Molly

Molly, 2019

This is the story of the big life of a little cat.

Molly’s life with me began in July 2002, when I had just moved back from New York City to Austin. I wasn’t happy with the move, and thought I’d get myself a cat as a consolation prize.

But before that, in May, I was in New York, walking with a friend who was visiting for the day from New Haven. “David’s cat had kittens!” she said, referring to her boyfriend at home in Austin, an old friend who had and has been in my life since I was 16.

“Is there an orange one?” I asked.

“Yes!”

“I’d like to see that kitten!” I said, looking around me and thinking that a furry friend would be just the thing to take the sting out of leaving all the exciting things and opportunities that surrounded me in that moment.

A few weeks later, I left New York, with an orange kitten on my mind. I know what you’re thinking, Molly wasn’t orange! No, she wasn’t! Stay with me.

I moved back to Austin, into an empty one-bedroom with an inflatable mattress, a huge indigo plastic iMac and no other furniture. After a few days of pushing the mattress from room to room to “settle in,” I was ready to pay David a visit.

At the time, David was living a few blocks from UT, with at least one roommate and what seemed like 100 cats who seemed to be everywhere all at once. Big kitten energy, is what I’m saying. I stepped around the rolling balls of fur and teeth, and settled on the couch while David made introductions.

“I’m keeping that one.” He pointed at a sweet, silky white boy kitten with big eyes. “This one has been scratching her ear a lot.” He pointed at a beautiful tabby while I priced ear drops in my head. I looked over at the orange one, the prize I had come for, just as David pointed at him. “I think T-Bone has been pooping under the couch.”

“Hm, way to sell those cats, David.” I thought. He ended up keeping all of them except for Molly, so he probably didn’t actually want to sell them at all. But I had a decision to make.

As I was pondering ear drops vs. the stealth pooper, a friendly calico toddled up to me and raised on her back legs, balancing her paws on my jeans. I looked at her, then David. He had nothing to say.

“Maybe this one,” I said, stroking her soft fur. The other cats weren’t very interested in me, but this cat was immediately. “Definitely this one.”

“I thought I’d name her Tank Girl.” David said.

“Hmm,” I looked at the kitten’s face. “Don’t let him name me Tank Girl!” It seemed to say. She had an “M” marking above her right eyebrow. “How about Molly?”

And that was that. She stayed with David for a few more days while I got her litter box, bowl and starter set of cat toys, then we loaded her up in a boxy green plastic carrier and I drove, as slowly and carefully as I could with the precious cargo, down 24th Street and up MoPac, across 183 and onward to my apartment.

I knew my life had changed. When we got home, I remember unlatching the carrier and sitting on the inflatable mattress waiting for her to come out in her own time. After about 15 minutes, she did. We were home.


The joke was on me, because while Molly never pooped under the couch, she peed everywhere. A bladder condition diagnosis and medicine took care of that, but she never stopped preferring a soft carpet, couch or bed comforter to cushion her paws vs. scratchy litter and a drafty box. I think she was 16 before she was an exclusive box-user. She also pushed her way through my newspapers when I was reading them, knocked stuff off the counters and jumped to and from the highest cabinets in my apartment while I begged her to behave. In other words, she was a Grade A Normal Kitten. One night I couldn’t get her to take her bladder pills, which I would wipe in strawberry cream cheese and stick to my finger, hoping she would just open up and let me put it on her tongue. (Why yes, she was my first indoor cat! Why do you ask?) She became agitated and I had to put her in the bathroom and call David to come help medicate his damn cat. He stopped by an hour later, rolled her up in a towel like a burrito and had her pilled in about two minutes. She did everything but say “Aah” and get a lollipop. She was a stinker.

Molly, 2005

And by stinker, I mean, she was the best. She loved Bob Marley and other music with a deep, dance hall beat, and music with reedy voices and instruments, like the Dixie Chicks, sent her into a biting, scratching rage her whole life. She wasn’t a lap cat, but she loved being close to her people and spent most of her final weeks snuggled against me while my husband James and I watched The Crown on TV. Molly loved TV time and strangely enough, had the same preferences that we did.

