When he left, he took the ketchup. I remember looking at it lying on top of a box filled with assorted condiments and packages of Rice-A-Roni and Mac & Cheese. We had bought it at Trader Joe’s the month before. It wasn’t even good ketchup. Not like the specialty eel sauce. This he took. Or the homemade strawberry-peach jam. This he left. No, the ketchup was ordinary at best. It was organic. It was $1.99. I remember looking at it and wondering, “Is this how it ends?”
When he left, we had been cat parents for almost two years. Chris had insisted on kittens. Up at the PetCo in Union Square, their adoption center nicknamed “The Upper Cat Side,” Chris spotted Kit and Toonces immediately. “These are them. These are our kittens,” he said. He was excited and shoved a finger into the cage to try to pet one of them. Together, they retreated to the back of the cage and huddled into one another. I halfheartedly attempted to point out other cats but I knew he wasn’t listening. When Chris made his mind up about something, any attempt to change it was futile.
Their adoption process was notorious for being over-the-top. Chris began to sweet talk the lady in charge. He told her about every cat he had ever owned, including the one-eyed orphan from the backwoods of Virginia to his parents’ big tomcat Morris. He ended his speech with the tragic tale of Curmudgeon, my scrappy senior cat who had passed away that August when a blood clot tore loose from his heart and lodged itself into his spine, rendering his back legs immobile. Charmed, the woman moved our application to the front of the pile.
After a thorough inspection of the apartment, we were deemed fit cat parents. We named them Kit, short for Kitmudgeon, and Toonces after the “Saturday Night Live” sketch about the driving cat. They immediately huddled together and cowered behind the toilet. Two tiny, furry bodies paralyzed in fear, eyes darting around looking for the nearest escape. By the end of that first night, it became clear that we had not adopted the “normal” kittens Chris had wanted. A website that specialized in teaching people how to bond with feral cats suggested that we each sit with them and say soothing words. I lay there for hours, with my head on their level, repeating over and over, “I love you. You’re safe now. I will never leave you. You are home.”
Early on in our talks of getting a cat, Chris decided that we should teach them to use the toilet. Always thrifty, he placed two 13×8 pans, one on top of the other, in the toilet bowl and taped them into place. These were then filled with cat litter. Chris thought they could be taught in a month. Every week he cut a hole, bigger and bigger, until there was almost nothing left of this aluminum-litter-box hybrid. Kit took right to it. Toonces, being much smaller and much more anxious, did not like this set-up. She would cry and circle around the toilet before peeing on the floor. Chris felt no sympathy towards Toonces and despite my pleas, would chase her around the house and back her into a corner before picking her up the scruff.
“No!” he yelled, pointing his finger at the puddle of urine and then shoving her face in it. “No! This is not where you go!”
When he let her go she ran to hide under the bed. I laid down on the floor next to her and we both cried.
“I love you. You’re safe now. I’m sorry,” I told her.
“You don’t discipline them,” Chris told me. “She’ll never learn if you don’t tell her she’s wrong.”
I am thinking of ketchup as he throws his clothes into trash bags and moves furniture into the living room. As he heave-hos the bed down the hall, leaving the cats wide-eyed and afraid. I laid down next to where they were crouching and told them over and over, “I love you. You are safe now. I will never leave you. You are home.” I used to think that ketchup was made the same way as wine. Or rather, how wine was made in that iconic episode of “I Love Lucy.” But that is not how ketchup is made. The tomatoes are buried in spices and set to boil. Once they reach a boil, they are lowered to a simmer, and the whole tomatoes are crushed with a spoon. The mixture is then left to sit, uncovered, for about an hour. Once it has thickened, an immersion blender is inserted to whir the partly crushed tomatoes into a red oblivion. Lastly, it is run through a fine mesh strainer and what remains in the pot is ketchup. The rest can be thrown away.
Sitting on the floor with our cats, I am wondering what happens to the parts of the tomato that aren’t made into ketchup. The stems and the seeds and all of the pieces too rotten for use. Nobody ever talks about that part. About what happens to the pieces of the tomatoes that are left behind. I am wondering all of this as he walks out the door. When he left, he took boxes and bags of our things. Plates and silverware. Wine glasses and mugs. He took the good pepper grinder. And the siracha. The yellow bag of quinoa. The remainder of the packs of instant ramen. The ketchup. The bed. Me and the cats, left behind. Three years, boiled down and reduced to nothing but the separation of things.
Chelsea Wolf is a writer based out of New York City. In her spare time, she writes and performs her own music, takes excessively long naps, and wrangles feral cats. You can follow her on Twitter (@chelswolf) or in real life.
featured image via Channone Arif on Flickr