An Excerpt

Actual dialogue from meeting my downstairs neighbor for the first time:

HER: … because I grew up in the Southwest.

ME: Where in the Southwest did you grow up?

HER: Well, New Mexico.

ME: Where in New Mexico?

HER: I tell people Albuquerque because that’s a place they’ve heard of, but it’s actually not very close to Albuquerque.

ME: Oh, where’s that? I might have heard of it.

HER: I was born in Gallup.

ME: Oh.

HER: It’s actually—

ME: I was raised in Gallup.

HER: What?!

Looking back, I didn’t ask her enough questions about it, and seeing as I’ve lived here for almost nine months and had only seen her once through the window, I probably won’t get the chance. But hey, pretty wild, right?

Lost Friends

I was poking through my laptop this morning, and I found this. Shortly before I left home to begin my new life, our baby Andrew was not doing so hot. I had sat down at a café and written him an obituary the day I thought we were going to put him to sleep, but that day the vet had an idea for a new painkiller that really rejuvenated him. But the vet also said not to bring him back until the last time because he was old and frail. This was about a month before the divorce papers were handed to me. My last request of Kate was that she tell me when Andrew left our world, but the only communication I’ve had with her this past year and a half were about taxes. The fact is, Andrew is most definitely dead, and I don’t know when it happened or how it happened. Did Kate hold him in the vet’s office while he went to sleep forever, or did he just curl up in a sunbeam and never wake up? Andrew was my friend for fourteen years, and it’s past time to memorialize him.

Andrew Fuzzbutt Schroeder

January 2000 to ?

Andrew has never been much of a lap cat, so when, a few months ago, he started crawling on my chest and taking residence, thoroughly dislodging me from whatever I’d been doing, I was thrilled. It’s been brought to my attention, given his health, that he may have been coming to me for comfort. And so that leads to the big conflict—can I enjoy the memories of him cuddling with me, purring away, when it was a symptom of discomfort?

It’s a smaller version of the bigger conflict—can I, in good conscience, fight tooth and nail to keep this cat alive when he’s got a tumor eating him from the inside out, when the only humane thing to do is put him to sleep? It’s me being selfish, and I don’t want to be a selfish person. But how am I supposed to live without him?

I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard a million times the tale of how he was adopted. Kate had gone to the shelter on a mission for a black cat she could name Magik. While standing in front of the cages, she felt something tugging on her leg, and so she looked down to see a little gray fluffball whose name was Andrew. When she didn’t pay sufficient attention to him, he reached through the bars, opened the latch of his cage, and took off. She said, “I’ll take that one.”

One should never adopt smart pets, particularly cats, because they get bored. Andrew cut a path of destruction across the house, and, as an athletic leaper, he could get anywhere he wanted. Kate was forced to give him a middle name so she could yell at him like a parent when he misbehaved (“Andrew Fuzzbutt Schroeder, you stop that!”). And yet he was cute, the cutest in the world, an observation based on strict scientific principles, so one look with his big yellow eyes could disarm your rage. Based on his intelligence and vertical reach, as well as the way he sleeps, Kate has concluded that he’s not really a cat, but rather a dragon disguised as a cat. I’ve seen nothing that contradicts this.

I moved in four years after she found him, and I became primary caretaker of the cats, feeding them and cleaning their litter. Andrew recognized that, and he respected me, but we never bonded like he and Kate did. But I love him all the same. That’s why it’s been so painful watching him studying countertops as if he were going to jump on them, but being too weak or too hurting to make it. He used to be the most gluttonous of the cats, sometimes eating out of the scoop as I distributed the dry food, but lately, I’ve been rejoicing whenever I see him eat.

The fact is, it was time for Andrew to retire (that’s my euphemism; I like it, and I’m keeping it), and no amount of love from me was going to stop that. And so he did.

He was my friend. I’m going to miss him. I’m lucky I have two more little friends to help me through this.

A Hazy Shade of Back When

There was one thing I could say about my time in high school, college, and my days in New York: I was pretty miserable through a lot of it. I was frequently anxious and frequently depressed, and I imagine that being my friend or lover was a major challenge. But here’s the thing about that. I can’t remember why. I mean, I know now that it was my bipolar disorder getting me on downswings, but the individual things that were depressing me or causing me anxiety are a mystery to me. I know that I constantly wanted to be in a relationship with a woman, and I was broke, but was that it?