She enjoyed being where the action was, always part of the conversation circle or checking out houseguests’ suitcases, making sure they were all settled in. Until I met James in 2008, it was just Molly and me and a short parade of not-James’s, some who she liked a lot (the small-town vegan) and others who made her hiss and leap sideways (information withheld because, well, let’s just say Molly often picked up on things that I didn’t.) We spent a lot of time by ourselves. In the early days, I was a newspaper reporter and worked odd hours. Most nights, I’d unwind with her by watching some late-night Cheaters TV and enjoying International Delight coffees. (Remember, I was 26, it was 2002 and “coffee culture” was years away, as were the good cable channels.) Sometimes I’d be home so late, and so tired that I could only hold out the feather stick limply while she jumped at it, desperate for playtime after being home alone all day while I chased down stories about mercury in the local fishing lake and small town petty shit.

I talked to her all the time. I said, “please move,” when she blocked my path to bully me for treats. “Excuse me,” when I brushed past her reaching for the remote. “Thank you, Molly,” when she obeyed a request (there were never really any commands in our dynamic) or gave me kitty kisses. She heard so many stories and so much dirt on so many people. I’d like to think she was as shocked and appalled as I was when people misbehaved or there was drama to share.

Because of this, she was very in tune with people. “She understands tone!” I’d later say to James, who seemed to buy it but I’m not so sure. But she did understand! James likes to remind me that Molly’s brain was the size of a walnut, but it must have been all empathy.

When a friend who had just lost her father was crying at my kitchen table, Molly was there with knee pats and purrs. When I lost a close friend to suicide in 2007, she barely left my side for the months that it took me to get through a day without losing it. When James lost his dad, Molly was right there with us on the couch working through it as a family.


We went on like this for almost 18 years, Molly and me, and beginning in 2010, Molly, James and me. I have so many stories, and to tell them all would be to write a book. She was my best friend. When I looked at her, I knew the world was right. The night before my wedding, I opted out of staying at a hotel so that I could spend the night at home with Molly. One of James’ and my wedding debates was what tier of the cake Molly’s figurine should go on. (I won. She was placed on the top tier with us. I mean, where else would she be?) When we moved in 2018, we had to leave her in the old apartment bathroom all day while the movers did their thing. We freed her around 10:30 that night and drove through Whataburger, the cat carrier on my lap like a puzzle piece. When she first got sick and we knew the end was coming, I’d wake up in the night and see the silhouette of her ears in the dark, right where they were supposed to be. “What happens without this?” I thought.

Molly was, for a long time, the very best thing in my life. Until I met James and had two best things. And she was the most constant thing in what was a very transient and not always great life. Because of my newspaper career, we moved four times in the first three years alone. We did not always have consistency in income or a stable place to plan the future from. Most of my close friends live elsewhere, so Molly was my only steady companion for most of our years together, and you can probably get an idea of my dating life from the “made the cat hop sideways” anecdote above. (But nobody mistreated Molly! Not only would that have been an instant dealbreaker, she was universally beloved even by those who she herself could take or leave.)

Molly, 2003

What was life going to look like without that stabilizing influence, being able to see, interact and care for a companion who had filled that role for 17 years. That is such a long time! Molly’s social media presence predates even MySpace by many years! She was an early Friendster adopter. When she was tiny I put her photo on RateMyKitten but then deleted it when someone said it looked like she was wearing makeup. It weirded me out for some reason. But, Molly was totally Generation Z, a Digital Native by Gen X proxy.


My friends started having babies right after I got Molly. She was the oldest. As the years flew, I couldn’t help but compare their ages, and wonder what human Molly would be doing. The ages came and went where she could drive, vote, buy cigarettes, start high school. I don’t have kids, by choice, but it was still an interesting thought exercise.

But a cat is not a person. Adopting a cat, as James liked to remind me, is both a promise made to a kitten and accepting a small tragedy. I knew that it was highly unlikely that Molly would outlive us, and still I hoped. With each birthday, I thought maybe she’d live a long time and be not just old, but really, really old. A Guinness World Record of a cat. But without old cat health problems, because I wanted her to always feel good.

She felt “good” until about three weeks before she died, and I’m grateful for that. There are so many things I’m grateful for. Her facial tumor made her look like she had a jaw full of chewing tobacco, but didn’t hurt her. She was mobile and playing, albeit with some painkiller help, until the morning we said goodbye. The only time she really slowed down was in the final week, between Christmas and New Year, and that just meant that she spent most of her time in one of a warren of Christmas package boxes we had set up in our breakfast nook. We learned to read the boxes. The big one meant she was feeling okay. The medium-sized box on its side meant she wanted to rest but also see the world. The tiny Target box with tissue paper still in it meant “My painkillers are wearing off. Pretend you don’t see me until I can have another one.”

