My Life with Phil

By Alex Catarinella 07/20/18

If anyone could relate to loneliness, abandonment, depression, it was Phil. We got each other. 

The author and Phil
If Phil could read this, he’d eject a hairball because of my cheesiness.

If my cat could talk, he’d say “You’re so fucking crazy.” Also, feed me, asshole. And not that gluten and grain-free slimy shit. Meow Mix from the corner bodega, where you’ll often spend seven dollars on an activated charcoal latte paired with a fifty cent Camel Light loosie, which I judge your embarrassing fat ass for. You’re actually insane. I’ll kill you.

Phil, that’s his name, has tried to kill me before. He’s a very dramatic attention-seeker. Anxious, needy, moody. Damaged goods. I’ve got similar symptoms because, according to several psychiatrists, I’m bipolar II and, according to me, crazy. Phil’s been through a lot, and admittedly, I am partially to blame.

Oh, and Phil is a pyromaniac. Though I can be and have been terrible, I’m pretty sure I’ve never deserved to die via apartment fire—puking under the bed would’ve been more reasonable— but Phil takes his feline frustrations to the extreme.

The first time Phil turned the gas stove on, I thought, maybe his back paw had innocently hit the knob on his way up. But that was my brain on drugs. Despite being perpetually overweight, he’s not clumsy. He’s light on his feet; a decent ballerina in a past life. This was intentional. This happened more than once. This was really testing what my problematic as-a-result-of-anxiety-and-amphetamines pulse could handle.

Redundant scenario: Phil would just LOVE greeting me when I entered my apartment at 7-ish AM by standing perfectly still over a flaming stove burner in taxidermy pose, staring right into my bewildered AKA tweaked-out eyes, and then maniacally meowing with the subtext: I’m seconds from plopping my fat ass on this flame if you don’t get your shit together. I dare you to abandon me for a day or two once more to get as high as Mount Everest and fuck everything at an open 24-hours bathhouse in Chelsea.

Phil’s penchant for pyromania emerged circa 2013, when I was at my most mentally ill and near-ish-death-ness. But I was growing tired of perspiring out regret, poppers and lube, anyway. And Phil was just offering me tough, traumatic love! Okay, maybe he was just miserable living with mentally fucked, miserable me, and into the idea of both of us dying in a local news-making manner. Maybe Phil was doing us both a favor. End us.

“Suicide kitty.” That’s what my ex-roommate, Messy Mark*, called him because of Phil’s impressive rabid flying squirrel-like antics. I inherited Phil from messy Mark. Pre-Phil, I hated cats and the only cat I tolerated was the dead one I had to dissect in Anatomy class in high school. But when the formaldehyde wore off and his thighs developed mold, my teacher discarded him and I received a D+ on my report card, which made my hating-on-cats restart. It was a short-lived although intimate relationship. I never even knew his name.

Phil was already named Phil when Mark brought him home to our janky South Williamsburg apartment in the summer of 2009. Mark had been sober for like, a month, and he told me, with his enchanting albeit decaying-inside eyes, that a cat would keep him sober. I told him I hate cats, they scratch everything, and I knew I’d end up having to take care of the cat, so please God, no. Taking care of Mark was already my pro-bono job. I did my best! Well, the best that I, a party animal (spirit animal: a cat in perma-heat) who proudly has never blacked out, could at the time. (Note: We were in our early twenties and fresh out of college, living it up in a pre-Starbucks/Wholefoods Williamsburg and convincingly adopting the PBR-chugging, Patti Smith-worshipping hipster ways. You know, when kombucha was still a thing.)

Mark, on the other hand, was the drink-to-blackout type. He was an all American twink-next-door type. Charming, cute, book smart. His book cover was colorful and playful, concealing the tattered pages and its painful Comic Sans font. He’d invite himself to my friends’ house parties, because he had no friends of his own, which should have been a WARNING: DON’T BE ROOMMATES sign, and I’d warn/beg my friends to not fall for this troubled trick, because he wouldn’t remember anything in the morning and then I’d have to clean up his mess, including the sometimes charcoal-latte-colored puke. But alas, Mark’s blue eyes and bubble butt was a fuckable force. He’d also sleep with guys I thought I was dating, but I’d forgive him. I was a battered tabby cat to his primped-and-polished persian. We, oops, hooked up a few times too. This wasn’t something I initiated… initially. I knew there’d be trouble post-orgasms. But when your never-not-wasted roomie wakes you up via aggressive seduction, well, I was too tired to object.

