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  • You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.
    Dr. Seuss


    I stopped dreaming years ago.

    Ten years ago:
    Home is a cute studio in the Marina district of San Francisco. The neighborhood is flat and sunny and populated by lots of hot white twentysomethings like me. I soon learn this is much unlike the rest of hilly, foggy, diverse San Francisco. Still, I feel safe here. I moved from New Jersey last year with an amazing job offer right out of college. California, here I come!!! Things started out great, until got laid off. That was six months ago. Now, I’m unemployed with a ton of debt from the move. Add to that the fact that I haven’t made any real friends here, and I feel like a loser for missing the loser ex back in Jersey who I actually let talk me into trying coke, then heroine. It was just a couple of times, but I knew it wasn’t good – which was part of the reason I left. He was part of the reason why I left. My life was pretty charmed, up until him. And now, this. Unemployed. I don’t want to ask my family for help, they don’t have much. This isn’t a good time. I’m not feeling much Hope right now. Which happens to be my name. I’ve always hated my name.

    In the middle of the night this past Thursday I heard this sound; this wailing, this pained mewing. I went outside and it stopped. Then it started again. Finally my neighbors came out too and together we found it, this tiny kitten that couldn’t be much older than a newborn.

    “Don’t touch it or the mother will reject it,” my neighbor said. So we left it there. And the later it got, the fainter the cries grew. I figured that meant that nature was taking its course and either the mother had come back or it had died. Either way, I was getting a little drunk to be honest, so I didn’t care so much.

    Early the next morning I was heading out for a jog, and it was still there! Barely alive, barely breathing, all sticky in blood and afterbirth. Something inside me suddenly kicked in, some sense of purpose; something I hadn’t had in months. I had to save this thing, help it somehow, do something. I got a veterinarian on the phone, and she told me what to do. No bus in sight and fueled by pure adrenaline, I ran the 4 miles round trip to the nearest pet supply store, and got what I needed to save the critter. And I saved it. I told myself I saved it. Now it is my job to keep it alive. Get it healthy, and raise it.

    Then I heard it again. More mewing, this time from my basement, where I found three more. These ones looked a little healthier, but there they were, lumped together. Now what? I kept an eye, but their mother never returned. I bought three more tiny feeding bottles and brought the kittens into my apartment. I made a makeshift home for them out of a cardboard box filled with towels; was up all hours feeding them; stimulated their little poopy and pee pee systems by dabbing their bottoms with cotton pad moistened with a little warm water and baby oil (the vet on the phone told me that’s what their mother would do, only with her tongue). I felt like a mom. There I was, saving kittens. Filled with hope.

    On Saturday, one by one, they started dying. First the little discarded runt I’d initially found. It stopped eating, then stopped moving, then stopped breathing. And one by one the others followed, all dead within twelve hours. Did I kill them all, by sticking them all with the sickly one who -- I didn’t realize -- was sick because what the fuck do I know about kittens?

    I’ll tell you what I know about kittens. They need their mother, not me. Definitely not Hope.



    That was ten years ago.
    Now:

    Home is an efficiency in the Tenderloin district, close as you’re gonna come to Skid Row in this town. Street level, windows facing the sidewalk just barely above the faces of the junkies and prostitutes and dealers and panhandlers and drunks loitering outside all day and night. Sirens, screaming, fighting at all hours. I hated it at first, then I found it amusing. Now I’m numb to it, like everything else.

    My teeth are shot from the long dark party-of-one known as years of various forms of substance abuse, starting with white wine and working my way up to crystal meth. I’m off it now. There was some crack in there for a while but the smell was too god-awful. My primary currency for my first thirty years, my looks, is gone. And with it, the handsome men who used to woo. But I’ve also grown numb to any thoughts or desires of men or sex or companionship or just people, for that matter. I’m sick of goodbyes and endings. I wish I could forget all my happy memories, because they’re just depressing.

    I maxed out my credit cards a couple of years ago during all the hoo-ha and – it gets better -- had to endure an “intervention” by my mother and stepfather, Jerry. I lied before when I said they don’t have much. They have plenty. I just haven’t talked to them in years. See, Jerry used to “tickle my belly button from the inside out” as he put it, starting when I was four. That went on for about ten years until one day I figured out just how fucked up that was and told him if he stuck anything of his anywhere inside me ever again, it would end up severed and floating in a jar of formaldehyde.

    Work is a shit job as shift supervisor at a shit restaurant. I deal with idiots who struggle with the concept of refilling the ketchup dispenser when it’s empty. Or I deal with slobs who complain about cold fries because they spent 15 minutes drinking their large milkshake first, before touching their hot food.

    Thursday night I came home from work, key in the gate, key in the front door, and this guy stops the gate with his foot before it closes. He says something about being there to visit Juan in #3. Yeah, whatever; that happens. People in my building get a lot of brief visits. I keep moving, check my mail, not paying attention to the guy, key in my apartment. He does it again. Puts his foot in my doorway before I shut it. Puts his hand over my mouth and shoves me against the wall inside the apartment, shuts the door with the other hand before whipping out a gun. This is it. That moment we see and cringe at in movies and never, ever imagine happening to us. It’s happening to me.

    I was scared for about 5 seconds, just as long as I was surprised. Then the surprise wore off and this calm fell over me. It was peaceful, pure peace. This is a perfect end to what’s become of my life.