Molly, Dec. 2019

On the last night of her 17 years and nine months, she watched The Crown finale on the couch with us, played with Christmas Tree branches, gave her rolling ball toy a few hearty whacks and went to sleep after a healthy dose of painkillers melted into a Brothful. (Aside – did you know there’s a whole product industry based around soup for cats?!) The next morning, James woke up, gave her heart pills, breakfast, treats and medicated eye wash, then took his shower. Molly made a normal lap through the bedroom where I was, then suddenly broke in to a panicked run all the way to the closet in my art studio and hid in the far corner of the farthest closet. Molly was old, sore and had not run for anything in probably a year. Something obviously awful and bad and non-salvageable had happened.


In the last few weeks of her life, when we chilled on the couch, I’d ask “Molly, is it time?” and give her a good, clear look to see if I could tell. Because, for as long and as much as Molly and I “talked,” she was a cat and could not really talk. I knew she loved her life and wanted to keep it, and I also knew that James and I would have to understand what her limits were so not to prolong the inevitable. Usually, she’d just kind of look at me and go back to TV or bathing herself or whatever it was that she was doing. She was trucking along. Tank Girl until the end.

But that morning, Jan. 2, I didn’t have to ask. At that point, we had to force a radical shift in our perspective from “Molly, our friend and family member” to “Molly, who is a terminally ill animal and just wants to not hurt.” We called our vet, and took her in immediately. After our vet confirmed our suspicions that Molly wouldn’t recover from her cancer-related injury, we, as a team, decided to let her go.

My strongest memory of that day is when the vet brought her back from the staff exam room, a little tranquilized and buzzed but not asleep yet. They had wrapped Molly in a pink blanket like a little baby. Molly was alert, ears up and scanning the room for James and me. When she saw us and was placed on the table, we had a few precious, priceless moments with her to give kisses, head butts and “I love you’s” before she started to slip into sedation for the next step. I honestly don’t remember much after that, only that leaving the vet’s office without her cat carrier, which we donated to the clinic, was the weirdest and one of the hardest things I have ever experienced. It was like leaving your wallet on the bus, if your wallet had your 17-year old cat in it and you’ll never get it back.


This is the story of Molly, but as with all stories, there is more to it.

James and I were visiting David this past weekend. Molly’s mom and siblings (ear drops and the couch pooper, aka Lucy and T-Bone) had passed in spring of 2019 and beautiful Mad Dog had crossed the bridge years earlier. It was the first time in nearly 18 years that I’d see David and not have cats in common to talk about. So, we spent a happy couple of hours talking about the cats we used to have.

“You know the story, right?” He asked. I did, but I wanted to hear it again.

Turns out, I didn’t know the whole story.

Molly’s mom Ella was a stray who David took in. There was a medical delay in getting her fixed, and between the first time she went in and the time he took her back for the surgery, she snuck out a bathroom window and went on a little Rumspringa. When the vet saw her again, she was pregnant with kittens.

Molly’s story, and the story of her siblings runs on such a thin margin that it is nearly cosmic. There are so many scenarios where Molly would not have been with me. I reconnected with David in the late 1990s, through a situation that wasn’t great, but having Molly come from it made the chaos completely worth it. If I hadn’t spent the day in New York with Audrey, who happened to mention David’s cats. If T-Bone hadn’t been in a sneaky pooping phase. If Ella hadn’t escaped, or if she had been fixed at that first appointment. If Molly hadn’t so obviously made herself known at the kitten-choosing night.

I would have missed so much and never even known it. I know I would have probably found another cat, and a different joy, but it would not have been this joy. I love my life with Molly, all the ups and downs, both of our bad behavior, the expense and responsibility that comes with pet ownership, everything. Even the end of it that was so scary and consuming with the medicine and her encroaching, very obvious tumor and eye issues that I assured her just made her look more interesting.


