The internet is abuzz with this fantastic Mary Gaitskill’s essay, “Lost Cat,” from the current issue of Granta, and far be it from me to not join the party.  I heard the editor of Granta talk about this piece before it came out. He was so excited and happy about it.  He said something like, “It’s about her lost cat, it’s about these raucous, troubled kids she tries to help, her dead dad, love, I don’t know…it’s the best thing ever.” I was like, “um, okay.”  Now I’m like, “um, okay, it’s the best thing ever.”

People, he, me and the rest of the internet are not lying.   If you read anything this week or month, please read this essay.  It’s the best exploration of  the irrational, unexplainable quest to give and receive love I’ve read.  (Its also  the perfect example of how to tell three/four/five stories at once while really only telling one story that’s much larger than the sum of it’s excellent parks.)

At the end of Caesar’s last visit we drove him back to the city. While I thought he was asleep in the back seat, I had a conversation with Peter about human love, how perverted and cruel it can be on the one hand, how bluntly, functionally biological on the other. Flippantly I said, ‘Maybe it actually doesn’t even exist.’ Right after I said that, a stuffed animal bounced off my head and into my lap; it was a smiling little cow that Caesar had won for me at the county fair the previous day. ‘What do you call that?’ he asked. I laughed and thanked him.

Love as a cheap stuffed toy bounced off your head – it’s a brilliant metaphor and a true one. But the metaphor for love that I feel more deeply is a lost, hungry little animal dying as it tries to find its way back home in the cold. It isn’t truer. But I feel it more.

Maybe, though, it is wrong to put the weight of such a metaphor on to the memory of something so small and light as a kitten. Maybe it was wrong to chase my father through his house shouting about ‘a real relationship’; maybe it is even worse to keep analysing and questioning what his experience was and what it meant, in public no less. It was certainly wrong to use people to repeatedly replay this drama, whether they willingly participated or not, whether I knew what I was doing or not. It may be wrong to feel like I have ‘lost’ Caesar and Natalia because they aren’t doing what I want them to do. It’s also possible that if they choose to hurt themselves by deliberately failing and rejecting much of what I can give them I should lose them; I’m not sure.

I once read a Chekhov story which described a minor character as ‘trying to snatch from life more than it can give’; maybe I have turned into such a person, unable to accept what is given, always trying to tear things up in order to find what is ‘real’, even when I don’t know what ‘real’ is, unable to maintain the respect, the dignity of not asking too much or even looking too closely at the workings of the heart, which, no matter how you look, can never be fully seen or understood.

The thought makes me look down in self-reproach. Then I think, but life can give a lot. If you can’t see inside the heart no matter how you look, then why not look? Why not see as much as you can? How is that disrespectful? If you are only given one look, shouldn’t you look as fully as you can? A lost cat would not ask itself if food and shelter were too much to expect, or try to figure out how much food and shelter were enough or who was the right person to give those things. It would just keep trying to get those things until the moment it died.