I grew up in the country. Every summer, the barn cats would have kittens. Over the course of my young life, there was an average of 20 kittens per litter; and multiple litters, across the year. I reckon I saw at least 220+ unique souls in those days.

Nowadays, the barn cats are gone. They were there because the cows were there. And when the farmer got old, and he packed up and moved on— wasn’t profitable none anymore, and cows kept getting stolen, somehow— well. That was it. No cows; no mice; no cats. The cats dried up and left.

In those days, I was mighty impressionable. The white men in the church and at school told me that animals didn’t have souls. And I was about 5 years old. So I started an experiment, to see if they did.

Wasn’t anything cruel. I wasn’t like them. Instead, I observed the cats, to see what they did. What they were like. Did they have souls?

They did.

First litter I did see, I tested their personalities. Did they like to be petted? Did they like milk? Did they like certain foods? Could you pet them on their bellies? What were their responses?

Even at 5 years old, I took notes. I still have them. From all my ‘experiments’. And every single cat had a different personality.

A different personality at birth. Not even their eyes were open. But, would that change, when they got older? So I decided to do a longitudinal study; see if their personalities changed; solidified; et cetera.

And then there was this cat.

This big, fat, orange cat. Initially, he didn’t have a name: because I don’t cotton to naming things I find beloved. If I love someone, shouldn’t they have their own name? That they picked? But he didn’t have the tongue for that, so we called him Fatso.

Fatso started out small. I fed him specifically, because, he was one of those cats that didn’t fight for a position. Y’see, when cats are born, and they’re tryin’ to get milk from their mama, sometimes, it can be a fight. Some kittens don’t fight hard enough; so they never get a spot. Or, they don’t get enough milk.

I knew well-enough that, if all the kittens got the same amount of suckling time, that they should at least have the same chance for survival. So I timed it; and I made sure he got enough milk. They all got enough milk. But I made sure he got his, too.

So he grew up. Fatso grew up. And my boy, he didn’t really fight. It’s not that he didn’t know ‘how’; I even taught him how to. I taught all the kittens how to: I’d play with them, with some big, padded gloves. My skin wasn’t as strong as theirs; but I knew how to play. My hands would act as prey, and they’d leap, and bite; and when the ‘prey’ would struggle, they’d learn how to get one over on ’em. On me. Ha!

The thing is, though, it just didn’t never took with him. See, he wasn’t violent. I had like three of them that weren’t. All of them, the same.

He just didn’t do well with other cats. So, he became my cat. I used to carry him around EVERYWHERE, with me. Because the other cats, they were out to get him. I didn’t know why it was. It was like, if I wasn’t around him— and even if’n I was— they’d always be swipin’ at him. They hated his hass.

That motherfucker got to be 22 pounds. I remember trying to weigh him on a scale; and when that didn’t take, I weighed myself, and then weighed me, holding him aloft. 22 pounds, like.

So heavy, I couldn’t carry him, but with my own body strength. I put him around my neck: I used to wear him like a boa. Arms couldn’t carry him no longer.

Slowly, we tried to integrate him with the other cats. But it just never goddamned took.

I remember, his mother. His mother was a bitch. And he knew it. We all knew it. That lady, she was this evil Calico— damn near tortoiseshell. So pretty, but a mean mother. Really.

Oddly enough, even though she HATED my ass, for whatever reason, there was a peace treaty between her and I. Because she used to protect him; and when I’d give him food, she would stop swiping at me. As long as the food came, she was nice to me. It was weird. I used to give her extra food; and, she would know it. Because she’d eat her fill, but not before giving him his fill. Because he was so damn nice; he wouldn’t get it, if somebody didn’t give it to him.

One day, Fatso just disappeared. And I know what happened to him: the barn cats ended him. Just like little Smokey Pokey, who suffered from dwarfism. Even then, he was a runt: black and white, and everybody bullied him. That one, the Calico killed. Crushed his throat. Like a tiger would to an antelope.

Then there was Iczer. See, I named my cats things, trying to figure out what they actually knew. Would they answer to any name? Or only ones that ended in -y sounds? Turns out, they knew their name well-enough, no matter what it was.

Iczer was something. I’d never known a cat to be champagne gold. That cat was actually pink. Pinkish-gold; not even orange. Just blonde. Like some sort of champagne supernova. He was pretty.

They killed him. The barn cats killed him. Just like with Fatso.

With Fatso, though, they fought him for hours. And nothing I did, did much; I stayed with him, and defended him. But, all the same, something went wrong. They must’ve bit him hundreds of times. And what could I do? How do you save somebody from everybody else, when they’re all supposed to live together, in somewhat harmony? Even if I kept him inside– he wanted out. And he’d escape. I think he escaped that night, too. I had to chase him in my underbritches; defend him with a broken broom-handle, acting as a bat.

I don’t know why they killed him. I don’t know why. Shouldn’t they have protected him? Wasn’t he one of their own?

Why would they do that? Why would they hurt someone who wasn’t ever going to fight back? Even in the end, he refused to hurt them. And they killed him, all the same. He would bat them back; but never use claws. I don’t think he ever even bit one of them. He didn’t even draw blood.

In a way, I’m glad the cats are gone, now. Their ‘society’, whatever it could be called, just kept killing their own. And, in the absence of their cruelty, there is now ‘peace’.

But it’s still absence.

Later on in life, I would walk wartorn streets, barefoot, hungry, and alone. And, in ‘depopulated’ areas, where I would walk— eventually, I realized, that when everybody else was gone, when I was alone, that I was free. There was no one left to hurt me. No one left at all. I look at liminal spaces, a lot. Normal people are ‘scared’ by them. They feel left at dis-ease. But, me? Those were the only spaces I knew, where the possibility of getting shot, was at an absolute zero.

I’ve thought about this, a lot. What do I want? What do I want my future to be? I look at the prospect of nuclear war, and I know that I’ll survive it. Because I’ve survived everything else. Everything else dies around me; everybody else is gone; and I am left, alone. I will survive everything.

And so, as things have gotten worse, I’ve started to think about that time. When I could walk around alone— walk around by myself— and go through old shopping malls; car dealerships; these dead and forgotten places, that people on YouTube like to break and enter into. They find it scary. And interesting.

If Humanity were to go extinct, I would go back to that old place. And I would survive a very long time. I know this already. And I wouldn’t mourn humanity’s passing. I know that already.

But now, I have a question. And only I can answer it.

What would it have been like, if I could’ve saved Fatso?

What would it have been like, if someone could’ve saved me?

If the whole damn world wants someone you love dead,

what do you do?