a job site and shoving my soul into the bottom of my rib cage just wouldn’t be enjoyable for me. I like staying up late, always have. I like sleeping in, always have. I like doing things at my own pace – always have. Most jobs are about doing things at a pace that nets the most profits for some quasi-mythical CEO whose hallowed name and hollowed life one hears of in passing, but whose slimy physical presence one never suffers, thank the maker. Can you tell that I’m not ambitious? My stepdad knew it. Or he told me so many times that I wouldn’t amount to anything that I internalized his bullshit belittling mantra. Did criticism create the communist, or did the communist create criticism? Anyway, the fact remains that I’ve never enjoyed the soul-crushing drudgery of work in our star-spangled police state.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with home. I’m getting there, I promise. I took my sweet time getting through college, only working when I felt it was absolutely necessary, and by the time I was 28, I had no fun money to my name. I had taken out loans to finish school, and I wasn’t working. But things at the ol’ toxic homestead had come to a head. My brother did not enjoy the atmosphere there, and he was more vocal about it than I was. I can’t remember if he got kicked out, or if he left voluntarily and our stepdad said he kicked my brother out to save face. Either way, it doesn’t matter; my brother wanted a place of his own, but he needed help to get that place.

In the words of Ron Howard in that one episode of The Simpsons, I guess it’s up to me. Surely I thought something like that to myself as my brother explained the situation to me, and I realized that, despite not having a ton of money, I had enough to float my portion of a potential rent payment for about half a year. Surely that’s plenty of time to find a job, right?

The rest, I’ll make into history. My brother and I moved into a place that was graciously rented to us by the mother of a longtime friend of ours. A family friend was our landlady, to put it simply. We received a sweet deal on rent, at a time when the going prices for living spaces were skyrocketing thanks to a localized big tech infusion. I still had about a year of school left before I graduated, and I also wanted to get out of the shit situation that was our parents’ house. Our mom, sadly, couldn’t just move out and get away. But we could. We could escape, carve out a new space for ourselves, and attempt to recover from years of verbal, mental, and emotional trauma. And we did. One important aside: in the process of writing this piece, I remembered why I had enough money to float through half a year of rent. This aside will become important later. I totaled my first car a few months before my brother and I moved into our own place. The cost of fixing the thing was higher than the price of the car, so my insurance company opted to give me a payout rather than fix the damn thing. Was totaling the car my fault? Courts and insurance officials seemed to think so. I halfway buy it; when I started making a left turn into a small shopping center, I saw no cars approaching in the oncoming lane. However, mere seconds after I started turning, a truck slammed into my 2002 Ford Focus. The front was crumpled. The engine, destroyed. I hadn’t seen or heard anyone coming, and so I wasn’t braced for impact; I was wobbly like a wet noodle. I suffered no injuries, just the sudden sadness and shame of destroying a relatively nice car.

So the insurance payout covered my rent for half a year. I took a temp job near the end of that first summer in the apartment, which paid super well and got me rent for another two months. Right at the end of that gig, I was hired by a fancy-sounding grocery store that was opening in the area. I’d never worked in a grocery store before, but at the time, I had weird, romanticized visions of grocery store life in my brain. These were quickly dispelled – a shit job is a shit job, after all – but the grocery store got me through two years. When my time at the grocery store ended, I hopped into volunteer-ish life, which let me experience the inner workings of a non-profit. Office life? I’d never tried it, and apparently, despite most evidence pointing to the contrary, I always assume new job experiences will be rosy and awesome.

This isn’t to say my current job is awful. I actually believe in the work I’ve been doing, and it’s fulfilling in a way that no job has been before. But it’s still an office thing. And you may have noticed I said/wrote/typed “volunteer-ish” – I do get paid, but it’s not a lot.

I’ve been doing this volunteer-ish thing for almost two years now, and this has all been my long-winded and winding way of saying that I don’t have a ton of money. I’ve been scraping together enough to get by for the past four years, but I’m always hanging on by the skin of my teeth. By the dregs of my bank account. In no way am I getting paid enough to save up money for any kind of rainy day, emergency, or other dramatic life shift. I started this rambling personal essay by stating that home is weird. And I’m finally at the point where I can talk more about it. You see, I’m living in a house right now.

