Vodka Yonic

Vodka Yonic features a rotating cast of women and nonbinary writers from around the world sharing stories that are alternately humorous, sobering, intellectual, erotic, religious or painfully personal. You never know what you’ll find in this column, but we hope this potent mix of stories encourages conversation.

Like most decisions I made during the height of my 14-year struggle with depression and chronic suicidal ideation, the choice to adopt my cat Bootsie was made on a whim. Foreshadowing the imminent rise of online dating, my heart was captivated by Bootsie’s profile picture on the Humane Society’s website — his luminous eyes and long whiskers were irresistible — before I learned anything else about him. Aside from being described as having an “electric personality,” Bootsie had feline leukemia. 

Admittedly, I adopted Bootsie for selfish reasons. I’d never been around cats and knew nothing about caring for them. I simply hoped taking responsibility for something other than myself would provide a lifeline in the midst of a time when I dreamed daily of dying. Fortunately, cats are rather self-sufficient, and the worst thing that happened initially was mistaking his purring for a respiratory infection, which cats with leukemia are prone to. 

The little joys from his presence punctuated my depression, but despite three years of antidepressants and therapy, I was still ensnared by hopelessness. A month after I adopted Bootsie, I made my second suicide attempt. After sucking down, and immediately vomiting, as much activated charcoal as I could take in the ER, I was transferred to an observation floor. Before I was admitted to the locked psychiatric unit, I begged the social worker to allow Bootsie to stay with me. She acquiesced. For two days, Bootsie was content with rolling around the sink, pestering the ’round-the-clock sitters, and curling up in my lap after he’d exhausted himself. A week later, I cradled Bootsie in my arms and vowed to never leave him again.

From the outside, strangers could mistake my smile and all the success I had obtained on paper for happiness. Only I knew the devastating truth of the deeply rooted beliefs I held about myself — of being inadequate and unlovable. When we moved from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Nashville for my first nursing job after graduation, it took Bootsie months to adapt from having my three college roommates to having only me. His mournful meows filled the night. I Googled whether cats could get depressed too and purchased a webcam so I could talk to him when I worked the night shift at the hospital. He was always waiting at the door when I came home. 

In my loneliness, Bootsie became my wingman. On dating apps, my bio advertised, “I love my cat and cuddling.” I prefaced all conversations with the question, “Do you like cats?” The only prerequisite for the men I dated was that they met and loved Bootsie as much as I did. Meanwhile, I sought validation for my entire existence from men who saw me as only a sexual  vessel. Because I believed I was unworthy of real love, I settled for scraps and self-harmed when I longed for more. I persuaded myself this was as good as it got. 

Yet after my heart had been shattered and I’d sobbed myself into a listless heap on my mattress, Bootsie would come sniff the tears plastered to my cheeks and arrange himself in a neat little loaf on top of me. Other times, he’d paw at the covers until I let him snuggle underneath. Sometimes I squeezed him so tightly to my chest that he’d start to whine and wiggle out of my grasp. 

Still, his unconditional love comforted me in the depths of my sorrow. I learned to live life one day at a time. I bought a light-therapy lamp when winter descended. I cried reading sad novels while Bootsie lapped water from my “Crazy Cat Lady” mug. I took him on 6 a.m. excursions to Kroger and on walks at Shelby Park. Over time, I discovered we’re both picky eaters, flighty and temperamental. We established a life together worth living for.

Memories of my life up until a year ago are clouded by a hazy film. At 26, I’m wrestling with overwhelming regret for the time I’ve lost to the insatiable void of my depression, and the impaired choices I’ve made because of it. Though I’m hard on myself, Bootsie has never demanded I be someone I’m not. He gave me freedom and confidence to just be me, with all my messy emotions. He was my strength when I had none. 

Bootsie is now 10 years old, fighting dental and kidney disease. He doesn’t heal as quickly as other cats would, and he has to see the vet more often. Just as he’s been by my side through it all, I’m determined to cherish each moment I have left with him. Come January, we’ll be celebrating our five-year anniversary. Bootsie couldn’t care less, because … well, he’s a cat. But ours is by the far the best relationship I’ve ever had.

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