Anyway, despite my cat concerns, I came home one day to find Phil crazily rolling around on the Ikea carpet in catnip. My fury segued into an “Aw, it’s fine” when Mark looked up at me with a genuine, heart-tugging smile. I was touched! Perhaps that purring Swamp Thing-y thing on the rug would cure Mark, because 12-step meetings sure as shit weren’t enough. And I’d be free and maybe even happy. Ha!

I was a spineless, clueless enabler. I didn’t understand why Mark couldn’t hold his liquor like a normal early twenty-something millennial. And I didn’t want Mark to die, so I’d do whatever to help. I didn’t want him to ever punch me in the face again when I forced his inebriated ass to look into the mirror at his sadness. I didn’t want to have to drag him through glass after he collapsed into our Ikea cabinet post-bar, as Phil screeched and judged from atop of the fridge. I didn’t want to wake up to a sea of is-this-real-life texts like the time he was in Dunkin’ Donuts and had just pissed his pants after escaping from the ER—apparently he had passed out at the bar the night before and someone normal called 911. This someone also called Mark’s mom, which I realized because of a devastating voicemail, in which she wondered if her son was alive. Not fun. Heartbreaking.

Phil was damaged goods himself, and, as expected, it’d be me, the professional plant killer, responsible for getting him back on track. He was an army brat, and had two unstable homes before being dropped off at a ASPCA in Virginia, where he lived in a cage for a year. Apparently no one wanted a middle-aged, jittery, ordinary tabby cat. I guess the bloody bald spots from Phil’s habit of biting out his fur and furiously scratching himself like a meth addict weren’t so appealing. (Meanwhile, Mark cruelly took Phil off of his anxiety meds because he’d rather save money for happy hour.) Phil’s coat of fur looked like my shredded, smelly Harley Davidson (reminder: I lived in Williamsburg) thrift t-shirts. He was so death-door-y thin, like me at the time (because, drugs), his meow was/still is so grating and loud. It’s nearly as demonic as the iPhone default alarm. And his moniker at the shelter was “alien kitty” because of his macadamia nut head paired with green, extraterrestrial eyes. Anyway, Mark and his manipulative victim ways convinced his Virginia-based friend—his only other friend—to drive Phil to Brooklyn; a non-refundable gift.

While Mark did calm down and get sober for a bit post-cat adoption, he didn’t miraculously develop thoughtfulness or anything. He’d attend evening 12-step meetings after his 9-5 job and then go to sober people Chipotle hangouts. HE WAS SO HAPPY! And I’d never ever see him. I’d been replaced. And I think I was subconsciously jealous of his healing. As a freelance writer, I worked from home, so it was just me and Phil. I took care of him. Not like it’s difficult—food, litter, cuddles, oh my!—but this wasn’t my goddamn cat! Mark would lock his bedroom door at night, so I’d allow Phil’s manic ass to sleep with me and claw at my scalp.

And so, I fell in love with Phil; Mark fell in love with a recovering meth addict. Two months later, Mark casually told me he was moving in with this boyfriend and that I had to find another roommate within two weeks. NBD. But I could keep Phil, because his boyfriend was allegedly allergic to cats. I don’t know why, but I started to ugly cry. (Well, my ex-therapist told me I was, yawn, in love with Mark and I’m scared of intimacy and abandonment etc etc fuck off etc.) It wasn’t until Mark finally “got better” and didn’t need me anymore that I acknowledged and confronted my own issues.

Just kidding. I’d little-by-little distract the pain with sex, drugs and rock bottoms.

