My cat was there one minute and gone the next. Legit. One night, she was running up and down the hallway chasing The Great Red Dot, and the next she was gone. She had a tumor inside her that exploded, and there was nothing that could be done. It’s a metaphor for life, in a way. A bomb goes off and things are never the same after that.
I’m sitting on my bed, sinking into the comfort of my two inches of memory foam beneath three fluffy blankets, the Roku remote in my right hand and a hard cider in my left. There’s a new movie on Lifetime Movie Club today, an older flick entitled “We Were the Mulvaneys.” Beginning in the late 70s, the movie (and as I later found out, the novel by Joyce Carol Oates) centers on a seemingly perfect family that crumbles into oblivion after their daughter, Marianne, is raped by an upperclassman in the parking lot during a high school dance. Marianne’s father is so disgusted when she refuses to press charges against her attacker that he send his daughter away to live in a commune; he falls into alcoholism and leaves his wife after they are forced to sell their generations-old farm to pay off their debt. All three of Marianne’s brothers drift away from their mother, and one goes so far as to exact revenge against Marianne’s rapist. At the end of the movie, the father passes away and the family suddenly reunites, twenty years after the assault, to beginning the process of becoming a family again.
Honestly, I’m a big sucker for sexual assault/recovery movies. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I like seeing other people survive so that I know I’m not the only one. In the past, I’ve been drawn to movies where the survivor seeks revenge, movies like “Bound to Vengeance” and “I Spit on Your Grave.” But “We Were the Mulvaneys” is a totally different animal. Marianne does not seek revenge against her attacker or stand up to him in the slightest; she simply disappears—there one day, gone the next.
Every night now when I lay in bed, I find my hand drifting over to the pillow my cat used to sleep on. We were together most nights for sixteen years. She was my best friend. It’s only logical I would reach for her, sometimes. She was there forever, and then she wasn’t. We were always together, and then we weren’t.
“Strange:” Marianne’s brother speaks, “how when a light is extinguished, it’s immediately as if it has never been. Darkness fills in again, complete.” Marianne was extinguished so completely by her father that she almost literally ceased to exist. I think that’s how it happens for a lot of survivors of sexual assault, and I think that’s the reason I identify so strongly with “We Were the Mulvaneys.” Sure, I’ll admit that I love a good revenge turn. But a mistake that many of these movies make is that most survivors simply aren’t that person. We may want to be, but in being that person, we become our attacker and our attacker wins. While Marianne’s aftermath is an extreme, I think it’s an end that many survivors drift towards. 68 percent of rapes never get reported at all, and that’s a current statistic—I can’t imagine what it was like in the late 70s. Things are different now than they were then, and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.
My cat’s ashes came today via Fedex, a purple tin wrapped in lavender tissue paper in a purple gift bag inside a brown cardboard box, all the empty space in the box stuffed with marketing materials. I cried when I opened the box, but then I built a shrine on my dresser—purple tin with a black cat tea light candle holder on either side and a clear crystal cat in the front, with two of her favorite toys on top. Squire McSquiggleton and Queenie. They were her favorites. I think she would like the shrine.
We draw lines in the tea light so that she will visit in my dreams and then let the candle burn down to nothing. There one minute, gone the next.
I think I’m Marianne. Not that I’m quiet about what happened to me, but that it changed everything. Sexual assault is like a bomb in that once it happens, you don’t go back. I can think of too many moments where I didn’t stand up, where I didn’t fight back, where I didn’t speak.Where I didn’t say “I am a survivor.” But then there are just as many where I did stand up, where I did fight back, where I did speak—I just don’t think about those as much. Marianne never did.
Who I was before what happened to me was gone in what amounts to the blink of an eye. I won’t get that person back. I don’t want her back. I’m stronger without her.
I look at cats in shelters online, searching for a new best friend. No one jumps out and screams they’re a perfect match to me. I need to go and see them, visit the cats and pet them and experience them in person, but I’m not ready yet and that’s okay. Who we are is who we are, and what I’ve learned from Marianne and from my cat is that we’re here one minute and gone the next. We don’t control it. We don’t control anything but ourselves.
We were one thing, and then we were the next, and then we were the thing after that. We were always moving. We were change. We are.