In I think it was 1984, I got a kitten. A bandaid-colored Manx female. I named her Gladys. As she grew up, she never really seemed to like me. She never seemed to give a shit if I lived or died, as long as she got fed. She never rubbed up against my leg, she never greeted me when I came home, she never wanted to be petted, she never sat with me when I watched TV. She just tolerated me because I paid rent.
When I got Gladys, I was in art school. I’d been struggling to break through my perfectionism: I couldn’t let a drawing go until I’d worked it over into photorealism; I couldn’t free myself up to put more of myself into an image. I could only reproduce what I saw. Then I made a breakthrough. A really powerful drawing of an important moment in my life, represented more abstractly and with a great deal of emotional power. In the Sun Times review of the student show in which it was exhibited, mine was the only work singled out for praise. It was an ink drawing on a huge piece of handmade paper; like 4’x5’. When I took it home, I rolled it up, image inward, and put it up on top of my 6 drawer dresser so it would be out of the way.
When I came home from school the next day, Gladys had knocked it down into the middle of the floor, and she’d spent the entire day galomphing back and forth through the tunnel thus created, propelling herself with her claws, and rolling the tube back and forth at the same time to make sure ALL the surfaces of the drawing were shredded. I had not yet photographed the drawing.
That same year my mother gave me a Coach portfolio. After I’d had it for more than six months, and Gladys had never given it a second look, I woke up one morning to find it flad on the floor, the upper surface thoroughly shredded. But thoroughly. This was also the year the first portable CD player came out. It was like 9’x6’x3’ and weighed like 9 pounds. I kept it on the mantel, where I had speakers attached. Again, after I’d had it for several months and it had gone seemingly unnoticed by Gladys, I came home one day to find it in pieces, below the mantelpiece. She would’ve had to somehow insert herself between the player and the wall, and really put her back into it, to knock it off the mantel. A collectible vase I’d gotten at a fleamart for $2 but was worth a couple hundred in the right venue met a similar fate.
After I’d had her a couple years, my sister rescued a newborn kitten from a nest in a woodpile, which landed on my doorstep. I named this blind larva Vera (my grandfather’s secretaries had been Gladys and Vera) and raised her from a bottle. She bonded to me, and she always tried to get along with Gladys, but for the 6 years they lived together, Gladys never greeted Vera without a hiss and a swipe.
Once, when it was time for me to get my sewing machine out–I made a lot of my own clothes when in schoole–I climbed up on a chair to get it down from the TOP shelf of a typical very tall, very narrow Chicago closet. When I placed it on the table I noticed it had an odd residue on it. I opened the front panel to discover the innerworkings all fused together and encrusted with cat urine crystals. This was a sewing machine. On a shelf a good 8’ off the ground. Gladys would have had to straddle the cold, oddly shaped, metal machine in some unfathomable way in order to pee on top of it and coat the whole thing, inside and out, with pee.
I was working in a pet store at the time. I had all kinds of pets: large, small, cold blooded and warm. Gladys was obsessed with getting at them. She didn’t just sit and watch them, she constantly tried to get covers off, doors open, anything she could do to get at them and eat them. Or so I thought. I came home from an Ontario camping trip with a Canadian red-sided garter snake. Shortly after I got home, she gave live birth to 18 baby snakelets. I was feeding them, growing them up, and had made arrangements to donate them to a couple different zoos and herpetologits. And then one day I came home, and Gladys had somehow gotten the lid off their enclosure. I looked inside, and all 19 snakes were still there. But each one had had its head crushed. One at a time. She didn’t want to eat them, she just didn’t want them to keep on not being dead. She dispatched them, then hopped out and moved on.
One day I came home after work, a long hard day doing wet and salty aquarium maintenance on a cold winter day, and started to make myself something to eat. I turned on the gas flame underneath the large cast iron frying pan that lived on the stove, and suddenly the room was filled with a horrible stench. Gladys had peed in the frying pan. On top of the stove.
I went and found her. Picked her up, opened the back door, and threw her out into the snow. She was not an outdoor cat. I never saw her again. I never missed her for a second or regretted feeding her, in all probability, to the giant raccoon that lived in the rear courtyard of my building.