It was in January of this year it became obvious to me that I was so old and unlovely I should probably be eaten by sharks. I’d been dumped quite suddenly by a partner of many years and in a short space of time, I misplaced ten kilograms, an interest in personal hygiene and most of my shit.
To be frank, the loss of the weight was very welcome as I am vain and shallow. And I can actually recommend the experience of living in one’s own filth for a short period. I never knew that’s quite how I smelled.
I would warn, however, against the loss of one’s shit as one *may* (a) tell all of one’s clients to get fucked (b) immediately commence a stupid “relationship” with a snooty midlife dufus whose listless beer-stink fumbling you confuse for pleasure and (c) tell all of one’s clients to get fucked again and again so you have no career remaining.
Worse things, of course, happen at sea. One might end up on Manus Island, for example, or in an American hospital with inadequate insurance. I live well in an OECD nation. I do not know war. I am strong and built by loving parents to survive all kinds of weather. I was engineered to get through this.
And so I did.
There were moments, though, I felt emboldened by heartbreak *almost* sufficient to hurt myself. Really. Not to heart-brag as people do but the plain fact was, I felt so used and embarrassed by a partner who had not, I think, ever really liked me much that I wanted to die.
It wasn’t the loss of love that lay me on the floor. It was the realisation that I had never known love. I had bought a fake.
I am still aghast when I think that this thing I’d recognised as love was counterfeit. This cheap copy had cost me so much. I couldn’t, and can’t, forgive myself for my profligate emotional spending on something so inauthentic. I almost began to believe that all that there were was copies; that the Love Original had been long since destroyed in a Renaissance fire.
I really would have given up on love were it not for a small ball of fur.
This is a picture of Eleven the cat. I have two cats; the other is a tuxedo tom whose malignant arrogance is permitted only by his good looks. Mango is a comedic cat whose antics I will often showcase. Eleven is my true heart; a being with whom I share an intimacy so deep it seems disrespectful to publicly depict.
Until recently, Eleven liked to sit on my desk as I wrote—or, more often, avoided writing—with a dear look on his classic tabby face; very similar to the expression you see here. It’s one, I think, of love unfettered by resentment of any kind. It’s love rare to any species.
I believe I have spent more time with Eleven than any being. As I have sat at my desk across these years and written things for money, there he was with his face full of love. As I returned late at night from the hospital where my partner was moving toward a diagnosis that paralysed us both, there he was. As I lay on the floor shrieking about COUNTERFEIT LOVE and listening to awful disco music, there he was.
He is made solely from stripes and compassion. He is unique and sweet and aggressively affectionate. He has reminded me for years of the possibility of real love.
Eleven has been unwell for some time; I attributed this first to the loss for him of his other human and then more lately to an even more unmanageable fate. My little guy has cancer and soon he will be euthanized.
I feel lost and cheated and overwhelmed.
But I also feel so grateful to know the very real iteration of love that I see in his face and have felt in his cuddles when he was still strong enough to impart them.
When I first met him at the shelter—when he was not called Eleven but “Surrender from Scoresby”—he was an adult cat so eager to love that he knocked me over with the force of his dear little snout. He loves to cuddle things with his snout. There are scientific explanations for this head and gum rubbing performed by some cats and known as “bunting”. None of them suffices to describe the cheer I always felt when the little guy seemed to stop just short of injuring us both with his embrace.
Look. You can think I’m a mad cat lady who ascribes human emotion to a feline face actually unable to convey anything more nuanced than hunger or fear. But, that’s just because you haven’t looked into those sofa-green eyes. He shows me love.
This display has saved me and sustained me and helped me know that love is not always a fake. Lately, I have seen an authentic flicker of it in a human. If it had not been for Eleven, I would have missed this look of love. I probably would have mistaken it for indigestion and missed this gentle, beautiful person who, quite possibly, loves me to an Eleven standard.
Oh. Fuck. This is just so awful. Fortunately, our vet is a lovely man whose evidence-based approach is matched by great sensitivity. He and I will make a decision founded on imaging and pathology. And we will also make a decision founded on love.
Because love is, I reluctantly allow, the only thing that matters. Don’t tell my Marxian reading group I said that. But you can tell your cat.