boully_rot_500I remain very sorry for what I did to the little black kitten.

The woman who lived at the end of the cul-de-sac had a litter of cats, and she was looking for people to take them. She said that they would be dead in five days because she was going to take the unclaimed ones to the animal shelter, where they would just kill them. Although I did not have my father’s permission, after school one day, I saw the woman on her porch and told her that my father said I could have one. So I picked up a little black kitten and took her home to my room with the green and yellow speckled carpeting and placed her on a bed of newspapers.

I cannot say that my treatment of her had to do with not yet knowing about tenderness and love and care, because there had been family dogs that had passed that I felt very sad for. We already had a family cat, and I had loved that cat and let it knead my tummy after school when I was younger. That cat, however, ventured outdoors, so we did not have a litter box. I was not prepared then for the little black kitten’s poop, tarry and pungent and loose, or her pee that ran off the newspaper in rivulets into the carpet. My father heard her crying, and that is how he knew. He did not think we should keep it.

I went across the street to my older sister’s friend’s house to ask her if it was true that Nancy of Sid and Nancy had a cat that she had named Fuck You in French. She said, yes, and she told me that Fuck You in French was FuToi. So I too named my black kitten FuToi. I posed for a photo with FuToi. I was all dressed in black. I feel extremely sorry that I used the little black cat for an accessory to my burgeoning wannabe preteen identity.

My father, who was prepared to keep the cat, did not know that I lied when I said that a friend was going to take her in. I do not know why I said that. My mother was away, a new circumstance that we did not talk about, and I think I recognized that my father, who gave us a $20 bill each week, for lunch and bus fare and sundries, and who bought us maxipads and pimple soap, did not really want to keep the cat, so I wanted to free him of that burden of another thing to care for.

My mother did something similar: she drove around our neighborhood and threw one of our housecats out the window. I was supposed to have been too young to have remembered, but I remembered.

And so my older sister and a friend and I went on that exact street, the scene of a previous abandonment, and I opened the door and pushed out the little cat. We drove off, but we could still hear her crying. She had jumped into the underside of the car, an act that signaled her very helplessness, her desire to stay with us. She clung to us in the only way her little baby self knew how. And because I wanted to exude a tough-girl personality, I myself got out of the car and pried her off.

I remain very sorry for what I did to that cat, and although I entertained thoughts that someone found her and treated her nicely until she got old, I know that no one did.

She had been a mere handful of preciousness. That much merely, and I had not allowed her to become more. She remains merely as green eyes, little animal feet, tiny pink toe pads, needle thin claws, the rosebud tongue, the wet pearl nose, thin iridescent ear flesh, the lightness of herself when she balanced her feet on my skin.

Last night, the catch of grief came hard and quick. It stung my bones. My three-year-old daughter walked up to me—we had not been talking about cats—and said that little cats like milk, they like to lick it from their little milk bowls.


Jenny Boully is the author of several books, including The Book of Endings and Beginnings: Essays and of the mismatched teacups, of the single-serving spoon: a book of failures . She lives in Chicago with her family and edits pamphLIT.

Photography by Laura J. Frantz