I think I may be the first person on Earth to be blocked by my own cat on Twitter. That sounds ridiculous, I know. It's an outcome fit for a crazy cat lady, which I know that I qualify as regardless of my penis.
That cat, Winston, has come up a lot lately, which is weird because he technically isn't my cat anymore. And as a result, that Twitter account that I once helped control isn't mine, either. Several lives are undergoing a revision.
Much of the Winston talk has had to do with the recent Internet Cat Video Film Festival. I was interviewed by City Pages regarding my contribution to the cat-video genre. I talked and talked to Erika Wolf about living with Winston, who gained a small but ardent following through my blog posts, his jokey Twitter account and especially the YouTube videos that were often reposted by Cute Overload. At some point after I described my process and discussed how cat videos were a way for me to escape into pure joy (not the conditional joy that media criticism affords in the best cases) and fondly recalled Winston's weird pattern of dropping whatever tendency I had explored in any given video as soon as it had been posted, I realized that I needed to slow down and speak really deliberately because I was about to cry.
Elected loss is specific loss. Besides grandparents whom I adored but only saw intermittently throughout the year at most, I hadn't said permanent goodbyes to anyone that I have loved before my nine-and-a-half-year relationship ended a few months ago. I wonder if lingering possibility makes the process easier or more difficult. I have more closure everyday, and yet there is always "and yet."
I could see my cats again. It's not probable that I will, but it is within the realm of human possibility. They are alive and well, or so I hear in sporadic, terse emails from my ex. I moved just one subway stop away. I live within walking distance. I wouldn't be allowed in, but I could attempt forcible entry by putting all my weight on my former door. I could sit on the stoop across the street and wait for one of them to sit lookout on the windowsill in my old bedroom.
I have a yellowing picture of Rudy, my other cat, my boy, in this weird, colorful polymer frame that has a dinosaur on it. My ex put the picture in that frame and kept it on his desk at work for a few years. He'd also dressed Rudy in the blue sweatshirt he's wearing in the picture, which was taken around the time we got him from the North Shore Animal League about nine years ago. I didn't ask if I could have the picture, I just took it before I left my old apartment. It sits by my cologne on the same dresser that I had when I lived with my ex. I've looked at it everyday since I left and I have cried probably half of those times, just for a second.
I get really sad when I think about Rudy's attempt to really communicate with me, the way he would yell at me, his head jutting forward for emphasis, like he was determined to get all of his wordballs out. He reminded me of my maternal grandmother, the crabbiest, most admirable bitch I ever met. She liked to use the word "holler," but even more than that, she liked to holler. The dim, blonde and wide-eyed Winston reminded me of my saintly, perpetually giddy paternal grandmother. As a superheroes-obsessed toddler, I called her Catwoman because I thought she was as pretty as the comic book character. "Stop calling her Catwoman!" my maternal grandmother barked at me one time when all three of us were riding in a car together.
The only place I could count on for affection from Winston was in the car. He'd even purr when I touched him sometimes, a nice variation from his usual apathy toward me.
My ex hated when people referred to Winston as my cat. He felt under-credited, which I suppose was inevitable since it was my blog that provided Winston's main outlet and my hands that edited those videos. I tried to mention him when presenting every idea that he had devised. I tried to reinforce how important he was in Winston's life, having nursed him back to health when Winston came to us as a sick one-year-old kitty who'd had a hernia operation and horrifying I.B.S. My ex was the caretaker and I was the promoter; he handled the interior, me the exterior. He was the DJ, I was the rapper. These cats (but especially Winston) were our shared project.
I felt weird talking to the CityPages about Winston and weirder still appearing on VH1's Big Morning Buzz to talk about the cat festival. "Any chance you would like to bring Winston for a surprise appearance?" the producer who arranged that appearance asked me. I replied, linking to the previous piece I wrote about losing the cats in the breakup.
People knew me as Winston's owner, but my ex won in the end. If I ever gave the impression that I did not appreciate his hard behind-the-scenes work, I believe I ultimately corrected that. I didn't argue or fight regarding the cats' future – I don't think we even discussed it. The cats were staying together and they were staying with him. That was that.
I could have been a prick about it. I could have made things difficult. I could have taken it to the Internet and gotten the people behind me, opting at least for the consolation prize of shaming an adversary. But I didn't want to do that because breaking up is hard, and ours was a shared decision.
It's probably unfair to characterize it as entirely mutual, though. I gave him a proposal ("Let me sleep around while I'm still youngish") and he rejected it, as many would. Know that this was not something I sprung on him. He knew it was coming. He told me sex would be the thing that broke us up months before it did. My ultimate request was part of a much larger conversation about the way we related. We'd been having that conversation for at least eight years. I think fatigue played as great a role in our breakup as any of our conditions.
I naively hoped that we could remain friends, and help each other through this difficult situation we both faced, like we did during so many other difficult situations in the preceding decade. He could not and/or would not. I haven't spoken to him since April. I wrote him so many emails at first, and about half of them received responses. In June, I perked up when a note from him that seemed tender landed in my inbox. While acknowledging that the breakup was best for both of us, he proposed meeting some time after July 4, a holiday that was particularly important to us because we'd typically take the surrounding week off and stay at my mother's house in South Jersey. I couldn't wait. I wrote him back three times around the 4th to try to plan a date. I thought maybe if I kept poking him, he'd write me back eventually. This was in vain. He didn't answer at all.