I guess I’m wearing a thick pair of rose-colored glasses about the past, because I remember when it went well. I recall the parties and the hanging out and the getting to know people and the long walks and the joy of exploring the world. What keeps these glasses from becoming delusional, however, is that I am well aware of how unhappy I was at the time. I don’t want to go live in the past because the peace I feel in the present from being myself and being by myself is probably my greatest achievement.

It’s funny, though, the selective editing in my head. I may not have fully enjoyed my life at the time, but I fully enjoy my history now.

The Ghost of Anniversaries Past

I said I wasn’t going to spend any extra time thinking about this day, but I can’t seem to ignore it. I’m doing so well. I’m happy, and, while I’m not exactly eating healthily, I am mostly healthy. I’ve written five and almost finished with a sixth novel in the intervening year. I have a real, full-time job now that has promised me they’re not going to lay me off in the midst of the pandemic. I’m financially doing extremely well, and I’m making plans to take at least one vacation once the crisis has passed. The last year has been good to me.

It’s been fifteen years since April 30 has simply been the last day of the month. And what I’m feeling now is not nostalgia for the marriage. I do feel that sometimes, and it comes and goes like a song that gets stuck in your head. What I’m feeling is nostalgia for this day meaning something. It was a day when my wife and I would have a nice dinner together (usually steak because she’s a Nebraska girl), and I would compose a Facebook post that summed up where I was in the relationship. Sometimes she’d take the day off, but mostly she didn’t (she took all of the pagan holidays off, and I think she didn’t want to push it). I’d tease her about all the times she told people that our anniversary was April 31 (i.e. the last day of April). It was a low-key holiday, and I’m programmed to recognize it when it comes up.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. My predictions last year that I would by now haven’t proven true. Maybe I’ll just defy what I’m supposed to do and recognize the day as a kind of trophy to the fact that I was married once, for a really long time, and I’m the man I am today because of it. That I can remember that part of my life without bitterness or longing, but as a part of me, as much a part of me as my six years in New York or my four years in college or my two years in Qatar or my ten years with an on-again-off-again drinking problem.

It’s who I was. It’s who I am.

The More They Stay the Same

We are at an unprecedented point in our history, and it’s got me seriously concerned about something. We are seeing clearly that capitalism as it we know it is toxic, that the CEOs are avaricious and cruel and are profiting off of this national disaster. We’re seeing clearly that the party that has been elected to run our federal and most of our state government is incompetent and vain and in the pockets of the aforementioned CEOs. We’re seeing a disaster made exponentially worse because the people who are supposed to look out for us are failing, and it’s the nurses and teachers and hourly workers—essentially second-class citizens—are holding it all together.

What I’m afraid of is that, when this is all over, nothing will change. That we will continue to reelect those people we have been complaining about for months. That the billionaires will give themselves bonuses, and the politicians who support them will give them more tax cuts. I’m afraid that the nurses and teachers will go back to being ignored and mistreated, and that there will be no minimum wage increase or sick time for the hourly employees who risked their lives to make society function. If nothing comes out of this nightmare we’ve been living with, then what was the point?

How bad will it have to get for things to change? I have a sick feeling in my stomach that it’s going to take a lot more than this.

Tea and Crumpets

From what I understand, I have a reputation for being intelligent. Some even consider me to be intellectual. I can’t think of anything about me that’s further from the truth.

I was a B student in high school, which is reasonably smart, but once I made it to college, I became a C student who barely graduated. I hardly did any of the reading and basically bullshat my way through all of my papers and exams.

I don’t read much, and when I do, it tends to be trashy urban fantasy. I don’t watch informative documentaries or complex movies on Netflix, but rather action and comic book movies—I’ve already shared my love of the Resident Evil franchise, and that’s a series where every movie is exponentially dumber than the last one. I don’t like intellectually challenging music like Tom Waits or Amanda Palmer, but rather the Wu-Tang Clan or catchy grunge. And while I am enamored with Sandman, most of my comic book collection leans toward the wham bam pow! (Also, I kind of hate Maus.) So, yeah, as far as pop culture is concerned, I lean heavily on the pop.

