birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

We Had Cats

I had a terrible roommate in the early 1990’s. He also happened to be my boyfriend. You would have never known we were a couple if you’d seen us together, mainly because he rarely showed anything other than contempt for me. From the time he woke up in the morning until we went to bed, he was mean.

He refused to talk to me before work because he hated mornings. He flirted relentlessly with other women, even in front of me. He never wanted me to hang out with him and his friends. On nights he’d play drums with his band, which was most weekend nights, he would tell me it was “uncomfortable” for me to be at the shows because he didn’t want the chicks who followed the band to know he had a girlfriend.

Why did I stay? I wasn’t sure. I went to talk to a therapist to investigate. Her name was Gloria. She had grown up in New York City. She had a strong New York accent and an office in one of the fanciest hotels in the city. I heard David Bowie stayed in this hotel when he came to town—that’s how fancy it was. Her husband had a successful Shiatsu practice in the office next to hers. I could not have been more impressed. I had gone to massage school expressly to study Shiatsu a few years before, and my lifelong dream at that point was to become a body/mind therapist. Gloria and her husband’s chic, glamorous, organized lives lived with loads of confidence and purpose were a million miles away from mine, and I knew it. I guess she knew it, too.

Because I saw Gloria for a few visits, and then she broke up with me.

“I don’t know,” she said, her upper east side accent cutting through 10 layers of psychic shit, “you keep telling me that this guy is cruel to you, but you’re not leaving him. I think you like people being cruel to you. I can’t help you with that. Don’t come back next week.”

Was that really it? Did I like people being cruel to me? And if that was true, isn’t that exactly the kind of thing a therapist is supposed to help with? And—wait a minute—therapists can fire their clients? I didn’t really know what to do with that.

Right before she told me we were done, she asked me why I stayed with my mean boyfriend. “We have cats,” I said.

“Just a moment,” she said, moving her face much closer to mine so that I could see the incredulity in her eyes, “did you just say we have cats?”

“Yes,” I squeaked,” drying tears.

And then—boom! I was fired.

I told Gloria thanks, and left sadly and slowly. I turned to look at her one last time and she didn’t even notice I was still there; she just kept writing in her notebook, smirking, and chuckled to herself as she quietly said, “we have cats.”

Once she & I were finished, it seemed like less of an ordeal to break up with my horrible roommate/pretend boyfriend. But I stayed anyway, because I guess it gave me a sense of purpose to stay home and clean house and have meals waiting for someone who probably forgot my name when he hadn’t seen me for a few hours. And then after he and I broke up, I ended up with an even meaner boyfriend. But hey, at least I didn’t move in with that one so don’t judge.

Rebecca Horowitz

@looshagee