Nonfiction / Andrea Lambert
:: Portrait of the Artist as a Crazy Cat Lady ::
I told the handsome UCLA student in the bar that I was almost forty. He looked at my slim figure in leggings and scarf.
“How is that possible?” the boy asked.
“I do a lot of yoga and take care of my skin,” I replied. I also don’t date anyone under thirty-five.
The disclosure of my age killed that opportunity as it must and was intended to do. After my last twenty-something sugar baby I am no longer interested in that sort of relationship. It’s not worth the dick.
I am an excellent mid-life crisis girlfriend with my cultural capital, beauty, and family-funded unemployment. That is the only role I am auditioning for in Hollywood. I don’t want to ever get married or live together. I will never be the wicked stepmother to your children. Kids are a deal breaker up there with being unstably housed. All I would ever want is monogamous dating.
I am not even sure I ever want to date again. I take a vow of celibacy until the white skunk streak that I am growing out reaches my shoulders. I am content alone for the moment. A drama-free life is a blessing.
“Watch out for the sober lesbian widow, she’ll tell you a lot of weird shit,” is probably what was said about me in the bar I used to frequent. Along with what I was told was said: that I was bone thin and probably anorexic. Now that I don’t drink, there is nothing for me in bars. I can talk to my friends at home or in coffee shops.
The doctor I saw about losing forty pounds said that with my normal eating habits, sobriety, and daily yoga practice, it wasn’t an eating disorder or much to worry about. Might be my thyroid. I decided untreated hyperthyroidism was a luxury problem I didn’t mind having. Stocked up on ice cream. Decided to love my body rather then fear it. Ditched the boyfriend that took issue with it because if he disliked my body this much, he didn’t deserve to have sex with me anymore.
The box of condoms I bought the last time my boyfriend and I broke up sits unopened in a drawer next to my vibrator. I doubt I will open it for a while. Condoms for the single woman are a good staple to keep around like coffee or batteries. Despite my IUD I believe in safest sex with all new partners. Yet condoms expire. These might. Sex with women doesn’t require them.
My herpes and HPV are another reason that box of condoms will probably stay unopened. I simply can’t ethically do casual sex anymore. I know that. My STDs are a ticking time bomb if I don’t disclose and a reason for a potential fling to flee my bed in the middle of the night if I do.
“Bought the ticket, took the ride,” is how I feel about my herpes. With the amount of sex I’ve had in my life I’m just grateful I’m not HIV+. I take Valtrex every morning so I can’t transmit it and don’t have outbreaks. Any snooping hook-up could find the Valtrex along with the Xanax, Klonopin, Trileptal, Prozac, and Saphris in my medicine cabinet. Better to just not take anyone home to avoid that awkward conversation or benzodiazepine theft.
I know my limitations. I live within them.
At this point with the public way my transgressive writing dictates my life I would far prefer a potential lover to read about my STDs and come to terms with them before they approach me. Radical honesty both liberates and stigmatizes me but beats living with secrets and fear.
If this essay ensures I never get laid again, YOLO. I’m kind of too busy anyway.
I set dating on a shelf as I turn forty. A time capsule to open later. In a few years, perhaps, once I’ve published the four books I finished this year. When I have more time.
My entire life is free time, yet I am extraordinarily busy for someone without a job. I keep busy with writing and art so I don’t get sucked into my old wasteful self-destructive pursuits.
Romantic relationships with men and women are not something I have given up forever, but they are not a priority right now. Unlike the HBO show I watch I am not Looking. I have given up living like Sex and the City. Having read Tales of the City, I am trying to write a series of books like that.
I am content to wait until the trail of Internet breadcrumbs I create leading back to my witch-cave brings me another lover. I’m in no hurry. All I have is time.
I tell myself of this resolve as I reread what I have written here. I rinse my cat’s dish clean of her seventh birthday wet food. Cockroaches scatter in the sink.
The hardwood floored Hollywood one-bedroom where I’ve lived alone since the death of my wife becomes my paradise. My ivory tower of privilege with the cable television and cleaning lady. My tragic Miss Havisham jail where I lock myself up day after endless night hammering away on novels, poetry, and essays that may never be published.
Two books published in Europe seven years ago and a string of queer, Los Angeleno, and CalArts anthologies line the website I update religiously. With each publication and press link that accretes like coral over the years I hope with a fervent flaming hope that what I am devoting my life to is worth it.