At the beginning of this story, I said that I thought a kitten would be a consolation prize, a second place compromise between a life in New York that I so badly wanted and the life I was expected to lead. It shames me to write that now. How wrong I was. Consolation prize? She was the blue ribbon of my whole entire life. Aside from my marriage, which didn’t happen until 2012, she was the first and only thing that was ever truly mine, the first unconditional love I ever experienced in either direction. We figured the whole pet ownership thing out together and I didn’t always get it right, but I know she loved me in whatever ways a cat can love and she inspired me to do my best for her. A night or two before she died, we were relaxing on the couch and I scratched her head. She looked at me as a geriatric cat with a lopsided face and bad eye, but I could clearly see love, or something like it in her face. I felt strongly then, that even if she wasn’t ready to go at that time, that when she did go, that our lives together really had been everything to each other, and to James, that they were supposed to be. That it was okay for this chapter of our story together to end.


Molly, 2015

In my last post, I wrote about being on a Rickie Lee Jones kick. This coincided with Molly’s final weeks around the end of the year, so Molly got to enjoy it, too. When I hear “The Horses” now, I think of Molly and for now it makes me sad, although I know it won’t always.

I am pretty positive “The Horses” wasn’t written for a dying cat, but that’s how I see it. I think of the Pegasus and Equuleus constellations and how Molly is in the stars now, riding the horses in the sky. In my mind, I see her leaping from star to star, playing as free and easy as she did in the early days when she leapt from my countertop to the top kitchen cabinet and back down to the side table. Maybe we all come from the stars and go back to them. It’s not for me to know. I do know that the beauty and promise of wherever Molly is, is that she’ll never fall again. But I hope she still knows in her heart, or whatever source of light that is left and is still her, that I”ll be here to pick her up until it is my turn to meet her there.

Molly and me around 2005.

Molly – 2002-2020 “If you fall, I’ll pick you up; I’ll pick you up.”

**Disclaimer: With time doing what time does, direct quotes may be paraphrased, but they and the accompanied scenarios are true to the best of my memory.

’80s Ladies

Looking back, I wonder if my hometown school system was inspired by the game Pick-up Sticks. Order, chaos, order, repeat.

Kindergarten through sixth grades were at small elementary school campuses across the city. In seventh grade, we were shaken up and thrown together on a huge campus with a residential street running through it. (Inspired by Pick-up Sticks AND Frogger?) After a year, just enough time to get our bearings, we were spit up again into two junior highs, East and West. An “Us vs. Them” division perfect for sports team rivalries, petty factions and bullies looking for a reason. For our final three years, we were all flung onto the single high school campus to try and get along until we graduated. Quite the social experiment.

Prior to the seventh grade, my friends had come from three groups: church, my mom’s friends’ kids, and kids who had been seated near me from kindergarten through sixth grade. Until I was twelve, my friendships were mostly “you get what you get” situations.

So, I was overwhelmed on my first day of seventh grade at the big Dunbar Intermediate School from the moment I stepped off the bus into moving traffic. I was immediately lost in a sea of kids who not only didn’t go to my church, but who I had never seen before in my life. Who were these people? Had they been in Lufkin all this time? And they were all supposed to be seventh graders? Teased hair, acid washed denim, puff painted sweatshirts…in my memory, those kids looked like 30-year olds. At least compared to me, in my long skirt, button-up blouse and red scarf tied “nicely” around my shoulders. Dressed from bow-head-to-squeaky-loafer in Wiener’s finest that was chosen by my mom, likely with some input from my great-Aunt Lucy, a saleslady there. Thus ensuring that my only school friends would be the lunch ladies.

I don’t think I blinked once that entire first day, and maybe not the day after, either. Getting from class to class was a wild-eyed obstacle course. I kept tripping over my skirt. I regretted all previous life choices almost immediately. My elementary school friends seemed gone forever.

But then came Computer Science class, or what passed for computer science in 1988-89. I remember two things from that class: one, that I met Valeria and two, that she taught me to say “I love you” in Spanish. (Don’t get excited, she wasn’t saying it to me. She taught me so that I could say it and impress some pre-teen twerp who didn’t care.)

This is important, because Valeria was the first friend I ever made on my own. I came from the rural “bubble” and she lived in town. I was an only child and pretty isolated. My life advice until that point came mainly from people who were raised in the 1940s. Valeria had a big, busy family and lots of neighborhood kids to play with. So, we were different in some ways but we still clicked immediately. Even when we were too young to fully articulate it, we looked around this bisected city block full of future “*Lufkin bozos” and wanted so badly to fit in, and also wanted so much more than what we saw. And neither of us had any idea how to be anything other than exactly how we were, which was mostly braces, eyebrows and imagination.

