This is a cat. You probably recognized that. They’re very common house pets. This one is named Millie, but she also answers to the following nicknames: Mill, Millip, Millicent, Millejandro and Her Grayness.
Millie is 11 years old. She enjoys playing fetch with wadded up ATM receipts, chasing flashlights projected onto the floor and sucking her thumb. Like me, she doesn’t care for most people. Unlike me, she positively abhors cheese.
She belongs to my ex. When we were together, I lived with Millie for about six years. She was slow to warm up to me, but finally gave in. To this day, I’m the only person other than my ex who can touch — or even approach — Millie without her growling, hissing and/or swatting. Sometimes when the vet tries to handle her, she gets so angry she literally poops.
She’s just not a people cat. I can respect that.
Which is why, when my ex received a two-month fellowship overseas, she asked if I’d be willing to let Millie move in for a while.
So here she is, stretching out on my couch, sleeping in my sock drawer and throwing up under my bed, just like old times. It’s been a lot like reconnecting with an old friend. The first couple of days we were both tentative, and then pretty soon it was like we’d never been apart. Me and Millie. Millie and me.
But we have been apart — for nearly three years. And certain things are different now.
Back then she had a “brother” and a “sister.” Buddy and Beeble were the two cats I brought to the relationship. About four years ago, Buddy suffered renal failure and I had to put him to sleep. Beeble is an outdoor cat now, living at a friend’s house, where she frolics in the garden.
Millie hated sharing space with the other cats — she isn’t a cat cat, either — but eventually learned to tolerate their existence and mostly just ignored them.
When it comes to humans, though, Millie never ignores. While she hates to have her personal space invaded, she always wants to be around people. It’s like she doesn’t trust them and wants to keep an eye on them. She’ll follow you around the house for hours, watching as you wash the dishes or do the laundry or play a video game — you know, just in case. But as soon as you look at her, she tenses up. And if you make a move in her direction, she’s gone.
Back when we lived together, I used to play guitar, a behavior which Millie found exceedingly suspicious. I’d sit on the couch and strum along while Millie would perch herself on an armrest and watch, wide-eyed, trying to get her head around what exactly I was trying to accomplish with that noisy contraption.
Once we’d established this routine, I started singing songs to her. Her theme song, a simple but soulful number that my ex made up, consisted almost entirely of an awkward but catchy chorus that went, “Millie … she does ne’er like cheese.”
My specialty, though, was changing the lyrics of popular songs so that they told stories about the cat and her unique personality. The only one I remember at the moment was a reworking of “Candy Says” by The Velvet Underground that went like this:
“I’ve come to hate most cheeses.”
“And I don’t think that baby Jesus …”
“… would disagreeeee.”
These are the kinds of stupid things you do with your pets when nobody is watching. At least subconsciously, you figure, “It’s only a cat. It won’t judge me.” But with Millie, it’s different. You always get the sense she’s looking at you like you’re completely ridiculous.
I was reminded of that look this morning when I went to clean out Millie’s litter box. Back when we lived together, the litter box was one of my daily chores, and I crawled out of bed every morning to take care of it without even opening my eyes. One morning, though, I woke up with a tune in my head, some stray melody left over from a dream that I somehow managed to bring back into the waking world with me.
As I stood there scooping shit into a plastic grocery bag, I saw Millie sitting on the washing machine, watching me intently with a look that said, “Whatever you do, human, don’t engage in any nonsense. Because I loathe nonsense.”
And so my hand was forced. I started singing aloud to the tune in my head, a sort of country-ish jig that, in retrospect, is nearly identical to the melody from “Particle Man” by They Might Be Giants. The words that came out of my barely awake brain were as follows:
Bag of poo. Bag of poo.
Hey, everybody, it’s a bag of poo.
Buddy’s poo, and Beeble’s poo, and Millie’s poo, too.
Hey, everybody, it’s a bag of poo.
Brilliant, no? I never bothered to add a second verse, because why mess with perfection, right?
Anyway, after that, I sang that song every morning for at least a year before I went my way while my ex took Millie and went hers.
I sang it again today, for the first time since around May of 2007, and I suppose I’ll be singing it every morning through the end of July when Millie goes home. It’s no longer technically accurate, of course — today’s grocery bag contained the poo of only a single feline.
But that’s when two things occurred to me. First, that while I really miss Buddy, I don’t miss his poo one bit. And second … I feel pretty much the exact same way about my marriage.