I knew why, though. In the time between his proposition and July 4, I had for the first time written openly about my sex life. There was hard proof that I was going forward with what I had proposed to him. Because he had rejected that proposal, I thought he'd forfeited concern in this matter, but that was me confusing emotions with logic. I had hoped at least that he would just avoid reading it: "If you don't like it, don't look at it," are words to live by in the Information Age. But that was me pretending that he's not a human being and that my current life isn't entirely conversant with my former life, starring him.
My ex is the harshest, most sensitive person that I've ever gotten to know. He insulted me like I never had been before (or have been since, to my face) and I hurt him in ways that I never have hurt another living creature. When I wrote what I wrote, I was cognizant of his capacity to hold against me things that had happened after our breakup: The week that we decided to split, I went out drinking, went home with a guy and ended up falling asleep in his bed until the morning. Though my ex was no longer my boyfriend, my carelessness crushed him. I knew it could, too – this was an accident, not a willful choice. My ex has brought this up repeatedly in our handful of (mostly electronic) discussions since we broke up. He also told me that my first Pride and Shame piece made him "100% sick to [his] stomach."
I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was so through with being a couple that I had stopped thinking about his reaction to my behavior entirely. I was exercising my right to emancipation, flagrant in my freedom and joyful in not having to answer to him. We broke, and I thought the emotional break could be a clean one.
The irony is that we exes are united in our clean-break ideals. In our particular case, we believe these should apply to different areas. I want a clean emotional break; he wants a clean communicative break. Both are impossible. We are as incompatible as ever.
From my perspective, his provides a particular practical challenge, but that's probably because I'm not controlling it. Power was always an issue with us. We butted heads until we were stupid and then kept going because we were so stupid.
That said, unraveling is a process, and there are times in the months after falling out that one must communicate with the person he spent the past decade with. I try to keep my emails functional and considerate, but these interactions devolve. A recent one ended with my ex telling me that I suck. I couldn't even muster a response. If pushing me away was his goal, this email was his masterpiece. I think up until then, I wasn't as over him as I thought I was. I didn't write him for a month. The sting of the insult was actually a service to both of us.
I don't need to interact with someone who talks to me like that. I have found plenty of people to spend time with who regularly say nice things to me or who don't put up opposition when I recommend an activity (something as basic as a restaurant suggestion would become a point of contention to my ex and I). It's beautiful to find people – friends, fuck buddies, potential boyfriends – that I can just exist alongside and not have to struggle with over contentment. I've had more fun this summer than I have had since I was 17. I've also never cried more. I can only block out my ex for so long; he seems to have a much easier time with this (at least in practice).
And so, I was deeply saddened when I discovered I had been blocked from Winston's Twitter on Labor Day weekend. It was like Lena Dunham being blocked by her ex-boyfriend's parents on Facebook meets children's programming. The implied image of my former cat clicking me away with his floppy paw, that same paw that held me at bay when I lifted him from the floor and attempted to smother him with affection, is sad and sad again because it is so absurd. It's also sad because the offending paw is actually a hand that belongs to my ex. I used to hold that hand like it was mine.
What led to it was my friend's tweet of a link to the Gawker story about the Internet Cat Video Festival. He mentioned both Winston and me, saying we were robbed. When I left my ex and cats, my ex took over Winston's account, and so he responded (mentioning all of us) with, "Gross." I immediately tweeted back Winston to ask my ex not to do this. "Don't announce that you're a dick to the world," I typed from the boardwalk in the town where I grew up, the one that he would have been next to me on were we still together. I deleted that right after for something a bit more neutral: "Don't do that."
I discovered that my ex has his email notifications turned on so that he can see whatever replies he receives, even if they are subsequently deleted. And so in response to my first tweet, he emailed me to tell me that I broadcast that I'm a dick to the world every day and that it was his turn. An exchange ensued that had me proving just how faulty my ideals of emotional neatness are.
Watching things disintegrate is agonizing. That should be an advantage of estrangement, getting at least to avoid the bad along with everything else, but the only component of our relationship that thrives is negativity. My ex and I are flies and the only place we meet these days is on piles of bullshit.
I woke up the next day to find that Winston's account had been protected and that I had been blocked from it. I feel like I called it too well when I wrote about this before: we communicated through our cats because there my ex was, still doing so. Here he was telling me to fuck off through clicking and unclicking, the same way someone else's ex might via breaking or pawning a lingering object. This was an announcement that my ex has no patience for process, for the finesse that goes into untangling lives as delicate as cassette tape. He just snipped.
If you want to get revenge on someone you loved, taint his memories. Make the present so excruciating that it informs the past. Do a disservice to your shared legacy and hope that legacy follows suit.
But know that if that person really loved you, this will be forgiven. I did a piece of fact-checking for this story: I went to Winston's Twitter page earlier this week to find that it is no longer protected and that I am no longer blocked from it. I don't know what that means. I don't know if someone got to my ex, or his heart softened when we passed each other on the street the other night and only acknowledged the fact with our peripheral vision, or if he made a mistake and will block me again when he realizes it. But I'm taking it as a sign — some sign, any sign — and I appreciate it very much.