Lost Cat: A Searing Memoir of Love, Loss, Safety, Grief

Mary Gaitskill’s attention to every emotion is sharp, and her examination of the joys and ultimate difficulties of relationships is searing. From one event, her beloved cat’s disappearance, Gaitskill extrapolates and meditates upon love and grief

Archana Pai Kulkarni
Aug 31, 2023 12:42 IST
Mary Lost Cat
Love and loss are a part of life, and both loving and losing are fraught with emotional upheavals. Loving someone does not guarantee their permanent presence.

Relationships are not always reciprocal, nor do they stay the same forever, often ending on a sour note. You may invest in a relationship and nurture it with all your love only to realise that there are no takers, that your love can’t reach the soft spot that it’s trying to. We lose objects, people, pets and homes, grieve them, and while time heals, not all wounds get better, especially if there is no closure. 

Archana Pai Kulkarni

Mary Gaitskill was at a writing retreat in Italy when she rescued a scrawny, one-eyed cat and fell in love with him as she began to tend to him. She named him Gattino. When she returned to the US, she took him to live with her, and he settled in the new home happily, till one afternoon, when out in the garden, he disappeared. He was barely seven months old at that time. Over the years, Mary and her husband Peter looked for him frantically, distributing flyers, keeping food out for him, and following leads of sightings, all in vain. In her desperation, Mary consulted psychics and mystics, her love and grief transcending her own doubts and beliefs about such abilities. 

Gaitskill’s slim memoir, Lost Cat, is a close examination of her rekindled emotions, the nature of her various relationships, and the anatomy of loss and grief.

She talks of her struggles with her guilt surrounding her father’s death, about her wistfulness at what could have been. She describes one such moment, “When my father was dying, I asked him something. I did not really ask him; I don’t think he was conscious, and I whispered the question rather than spoke it. But nonetheless it was a serious question. ‘Daddy,’ I said, ‘tell me what you suffered. Tell me what it was like for you.’ I could never have asked him this earlier in life. But I believed that on the verge of death, he could ‘hear’ my whispered words.” 

This wound also gets her to ruminate upon her relationship with two inner-city, disadvantaged siblings, Caesar and Natalia, whom she came to foster and who spent summers and holidays with Gaitskill and her husband. Despite their tough time with their biological mother, who beats them and discriminates between them, the children find it difficult to open up to receive the love that Mary and her husband offer. They need it but resist it. At times, they soften, but often, they get aggressive, especially Caesar, who says nasty things to Peter. 

Once Caesar asks Gaitskill on the way to New York on the train, “Do you like me?” Gaitskill answers, “Caesar, I not only like you; I love you.” He looks at her levelly and asks, “Why?” Gaitskill thinks a long moment and says, “I don’t know why yet. Sometimes you don’t know why you love people; you just do. One day I’ll know why and then I’ll tell you.” The couple, knowing the space the kids are in, go along, helping them with their homework, taking them out, having long conversations with them, giving them happy experiences. But, over the years, equations change and a disconnect sets in. 

Gaitskill’s attention to every emotion is sharp, her examination of the joys and ultimate difficulties of relationships is searing. From one event, her beloved cat’s disappearance, Gaitskill extrapolates and meditates upon love, loss, grief, safety, fear, and the two-edged nature of close relationships. A layered, thoughtful memoir.


Views expressed by the author are their own

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