“For I Will Consider my Cat Oskar…,” by C. A. Bellamy

Nov 3rd, 2021 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

Nobody gets a cat on purpose, no one wakes up one morning and decides they want to take care of a small useless predator for a decade or more; cats just sort of happen to a person, we end up with them, like children or guns.

Cats are also like Children, and Guns in that if you have more than one, chances are you’ll end up with, like, six of them, and nobody will want to come to your house anymore.

I met Oskar in my drinking days. I had just ended the first real long-term relationship of my adult life after three years, and immediately jumped into another, this time with a woman who never seemed to like me very much in the first place. I had just been laid off, ending a falsely started journalism career, and I was starting my second year of grad school. Also, my grandmother was dying.

I have often thought, that if I were ever put in solitary confinement, I would keep my sanity by trying to remember all the names of all my ex’s cats, in order, going back to Jenny in my Junior year of high school.

Jenny was the cat’s name.

This woman who didn’t really like me had a cat named Zelda. I was sent out one night, to the Petsmart by the highway to pick up food for Zelda. I was volunteered for the task since I was the one who didn’t have a job to go to in the morning, and Zelda was too delicate and important for the cheap box crunchies from the Circle K down the street; she probably wouldn’t eat that, and if she did it would give her diarrhea.

It wasn’t very late, but it was night. I relished being alone in those days, and I took my time driving down to the boxy superstore and wandering the aisles of dog toys and suspiciously kinky-looking leather leashes. On the way out, I noticed a woman in blue scrubs standing near the glass enclosure where they keep the adoptable kittens. I don’t really remember what she looked like, but I remember that, at the time, I thought she was wonderfully attractive, and I wanted to talk to her.

Two things are much clearer in retrospect- 1. That relationship with Zelda’s human was doomed from the start, and 2. There was a time when I had a thing for women in scrubs.

Why yes, my mom is a nurse, why do you ask?

I walked up and said hello, under the pretense of looking at the cats behind the glass. There was a small assortment of multicolored kittens, and then one almost-grown, black and white, roughly the exact size and shape of a Costco rotisserie chicken—the adolescent loaf sat narrow-eyed and miserable as newborn kittens stumbled like stupid little drunks around the cage. I pointed at him and laughed at his predicament.

“He looks so unhappy with all those little guys crawling all over him.”

The woman in scrubs wasted no time, and moving like she had a quota to meet, fished the teen cat out of the enclosure and thrust him into my arms. I held him between my hands, at arms-length, looking at his vacant face. I could feel him breathing in my hands.

“You have to baby him a bit more than that,” the woman said, “this guy is super sweet.” She put her hands on mine, pushed the cat closer to my body until his chin was rested on my shoulder. I felt claws pinprick through my shirt.

“It’s hard to get these older cats adopted,” she said, “everyone wants a puffy little kitten, and then when they get to be about a year old, nobody wants to take them home anymore.”

“Then what happens?” I asked.

“Usually they have to be put down, unfortunately.”

I was seized by the urge to prove how much better I was than those other people, how selfless, caring and loving. If this woman sees me save a life, I thought, then she’ll probably fall in love with me. It’s not that I wanted to run off with Blue Scrubs to a beautiful new life in an animal shelter surrounded by puffy little kittens and unadoptable old cats destined for the needle and the incinerator; I just really wanted someone to tell me I was a good person.


I mentioned before that this was in my drinking days, and when my grandmother was dying. I grew up with grandmother, and she was, in effect, my only parent for most of my life- she was suffering from an aggressive form of degenerative dementia, and was rapidly declining. Basically, at 85, her brain had decided it had had enough of the world and was shutting down- a process that took almost exactly two months. She had a hospice nurse the day, but night shifts were divided between family. I spent nights in her house, watching movies with the sound off, or reading, eating Ikea cinnamon buns and sipping instant coffee spiked with Evan Williams bourbon. The job was just to keep watch and let in hospice in the morning. Usually, nothing happened, but sometimes my grandmother would wake up, and with a mysterious sense of purpose, walk into the living room, saying she needed to start cooking, or that she needed to get ready for work, I would gently convince her to go back to bed. One night with her, a classic movie cable station showed Lawrence of Arabia twice in a row, I watched it both times, with the sound off. At some point my grandmother got up, stood in the open bedroom doorway, and watched me watching wide-angle desert vistas, completely silent. She was there for a long time before I noticed. I asked if she was okay, she nodded yes, then I led her back to bed and kissed her on the forehead.