I’m always worried people get the wrong idea about my pursuits. When I did that kind of thing, I hated it when people called me an artist. An artist creates visual works that enrich the minds of people who gaze upon them. I just doodled pictures of cats and squirrels and characters in my short stories. And I’m a writer, but I’m not exploring the human condition through a mastery of the English language. My current novel is about a teenage girl in high school trying to outwit an invisible murder spirit.

I’m not writing this to fish for compliments or to feel sorry for myself. I’m just being honest. I’m not an extraordinary person, and I don’t need to be. I don’t have a responsibility to be more than I am. “What about bettering yourself?” you might ask. I answer, “What’s wrong with our society that we’re not allowed to accept ourselves for where we’re at?” Because I worked hard for years to get to the point where I’m this level of unexceptional, and I would like to enjoy it, thank you very much.

I’m only an okay writer. I’m a marginally decent cartoonist. I’m a poor example of an intellectual. And I’m not missing anything. I’m Jeremiah Murphy, and I like who I am.

A Little Perspective

I said to my psychiatrist during our appointment, “Nothing like this has ever happened before in the history of our country, so I’m not worried that I’m feeling depressed and anxious and a little hopeless right now because any rational, sane person would be feeling that way.”

He agreed with me 100 percent. And since he is, hands down, the best mental health professional I have ever met, maybe we should think about that and cut ourselves a little slack for being freaked out for being locked up during a deadly freaking pandemic.

The Cat Came Back

What many of you may not know about Henry the Cat, my roommate’s companion who shredded my arm yesterday, took full control of the couch last week, and rearranges the art on my wall when he thinks it’s time for breakfast, and basically rules this apartment with an iron paw, is that he used to be my cat.

One morning in the spring of 2014, I was living in Doha, Qatar, and, while making coffee, I heard someone crying. I ran to my front door, and there was a little black kitten, scared to death. I took him inside, gave him some food and a safe place to sleep, and he was a mellow kitty, and Kate and I decided we would quarantine him for a little bit and let him join the family. He was mellow because he was malnourished and underslept. Fed and rested, he turned out to be made of springs and destruction. Also, he was a really smart cat, and smart cats are the worst.

He was introduced to the house, and he got along pretty well with Newcastle, and Magik ignored him successfully, but Andrew was not okay with this. He started to lose weight and pee all over the house, and since Andrew had lived with Kate for fourteen years by that point, the new guy, who we had named Henry, had to go.

We took him to the vet to be fostered out, and they put him in a cage, and he screamed in the cage, nonstop, until they had to give him back to us. We tried fostering him at other houses in the neighborhood, but he was too much to handle. One place they locked him in the bathroom, and he just let himself out. We couldn’t take him back, but every other day someone would return him to us. He couldn’t live with us, not if Andrew was going to be okay. We had three options. We could let him back out on the streets of Doha, where life would be nasty, brutish, and short. We could put him to sleep, which hardly seemed fair. Or we could pay over two thousand dollars to ship him to the United States to live with some friends who fostered animals. It wasn’t even a choice.

When he arrived at our friends’ home, he proceeded to be the cataclysm he was for everybody else, but they were made of stronger stuff than the others in Doha. They really couldn’t wait to get rid of him, though. Enter Nicole, the cat whisper, who instantly bonded with him on a visit. She got a new apartment, specifically for him, and brought him home.

There has never been a better animal/human match in history. They are obsessed with each other. When Nicole has to spend the night elsewhere because she’s dogsitting, she FaceTimes with him. And when she was seeing a guy and brought him home overnight, he went into a fit of jealous rage. (Said the guy, “I think he likes me!” Said Henry, “I’m going to stab you in the face.”) We braced for the worst when Newcastle and I moved in, but the two little guys really love each other (they get jealous of Nicole’s affections, though), and Henry tolerates me.

And once again, he’s my problem. I say, “Remember me, Henry? I rescued you from the streets!” He replies, “Give me treats, or I’m going to smash your favorite coffee mug.” So I give him treats.

Wiping out the Supply

We’re running out of toilet paper, and every grocery store doesn’t have any, so my roommate turned to online sources. She found one deal that is awfully tempting, even though we live in an 800-square-foot apartment and have no space anywhere to put eighty rolls of toilet paper. 

Welcome to the apocalypse. Bet you didn’t anticipate these kinds of moral dilemmas.