Another roommate moved in for a year or two, but then we were bought out of the rent stabilized decrepit apartment for 40k. So, Phil and I moved to a shit but rent stabilized studio apartment on the other side of the Williamsburg bridge in Lower East Side—I signed the lease during what I now understand to have been a manic high, believing that I clearly needed to live alone; to take care of just myself, Phil and my plants. I was so psychotically positive! (I blame my psychiatrist for adding another mood stabilizer.) Living alone would inspire me to get a fantastic full time job, and then I’d be able to afford the studio on my own once the 40k ran out!

Didn’t happen. What did happen was Phil putting up with my unraveling as a result of eternal loneliness with no future, except funerals, in sight. I’m very dark. Phil forgave me, probably, when I’d lock him in the bathroom during a Grindr quickie. He plopped on my chest when I was coming down; he dived off my chest when I convulsed and howled in fetal position because of anxiety/panic attacks. If anyone could relate to loneliness, abandonment, depression, it was Phil. We got each other. Phil’s still with me.

I haven’t seen my ex-BFF since he left me, but he’ll text me like, every five months, informing me of things like how he now lives in a forest or that his boyfriend he ditched me for died of a drug overdose. Mostly, he brings up memories. “Remember that time when ___?” I never remember. I don’t want to remember. My responses are mostly an emoji or two. I’ve intentionally disconnected. His most recent text to me wasn’t a ‘sup. It was a handful of sexually explicit photos, featuring his dick. Ew. If he was ever my real friend, he would’ve remembered that I’m an ass guy. “Are you high?” was my response. He wrote no. I didn’t even care if he was lying, his top talent. I blocked him. I mourned him years ago. I’m all about protection these days. I’ve got some friends, a long-term boyfriend, and a drug-free, inconsistent zest for life.

Today, I’m sometimes very happy. I’m sometimes going under those dark, depression waves. The bipolar isn’t going anywhere. Unless I’m traveling outside of America, I barely leave my house.

And I still have major anxiety. So does Phil, but we’re in this thing together. We’re a lot better, we’ve grown up. He gets me out of bed and gives me a purpose. Feeding him his healthy grain and gluten-free food reminds me to take my meds. We take care of each other! We need each other!

Meanwhile, this triggers my morbid mind. He’s 73 in cat years. Phil’s cremated remains will be in a jar on my Buddhist altar soon enough. It was ME who was supposed to be rotting in a coffin by now, not Phil! But at least it’s been years since I last truly worried about Phil killing me… killing us. (Just kidding—I remove the stove knobs when I’m not in the apartment because, anxiety.)

Just a month ago, I was convinced Phil was dying. It’s a gnarly image that involved scattered around my apartment puddles of puke, heavy breathing, and him hiding from me in the litter box. I didn’t want to remember him like this: lethargic and not wanting anything to do with me for two full days. This wasn’t like him. He’s a cuddle monster in the mornings. And here I was, imagining a life without him. My first pet. Would I replace him? Could I? He’s the only one who, through it all, never left me. He’s tried, but only a handful of times. (He attempted to jump out of the window after sitting on a flame, but it wasn’t open wide enough for his fat ass.)

He’s back to normal-ish for now. I’m trying to appreciate our time together. So many memories. I try to think of only the best memories, but sometimes I’ll look at Phil and I’ll remember Mark, but only for a moment, then I shut that shit down. I’ve let Mark go.

I couldn’t save Mark. Neither could Phil. But we saved each other.

If Phil could read this, he’d eject a hairball because of my cheesiness. He’d roll his alien kitty eyes. And if Phil could talk, he’d say “You’re welcome for saving your life, bitch.” And then go back to sleep.

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Alex Catarinella-Final_HighRes.jpg

Alex Catarinella is a New York City-based writer. Music, fashion, travel, the occasional Britney Spears-related think piece, etc. It's all happening. He also loves a press trip. Maybe you've noticed Alex's byline over the years in, to name a few/a lot, The CutVogueELLEi-DDazed & ConfusedNylonPaperVViceGaloreMTVWonderlandFashionista, and, RIP, His personal career highlights involve interviewing many an icon, like Patti Smith, Courtney Love, and Ginger/Sporty/Scary Spice. He sometimes writes (see also: over-shares) about his lunatical life, as detailed in Fashion Weak, a five-part series of salacious/spiritual/sad essays published on Dazed & Confused. Follow Alex on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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