I decided to keep the cat. At the moment, I think I really did just want to be seen as good and kind.

I paid the twenty-dollar adoption donation, and Blue Scrubs boxed him up for me, and gave me a starter litter box, some food samples, a yellow folder with a receipt and vaccination records, and a DVD of the now-classic short film “Your Adopted Cat.”

“Do you have any other questions?”

“Yes, how old should he be before I tell him he’s adopted?”

This was my version of charm; she didn’t laugh, and I never saw her again.

I dropped off Zelda’s fancy food outside a locked apartment door, and took the cat home. He spent that first night hiding in the spare room that I pretended was an office, while I sat up in bed reading The Tin Drum and sipping Carlo Rossi burgundy from a coffee cup. The late nights watching out for my grandmother had ruined my ability to have anything like a normal sleeping cycle, so I read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies.

The Tin Drum is an upsetting Polish novel about a hyper-intelligent dwarf named Oskar who obsessively plays a toy drum and can shatter glass with his voice- and how he survives the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and the Russian invasion, but becomes an insane amoral sex-addicted famous Jazz musician in the process. It’s the sort of light bedtime reading that pairs perfectly with wine from a jug, and I fell asleep sometime right before sunrise, and right after the part where Oskar moves to Dusseldorf to pursue a career as a nude model.

When I woke up, the cat was sitting next to my head, staring me down with narrow green eyes. I named him Oskar.


The last month of her life, my Grandmother couldn’t walk, and she got a hefty dose of morphine right before the hospice nurse left in the evening, but we kept up the night watch even though there was almost no chance she’d get out of bed. She flitted in and out of consciousness during the day, I brought guava pastries from a Cuban bakery that the nurse sliced into manageable chunks, we listened to a lot of old Merle Haggard records, I showed her pictures of my new cat.  She died on Christmas Eve 2009.


The Eighteenth Century poet and theologian Christopher Smart spent 74 lines of his spiritual epic, Jubilate Agno, describing a cat named Jeoffrey. Smart argued that in observing Jeoffrey, he could see proof of the order and intelligence of the universe, the section can be paraphrased in a pretty basic syllogism- ‘My cat is really great, therefore God is real; checkmate, atheists.’  Soon after writing this poem, Smart’s father-in-law had him confined to an insane asylum for ‘Spiritual Mania.’

I don’t see so much of the Holy Spirit in Oskar, the line from Smart’s poem that rings truest to me is: “For he will do no destruction if he is well fed.”

Oskar is still mostly a small violent mammal who has become too civilized for his own good, If I had to put him in mythic terms, he’s more like Hamlet than Jesus. But now, he’s been with me through a master’s thesis, a fire, two floods, five failed relationships, three unpublished novels, nine years of teaching, and five years of addiction recovery. He’s old now, the cat equivalent of an octogenarian, missing some teeth, sagging in the middle, surly and slow-witted.

The worst thing about alcoholism, and by extension, recovering from alcoholism, is that some memories will always be incomplete. I don’t mean there’s a lot I don’t remember; it doesn’t really work that way. With a few exceptions, I can recall the bare facts of my life very well, but when I try to remember how something made me feel, it’s a dead end; like it happened to someone else.

I spent twelve years with this cat, and I still don’t know exactly why I took him home in the first place. It wasn’t the woman in blue scrubs, I knew I would never see again, and probably wasn’t just that momentary need to be seen as good, and to be told as such. Perhaps, it was something about long nights watching a life slip away that made me want to save something, anything. We do our best; we save the lives we can.


C. A. Bellamy is a writer and educator from Florida. His writing has appeared in Muse/A, Moonshot, Penumbra, The Louisville Review, and others. He teaches high school, grows a garden, writes poems, photographs swamps, collects art, and sometimes makes cheesy synthesizer music. He lives in Tampa with his pretty librarian wife and his espresso machine. Sadly, Oskar the Cat died of heart failure in the summer of 2020.

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