Essays - Winter 2017


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A life spent mainly in the company of cats has meant relishing the comforts of domesticity and solitude


By Kyoko Mori

December 5, 2016



In September 1999, after my first summer on the East Coast, I spent a weekend in western Massachusetts with Oscar, a Siamese cat who weighed seven pounds and had ears like Yoda’s. After sightseeing and bird watching all day, I returned each night to have dinner with Oscar in our motel room.

Forty-two and divorced, I had resigned from a tenured job at a small college in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and moved to Cambridge for a five-year lectureship at Harvard. Although I grew up in Japan, I had spent all my adult life in the Midwest. Before the weekend getaway with Oscar, I had never traveled except to visit friends or attend academic conferences, and then only to big cities. I was hoping that Oscar and I could change that by taking weekend trips around New England, but we didn’t get another chance. Oscar had a congenital heart defect that would soon be discovered. He died the following spring, just three years old.

Oscar was my second cat. My first, Dorian—also a Siamese—was twice Oscar’s size and so possessive of me that he bit anyone who came near. In the 18 years we were together, I finished graduate school and found a job, became an American citizen, married, published my first three books, bought a house with my husband, and left it after divorcing him. That, I was sure, was more than half my adult life, over and done with. My mother had killed herself at 41, and most of my father’s family had died from cancer in their 50s or 60s, so when I got Oscar at 40, I assumed that he and I would reach the end of our lives at around the same time.

Although cats are believed to be aloof and independent, mine have been anything but. Both cats followed me from room to room and sat on my lap for hours. My husband, Chuck, said Dorian recognized the sound of my car pulling into the driveway and ran to the door. Oscar started meowing in the foyer of our Cambridge apartment the moment I stepped into the building’s lobby, four floors down. The stairwell of our brownstone was like an echo chamber. His voice got louder and louder as I climbed the steps, until I would hear the clicking of his paws on the hardwood floor just beyond my door.

The first time Chuck came to my apartment, Dorian bit his hand and drew blood. “Just step back and ignore him,” I said. “He usually bites only once, to show you he can.” It’s a wonder Chuck didn’t leave. I didn’t even offer him a Band-Aid.

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Kyoko Mori teaches creative writing at George Mason University. She is the author of the nonfiction books Yarn, The Dream of Water and Polite Lies, as well as three novels, the most recent of which is Stone Field, True Arrow.

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