I provided all that disjointed background to make it clear that I have no steady work ethic or income of my own. As I said, I scrape enough money together to cover rent and bills and get food in me, but I would not be able to afford any kind of permanent dwelling with the money I’m making. But my brother, the dude I’ve been mentioning? He’s been working really hard at his current job, and he gets paid a decent amount. With our rent as forgiving as it was, he was able to save up a decent amount of money. So much money, in fact, that he could afford a whole dang house for himself. I’m not saying he bought it outright – that’s the sort of middle-finger money that not even my brother has – but he could afford the down payment and the first month’s mortgage payment and all the other fees that come with a house. And the U-haul rentals we used to move our shit over here. And various new appliances and furniture that a big dwelling sort of demands by virtue of its size. And oh crap, am I sounding neoliberal and bougie yet?

I don’t want to sound this way. But I don’t want to live in a shithole either. And our apartment wasn’t a shithole, that’s not what I’m trying to say. What I’m trying to say is, I’m living in a place that I can’t afford by myself, that I do not own, and I’m talking about houses demanding a certain standard of living. Which sounds like some capitalist, corporate, neoliberal schlock to me. How’s that George Carlin bit go? A house is just a place to keep all your shit? Well, yeah, it’s true. And for some reason, if we don’t have enough shit to fill the house, we think we have to acquire more shit to “fit” the house. That is some true consumer-brainwashing right there.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I’m lucky my brother is willing to bring me along with him, to his new house. We’ve always gotten along pretty well (hence the living together), and even with his money, I don’t think he could comfortably afford the mortgage payments on his own. Or maybe he could, but he’d rather save a bit of money. So I’m in the new house with him. I have my own room right at the top of the stairs. Second-floor living, looking out on a tiny cul-de-sac … it’s exhilarating and weird all at once.

Moving our stuff was a hilarious misadventure, at least in hindsight. The day he had to snag the U-haul, he slept in and bolted out of his room in a huff. He asked if I could drive him to the U-haul center, and I said I could. I told him he could have asked me to awaken him if his appointment was so early, but he said he had planned to take an Uber there … it was nice of him to allow for the possibility of me sleeping in, but I was already awake and I could have helped him. Anyway, that’s beside the point; the point is, he missed his appointment, and the next U-haul he could rent was a smallish pickup truck that wouldn’t be available until the afternoon. He acquiesced to this new reality, since his misstep created it, and we went back to the apartment. We retrieved the U-haul later, and then he took off to his new house, to measure his floor space or something. I was fuzzy on the details, but the thing that happened is that he was gone for a good five hours while I chilled in my room, messing around on the computer and ignoring the work I should have been doing. He got home around 8 o’clock that night, and I was in the middle of an impromptu nap. I knew what was coming.

We had to pack up our shit. At 8 o’clock on a Saturday night. It shouldn’t take too long, right? Absolutely wrong. We spent a whole third of our day packing shit up. A whole full-time work shift’s worth of time. And it was already near the end of a “normal” day. If you do the math, we were up until 4 AM. Packing shit into boxes and trying not to freak out our cat. Getting tired and sitting down and quickly getting up to avoid falling asleep. And we were set to start driving stuff to the house around noon the next day.

I have a bad habit of spending an hour or two dicking around on the computer before I go to bed. I know, it’s terrible for my circadian rhythm, and it’s usually not productive. I’m just trying to admit that I probably didn’t go to bed until 5 AM or so, then I woke up around 11 to eat breakfast and drink coffee before our help arrived. Thanks to a great gaggle of friends and their many vehicles, the move wasn’t as intense as it could have been. It was still a bummer that we had a small U-haul truck, but our friends and their packing space helped mitigate that trouble. I finally saw the house. That moving day was actually my first experience with the place, so the folks who moved our boxes and furniture into the place weren’t too far behind me on the awareness scale. I got to wander through the place and pick a room for myself. Any room on the second floor – my brother’s bedroom was the solitary big one on the first floor – and I picked the one that’s closest to the stairs. I wasn’t sure what would go where, and I had no idea how we’d situate our cat, but I knew where my space was. And that was exciting enough.

There was one very non-exciting aspect of this move though: the internet wouldn’t be set up for about a week. I’ve been lucky enough to work from home during this pandemic, but that necessitates an internet connection. So I had to make some funny choices. Okay, they weren’t so strange or funny: I just left behind my blankets, a pillow, my computer and desk, some food, and the coffee maker. Oh, and some toiletries. I’d be camping out at the ol’ apartment, with the cat, until the internet was set up at the new house. I forgot to leave behind most of my clothes, and that made for a funky time. My brother brought me what he could after he searched through the boxes I left at the house, but I still had to make the clothes last. ’cause there’s one big complication I haven’t quite covered yet.

