Quitting is the Cat’s Meow | Jill Howe

About four years ago, I had a breakthrough in quitting mentality. I had started dating for the first time. Well, I had been “dating” a man since college, though I don’t know if you consider eating in the university cafeteria and playing computer games together dating. I did, and we moved in together after college.

He was a physicist who played “Legend of Zelda” on three monitors at once. He thought the city was almost as inconvenient as socializing. I was and remain a verbose extrovert who thrives on more, more, and more. It would work though, right? Like opposites attract, right? He was tall, I was short. He liked science, I liked literature. He wanted to rant about online poker, and I wanted to stab my eyes out with a poker. He was perfectly happy with the way we lead separate lives. I yearned to figure out a way to quit and to be okay with quitting.

After seven years of this lovely and boring existence, the eventual dismantling of our life together was akin to a divorce without the lawyers. I figured it out. I started dating. I was out of my league and didn’t know it until I had been lied to, cheated on, seduced, and heartbroken by men ranging from coworkers, married men, engaged men, neighbors, old high school dance dates who found me on Facebook, blind dates set up by friends, even a man who read my teacher’s badge in a hallway and figured out a way to contact me (sweet and resourceful, right?). That man took a handful of lithium on our first date (romantic, right?).

I was beat down by too much quitting in too short a time, so I decided to do what many women have done in times of romantic submission.

I would get a cat.

Not just any cat. In my mind, it had to be a white cat with a pink nose. You can’t buy this kind of love, it has to happen organically. So I volunteered to brush cats at the local no-kill shelter. It was like being the sad, old cat lady with none of the stigma. I was volunteering. I waited. And one day, Coco—a humungous white cat with a pink nose—sauntered over. Her body moved slowly, like a pudgy panther. God, she needed a brushing. And she walked right over and into the brush. “This is it! We’re in love. I want to foster her, where do I sign? This is my cat!”

“Welcome home, COCO CHANEL!” I said, putting on her pink rhinestone collar engraved with her name. With that, we embarked upon our life of unconditional love.

That should be the end of the story, but Coco had other plans. She hadn’t read the studies that I had; studies that show snuggling a pet lowers your blood pressure and relaxes you!

Instead, this is what I got: Coco shed like a fucking polar bear in heat. The fur was everywhere. I couldn’t clean from one side of the apartment to the other without coming back to the beginning to start all over again. Tumbleweeds of white fur rolled down the hallway like an old Western movie. But wasn’t I relaxed? Am I imagining this? Do other people cope with cat hair better than I? Was there a trick to it? My friend’s houses didn’t look like mine. I checked and confirmed that they didn’t clean as much as I did. They didn’t practically cry tears of frustration as every surface, every corner, every piece of clothing was consumed. They didn’t lose their shit when, after applying fresh sheets to the bed, come back into the room to see the little fucking stress reliever sliding down into the covers to desecrate their only place of rest when they weren’t cleaning.

Then, Coco began kneading me, looking for soft, vulnerable spots—my arms, my tummy—that she would then proceed to sink her claws or teeth into. As with any demonic minion, blood excited her. She would get a taste and then spring up and scamper madly round and round the room. A victory lap, perhaps? Part of a ritual that involves the death of an innocent cat fosterer? Who can say?

All that running made Coco sick sometimes. So when she felt the need to puke, she would take extra care to hold that in until she could reach my shag rug. 95% of my apartment floor is hardwood. The puke was on the shag rug 100% of the time.

Then the sweet Coco Chanel began the devil’s work in earnest. When I would arrive home from work, I would open the door and find, at first, a sock or two, with Coco at the end of the hallway, staring coldly, menacingly, expectantly, as if to say, “Yeah, I did that today.”

Okay. Then, came my underwear and lingerie. Bringing friends home with me, I would get nervous as to what would be waiting when I opened the door. As I would hurriedly return my delicates to the bedroom (“Wasn’t this in the top drawer?!”), people would say, “Awwww, she’s bringing you treats.” But they didn’t feel like treats as much as they felt like threats. I wouldn’t let her intimidate me, so I would always pick up the items immediately upon arrival, saying directly to her smug little pink nose, “Thanks, Coco. This is exactly the pair of pants (?!) I wanted to wear tonight. Thanks for getting those out for me, girlfriend.”

Of course, I couldn’t wear any of the items because they were all covered in hair. The “gifts” got larger and larger. Until one day an entire blanket had been transported from the living room to the front door. Visible teeth marks proved that she had worked at this task all day. She was showing me that her powers were, in fact, growing.

Needing a vacation from the hellcat, I went out of town for a week. When I returned, my apartment looked like Linda Blair’s bedroom. I swear the temperature had dropped fifty degrees. Fur was everywhere, inexplicably in every corner, defying gravity even. Vomit only on the shag rug. Coco sat triumphant on my perfect reading chair that had been ritualistically used as a scratching post. She perched like a gargoyle, out of the sunlight— it would probably destroy her. This bitch had to go.

And the switch was flipped. I exorcized the demon. Just as the exorcist had to ignore the ranting of the demon-possessed child, I ignored all of the people who tried to guilt me out of my decision to quit, “You’re just going to give her back? You can’t do that!”

But you can do that. And I like my life so much better now.

So quit. Stop making excuses. Fail fast. Quit with pride, high-five yourself. Quit that job you hate, quit being the responsible one, quit trying to learn Spanish, or French, or Italian or any other language you think is going to make you more worldly and chic, quit taking guitar lessons at Old Town School of Folk, quit that co-ed softball team that berates you for being a girl, quit the motherfucking gym, quit that dream of being a rock star, an astronaut, a navy seal, the president of the United States. For me, the ability to say see ya later to a freak cat resulted in my life being healthier, with more energy to put towards what does work, and me being able to hold my head up high—failures, quitting, and all. Persistence is a virtue, yes, and sometimes the win is in the struggle. There are things I’ll never quit; listening to stories, caring, loving, hoping (hope is a thing with feathers, not fur, remember), but sometimes—yes, maybe even most of the time—a quitter does win and a winner knows exactly when to quit.


1055906_origJill Howe spends most of her time and energy on stories… her own and others. She organizes fellow writers in sharing their latest tales at her monthly feedback workshop, Friends with Words, while also co-producing Story Sessions, a monthly live lit show hosted by Deanna Moffitt and was featured at the City Winery on February 16th. Last year Jill made a New Year’s resolution to step out of the audience and up on stage. Story Club’s open mic was one of her first public tellings.

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