    I realize he is here to do me a favor. So I stop fighting. He starts yelling stuff. And I just calmly comply. I think he thought I was too scared to do differently. But then he starts saying that stupid crap that they say in movies.

    “You’re gonna get it good, you whore. You’re gonna beg for it. Then, you’re gonna beg for your life.”

    He’s got me down on the bed, pressing the barrel of the gun against my cheek. I let out a little bit of a nervous laugh, because all I’m thinking is “Shut up and do it already”.

    “What are you laughing at, bitch?”

    Then he punches me. That really hurt. But right afterward I felt the blood rush to my cheek and this surge of energy or adrenaline or something, I’m not sure, but I felt something, and I haven’t felt anything in a really long time, and it feels really good. I just lay there. And he starts tearing off my shirt.

    “You gonna beg for mercy, bitch.”

    He kept saying ridiculous shit like that. And the whole time I’m thinking, “Hurry up, faster faster;” not because it was so awful, but because I couldn’t wait to get to the end, like when you’re building toward an orgasm, something I haven’t done in Christ I don’t even remember, I gave up on sex and pleasure of any sort the same time I gave up on people bringing me happiness, or rather just plain happiness. So when he says:

    “You’ll beg me to kill you.”

    One too many times (I think it must be a nervous tic on his part), I finally say:

    “Just do it already.”

    He looks like he’s gonna punch me again.

    “Don’t you talk back to me, bitch. What did you say?”

    “Seriously. Kill me. Do whatever you gotta do first, if you wanna rape me or whatever. It’s fine. But… I want you to kill me.”

    The guy’s stunned. He throws me onto the ground and shoves the side of my face into the floor. I’m sort of…aroused, for lack of a better word, just by the spontaneity of it all. Which goes to show you how long it’s been since there’s been any spontaneity in my life. I don’t resist. He tears my blouse off, and pulls up my skirt. I can feel his hard cock on my thigh. Here we go. I’m ready. Then…He freezes.

    “You’re serious.”

    “Yes, I’m serious. It’s okay. I won’t scream. I know you’re gonna kill me, that’s fine.”

    “What do you mean that’s fine?”

    “It’s okay.”

    “Who said I was gonna kill you?”

    “You brought a gun.”

    Our star rapist seems a little confused now that I’ve gone off script and am not begging for my life or crying or peeing myself or whatever victims do at this point in the scene. He’s just staring at me. And his look goes from puffed up alpha bully to concerned confusion. Which really pisses me off. I forgot how much I despise pity.

    “You’re fucking serious. You want me to rape you? You want me to kill you?”

    “Jesus Christ I didn’t invite you here but you’re here, and yeah. I could live without the rape part, but… just kill me. This is an easy one for you. I promise I won’t scream.”

    “What if I tortured you to death, slowly, you want to die like that? You really want to die that badly?”

    “Christ, it can’t be any worse torture than sitting here talking about it. Please just do it. I am not kidding.”

    “You crazy! You saying I could cut your fingers off one by one, and as long as you know I’m gonna kill you in the end, that’s okay. But if I just cut your fingers off and left, that would be worse?”

    "Did you really come here to fucking analyze me? Jesus what kind of fucking rapist are you? What, now all of a sudden you want to help women?”

    “What kinda person wants to die so much, what you hate your life that much? I mean, I know some people with some serious fucked up lives. Seriously fucked up. And they’ll do anything to live, don’t ask me why. Cos if you ask me, nothing could be worse than their life. And I look at you. Yeah, I been watching you. I know you got no friends, no men coming around hell no one comes around. You always here, alone. But… you got a place to live. You got a job. You… you got clean clothes on. You got two legs, you walking. You look like you were pretty once. Maybe could be again, you just don’t give a shit ‘bout nothing, not even yourself.”

    His cock now feels like blubber on my thigh. He gets off me and sits on the bed, waiting for me to get up. I can’t even tell you how pissed I am. I was so ready, so ready. And now, I’m disappointed. Again. Disappointed because for the first time in a long time, I’m realizing, I wanted something. I allowed myself to want something, for this stupid fuck to kill me, and he, of all people, decides he wants to understand me or to help me? AND he keeps talking! This goes on for like an hour and I don’t hear anything or even know what I said, all I know is: I want to fucking kill him. For the first time in ages I want something and this is what I want. Not him dead so much as just to want something. The act of wanting something.

    I start seeing red. I don’t know what happened, but it’s as if all the blood in my body went straight to the backs of my eyelids. Everything turned red. I look up, the ceiling is red. I get up, the walls are red. I ask him to stand up – which he does – he’s red. I knee him in the nuts and grab his gun, they are all red. And when I shoot him in the chest, the whole scene fades to white.

    Now it’s my turn to sound like the bad scene in the movie, but this is the part where suddenly, I feel “new” – like Everything is new, and pure and it’s as if I’m reborn, as they say. I feel this power… this – I can’t believe I’m gonna say this, this -- hope. I feel fucking alive.

    I had a dream last night, the first in years. In this dream I was playing with a kitten-on-the-verge-of-becoming-a-cat. My cat -- though I’ve never had a cat before. But in this dream, I had a cat. And at some point, I realized… I was also the cat in this dream. Not fully-formed, yet close to it. And safe. Safe and protected. Like the kitten I found that day, if it had survived.

    After that night, I made some major changes in my life. First and foremost, my name. Hope is dead. Call me Cat.
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