I’ve had nothing but car troubles ever since I totaled my first car. I bought an old car from a friend of mine after I saved up some grocery store money, and it worked fine for a while, but eventually it showed signs of slow death. Something was messing with its ability to go up hills, and eventually it couldn’t accelerate beyond 30 miles an hour. I’m sure that folks who know cars could diagnose a few problems from my scant description, but I just didn’t have the time, energy, or money to fix the damn thing. So I pushed it as far as I could, then started borrowing my mom’s old car. Except, when I say “old car,” I mean old. It’s an Oldsmobile that was made in, like, 1988. In car years, that’s several lifetimes. So that car got me around for a good while, until its engine started to give out. For a spell, Uber and Lyft became my best friends. Real friends helped out every now and then, driving me around in exchange for snacks, dinner, or gas money. But I had to get something. My volunteer-ish job required that I be at schools and other educational centers to share knowledge with folks – I had to get to those places somehow. So what did I do? I bought a different car from a different friend.

“Good lord, man,” you might be thinking, “how many fucking cars did you have?!” Well, if you count my mom’s old car, the total is three. Three cars. Except it was really more like one-and-a-half, ’cause the one barely worked, the second one had some glaring issues, and the new one … well shit, the new one drained its battery two days after I bought it. The friend from whom I bought it had been driving it around just fine, so I couldn’t figure out what the hell I’d done to fuck the thing up. But something had gone horribly wrong, and I had to replace the battery. So I did. And it got drained too. Luckily the warranty allowed me to get a replacement battery free of charge, but I’d learned my lesson: don’t keep the battery connected. So I started disconnecting the battery after every trip I made, and reconnecting it when I had to drive places.

It’s not a perfect fix. I actually stripped a bolt and had to get replacement bolts (they’re real affordable, thank the maker) ’cause I was tightening and loosening the connection so often. “But what happened to the other cars, dude?” I’m glad you asked that question. My friend’s old car, the one that couldn’t accelerate anymore, actually got marked for towing while it sat in a guest parking space outside our apartment. And I didn’t see that notice until it was too late. I tried to move the car to avoid the tow, but it’d sat for so long that the battery cables got messed up and I couldn’t fix ’em. So uh, it got towed. Then the tow company tried calling me, but I wasn’t ready to pay that bill – the pandemic had ramped up, and I was barely making ends meet. So I let all their calls go to voicemail. Eventually, I looked up the invoice number and discovered … nothing. I think they let it go. I’m hoping they let it go, ’cause it’s been months now and they never sent me another notice. I haven’t been summoned to a court. It’s possible I’ll be called upon to pay for that tow at some point in the future, but for now, I just know I’m out an old-ass car that hardly worked. Could I have scrapped it for parts and a bit of extra money? Sure, but hey, the thing is out of my life, and one less janky car, the better. The Oldsmobile … oh fuck, I need to head to a certain parking lot and see if it’s still there. The dang thing gave out after a shopping trip, and I had my mom drive me back to the apartment in her newer car. I still haven’t gone to check on the Oldsmobile.

Whatever fresh hell I’ve invited by letting these problems sit, I’ll accept. As you can see, I don’t take good care of cars. I deserve the repercussions of my inaction. But I did need to find a way to get around with the most recent car, so I got new bolts to connect the battery. I started moving the rest of my stuff, slowly, to the house. (That’s right, this is supposed to be about home, not cars – but the cars are integral to the story, I swear!) Finally, about a week after that first move, the internet was set to be connected. This meant a small flurry of shit had to happen: my brother rented a second U-haul (bigger this time!), we disconnected our computers and their components from the wall, and we started moving the last of our stuff into the U-haul. Once the computers and our desks and our plants (oh yeah, we moved the plants too) were hauled to the house, there was one final move to make. It was the most precious move. And it was mine.

Our sweet cat, Willow, had not yet seen her new home. She had watched us, confused and curious, as we packed things up and took away her furniture and hiding places, one by one. Eventually she was left with just a couch (one that had been passed to us, and that we would pass to the next tenant of the apartment), and two boxes of donations. There was plenty of open space for her to wander, but not much to scamper under or climb atop. And I had the sad task of pulling out the old transport kennel.