We tried so hard. We passed notes by the hour, updating each other on the highs and lows of the day, a cycle of plotting and rehashing that has continued for 30 years. (Now, we text and Instagram message.) We were on the newspaper staff and made a whole column about who was dating who, who broke up, and what we thought about it. (Strangely, our sponsor never actually published this.) We made up unflattering, permanent nicknames for, well, pretty much anyone that so much as looked sideways at us. (Sorry, Hobbit Man. How are the grandkids?) We were each others’ biggest fans.

Valeria was not my only friend in seventh grade, but in general, I struggled to fit in. I ran for student council but was disqualified because I mixed up the date and passed out my campaign materials early. I was targeted by a group of “devil worshipers” who were going to “get me” at the mall. Groped in Science class. That sort of thing.

And there were other little dramas, some that I instigated, and right or wrong Valeria was there to egg me on or pick me up, whichever was called for. We have seen beginnings, endings and entire story arcs over the course of our lives together. She was there when I finally got a boyfriend, and she was standing at my side when he walked out of a school dance and broke up with me instead of inviting me to the dance floor.

At our ten year high school reunion, she was next to me when he approached us, recounted that day down to the detail. “I made a left out the door, and there you were.” He said it was something he deeply regretted. He blamed the whole thing on a mutual friend who had died in the 90s and could not defend himself, and implied that another shot would be pretty cool. I knew he had a wife at home. I never liked her, but I wasn’t going to do that to her either. Anyway, if you didn’t want me with my unibrow, then you don’t want me, mister. Valeria and I laughed it off. Our feet were hurting in our class reunion heels. (No more Wiener’s finest for me! I had since discovered Nordstrom Rack.) We were eager to go to Sonic and talk about all the people we’d seen. Maybe some new nicknames were in order.

Between seventh grade and our class reunion, Valeria and I did get the things we wanted from life, even if it hasn’t always gone how we imagined it would. But does it ever? We both muddled through junior high and high school, friendship mostly intact but our paths diverged a bit as friendships often do. She went to Nashville and I went to Austin. We found each other on Classmates.com sometime in the late 90s and resumed our “note passing” almost immediately. She eventually moved back to Texas. She got married in an actual castle! We were in each others’ weddings, our husbands get along and I saw her a few months ago with her baby. She has a little girl and twin stepdaughters who are in college. I look at them and know they will have great lives because Valeria is their mom.

As I said, Valeria was my first chosen friend. This is important because growing up in the “bubble,” it was implied that people outside the bubble were scary, and possibly even mean. Valeria was proof-positive that this wasn’t true. Meeting her, finding our commonalities, our shared goals and humor – this was the first step for me toward something different than was being handed to me. I have had someone to figure things out with since 1988 and that has been priceless. It was the first step in making my world bigger, in trusting myself a little bit, in seeing that maybe it was okay and valuable to trust in and care about things that I had to cross the street to get to. Valeria wasn’t mean – I am much meaner than she is – so maybe others wouldn’t be, either.

If not for my friendship with Valeria, I would not have had the courage to form close friendships with Courtney, Michelle, Mallory or others who came after.

Earlier, I used the term “Lufkin Bozo.” It is a given that any time something weird is in the news, it will have a Lufkin connection. Second only to “Florida Man.” The most recent “Lufkin Bozo” is the Blue Bell Ice Cream Licker. Our hometown crime blotter is famously weird. Valeria and I are fanatical about the adventures of the Lufkin Bozo, texting constantly when they appear in the news, mapping any possible connections to us, our family or friends. We know that but for the grace of God, etc.

What would have happened if I hadn’t met Valeria? Would I have erased all my eccentricities, or completely devolved? If she hadn’t met me, she would still be just fine. If nothing else, she had a pretty, popular, older sister that has no problem making people correct themselves. But I had an echo chamber. An echo chamber that cared for me, but an echo chamber nonetheless.

If I had not met Valeria, I wonder if she’d be somewhere in her life reading online about a new Lufkin Bozo, because they are definitely created in echo chambers. Or if this Lufkin Bozo would have ever had the courage to be seen at all.