What else is there for me? I have made my choices.
I know that it’s too late for me. To take back anything that I have published, tweeted, or done. To get back the forty years of halcyon delight and pain behind me. To change the course of this path I plot across a treacherous sea.
All I hope for in the fifty more years of isolated work and a series of cats that I see before me is to die in this same apartment in the four-poster bed my wife and Schizophrenic grandfather died in. I dedicate this face I lovingly coat with makeup to be eaten by a later cat. My fondest dream is to keep things as they are so that I can write and paint more, then die alone.
Is my desired future going to happen? I don’t know. Life intervenes. There are many things I have no control over, including gentrification and Ellis Act evictions. Yet intention is part of the battle, I would like to hope. All I can do is hope.
I pick up the cat shit from the bathtub with a piece of toilet paper. Drop it in the toilet. Flush. Come back into the living room. Look at the pile of paintings leaning against an antique chair. Put a few edits into this essay. Drink a sip of iced coffee. Smile.
It is what it is. Could be a lot worse. I really didn’t expect to live this long, what with the life I’ve led. Turning forty seems a blessing not a curse.
I choose to see blessings rather than tragedy as I must accept what is. Allow me my happiness and I won’t bother you further.
I read James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in junior high and fell in love. Let this “Portrait of the Artist as a Crazy Cat Lady” act as litmus test. If I am to love again, it will find me in time.
From the writer
:: Account ::
Embarking upon my forties single, living alone with cat, could bring about a shiver of pathetic despair. I just broke up with my emotionally abusive on-again-off-again boyfriend of three years. My beloved wife committed suicide four years ago. I am alone except for a few female friends and a network of Internet community. Yet I am strangely content.
I decide never to marry or cohabitate again. I take a year-long vow of celibacy in order to avoid my tendency toward abusive relationships and financial entanglements. I go to therapy weekly. Journal for endless pages about my many deal breakers.
Yet instead of crying I sit alone in my apartment in triumph. This time I actually want to be alone. I get so much more done this way. I am a writer and artist. I am on SSDI for my Schizoaffective Disorder, thus I don’t and can’t have a job. My creative work becomes my sole focus and pleasure.
Everyone must make their choices, and for some people some of the choices are made for them. I didn’t choose my genetic mental illness. The litany and expense of medication, psychiatrist, and therapist are my crosses to bear. But the concurrent free time is a blessing I am trying to maximize.
I could throw myself into going to bars sober with my millennial best friend as I did the last time my boyfriend and I were broken up. But the last thing I want to do is spend money to hook up with alcoholic shitshows who may steal my things. I’m already so sick of answering questions about my tattoos and why I’m drinking Red Bull. I am incapable of small talk because I always get too deep too soon. I scare my prospects away like frightened bunny rabbits.
Vulnerability, honesty, and potentially risky disclosure are hallmarks of my personal essays. I am Google poison. I know that yet accept it to do the writing I am meant to do.
Every time I submit something new, I assess all of the terrible things that could happen. Sometimes I take a prescribed Xanax. Not every time, though; I submit a lot of work, and it’s not like I have an endless supply of benzodiazepines. Only enough to get me through the especially rough days. The psychiatric crises. Those moments in the grocery store or after finishing an especially problematic novel draft that my Anxiety Disorder cries out for relief.
No Xanax was consumed in the writing of this essay as I am comfortable with what I am saying herein. Only coffee and my regular five pm prescribed Klonopin and Trileptal.
At CalArts I read Donna Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborg’s Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” Critical theory discussing how the feminist who takes psychiatric medication is a cyborg. I prefer neurodiverse cyborg to broken failure, so I will roll with that.
Haraway’s essay states, “The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence.”
So am I. So is this essay.
Andrea Lambert is the author of Jet Set Desolate, Lorazepam & the Valley of Skin, and the chapbook G(u)ilt. Artist. CalArts MFA. Her work has appeared in 3:AM Magazine, The Fanzine, Entropy, Angel’s Flight Literary West, HTMLGiant, Queer Mental Health, Five:2:One Magazine, and ENCLAVE. Her work has been anthologized in Haunting Muses; Writing the Walls Down: A Convergence of LGBTQ Voices; The L.A. Telephone Book, Vol. 1, 2011 – 2012; Off the Rocks, Volume #16: An Anthology of GLBT Writing; You’ve Probably Read This Before; and Chronometry. Find her online at andreaklambert.com.