She must have remembered it from the day her previous owners brought her to us. She started running around as soon as she saw it, and when I approached her, she started yowling. She knew she’d go into the box, and the last time she did so, everything changed – a new home, with people she’d never met. I didn’t want to force these traumatic associations on her, but I had to get her into the kennel so I could drive her to the house. My brother’s house. Her house. Our house.

I got scratched a little bit, and she found every way to avoid going in the kennel, so eventually I just had to upend the thing, open the door, and plop her in it vertically. Then I turned it the right way around, as gently as I could, and put her on the floor of the passenger side of my car. She was going on a ride with me, and it was gonna be rough. That’s because my car can’t keep the driver’s side window up. I rolled it down one day and couldn’t roll it back up. And I don’t have a ton of money, so I haven’t been able to fix it yet. Remember what I said about cars and how I mistreat them? Yeah, my bad trends continue. So I got Willow into the car, started the thing up, and ferried her to the house. I talked with her the whole way, putting my hand near the kennel so she’d know I was there for her. I yelled at traffic along the way and apologized to her after I did – I didn’t want her to associate my yelling with her, so I explained the shitty drivers on the roads. Forget that I had one hand on the wheel while I consoled my cat with the other; I love Willow more than most beings, and I wanted to make her as comfortable as I could during this shitty transition.

As soon as I parked at the house and released her inside, she bolted to the nearest armchair and got beneath it. She proceeded to find a comfy hiding spot and chilled the fuck out. My room hadn’t been totally set up yet, and it was upstairs, and my brother and I weren’t sure where we’d put Willow’s litterbox. He put it in his big ol’ bathroom for now, but that’s on the first floor … and I’m Willow’s person. I work from home most days, and she sees me as her big safe friend. I refill her food and water every day, and usually, I’m the one who empties her litterbox. I sing to her when I can, and she sleeps on my bed every night. And I live on the second floor. So I put her bowls upstairs, and she mostly hangs out in my room. Have I curbed her world? I don’t think so; she can go downstairs if she wants, and she has to when she needs to go to the bathroom. I’ve cleaned the litterbox since we brought it to the house: Willow is still poopin’, so I think she’s mostly acclimated to the separation of food and shit. Even if they’re literally a whole house apart. Now she goes up and down stairs, getting exercise and building up a healthy appetite. She actually eats her whole bowl of food now! She’s settling in and it’s wonderful to experience.

I have more space now. I’ve put all my clothes and knick-knacks in a huge closet, and my bookshelf is in a real nice spot. My bed and end table are beneath the windows that look out on the street and the beautiful mountains beyond. My computer is up against a wall in a corner, with a lamp and its soft yellow light. There’s so much space that I put our old entertainment center against another wall; my brother wants to buy a new TV for the living room downstairs, so my TV is in my room once again. Back at the apartment, I had no room for the TV, and in the interest of sharing, we put it in the living room. Now I have space for it, and it’s dangerous. I don’t watch a ton of TV, but I love my video games. Animal Crossing will suck me in again!

This piece has gone on way too long and taken way too many detours, but it’s about home, you know? A lot of different factors make a home. The mountains are in the distance, beckoning me, and there’s a gazebo in the backyard. There are stairs to strengthen Willow’s legs and make her hungry. I have space enough for all my introverted diversions, and my brother is gracious enough to bring me along with him on this new phase of his life. He’s a homeowner, and he’s sharing some of his prosperity with me. Rugged individualism be damned, we can share and team up, at least a little bit.

I’m pretty happy about this whole development. It’s a big change, for sure, but a welcome one. As long as we keep the yard eco-friendly and the coffee flows freely, and I can sing to Willow, life is good. Thanks for reading this.


2 thoughts on “Home is Where the Cat Is

  1. Aw I love reading your updates. For some reason, it’s always so frank and genuinely homely haha don’t if that makes sense. Glad to know you moved to a new place with your brother and Willow is with you still. Better disinfect the scratches though! Take care and have fun settling down in the new place ☺

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yay, thank you so much! I’m never quite sure what my tone is, and I will gladly embrace frank and homely. It sounds like a warm and inviting combination, and that’s how I want to be. I’m glad you’re reading my rambling of your own volition – it’s always a pleasure connecting with you. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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