April 20th, 2020

Words & Photos by Maddie Rogers 

Byron has seen me more vulnerable than anyone I know


I wake up on day ??? of quarantine to my cat Byron curled up at the foot of my bed. He twitches while he sleeps; I’ll never be privy to the predators that an indoor cat imagines in their dreams. We get out of bed ready to start another non-day, making breakfast and a list of things to be done tomorrow (realistically it is 1pm and the whole day is a wash at this point). I post a photo of Byron that I swear is different from the rest that I have posted, but it is always the same; him facing the sunlight, looking out the window wistfully. Byron has no tail, and proceeds through the apartment like an urgent, drunk ballerina. He is very vocal, and we meow at one another like old friends in on a secret. I watch as Byron continues his days, the only effect of the quarantine being that all eyes are on him, no Zoom required. In more ways than not, I’m on Byron time now; life is just waiting for the next meal or the next nap.


Major moments in my life have usually been paired with the arrival or departure of a cat. My mother’s death came within two weeks of the arrival of my cat Rufus, a tuxedo boy who bit off more than he would ever chew. Rufus’s move to Chicago from my childhood home in Seattle came right around my breakup with a long-term partner; Rufus’s death, and subsequently my current cat Byron’s arrival also came at the time of a breakup, a breakup that left my apartment feeling foreign to me save for the presence of his four paws.


I’ve always felt an affinity for cats. As I have begun to grow away from the idea of having children, I've nestled into imagining myself surrounded by their whiskers. I identify with cats’ mood swings, their unapproachability, their coyness. I like the way the relationship is always on the verge of falling apart. Begging and attention will not make a cat like you in the way it does with dogs; cats ask for more time, more trust, and a more transactional relationship. Once you’re in with a cat, however, you’re there to stay. With time and patience, cats open themselves up to you in what can sometimes feel like an intimate and private way. I admire the way they exist without plans or agendas. Byron, unlike a lot of people online, does not think this time in quarantine needs to be particularly fruitful for me. Byron isn’t making arrogant posts about how “not getting things done during quarantine proves that you didn’t lack the time, you lacked the discipline” (please, Bite Me).


For a lot of us, it can feel like quarantine is nothing but a blank slate of time to fill, whether that be with projects, lists, things you left behind because of work, or things you’ve never been able to start because life got in the way. Not filling this time in a way that prepares you for post-quarantine can feel like a lazy waste, because all you have ever wanted was more time and now you have so much time and what the fuck are you doing with your time, huh? But all time is not valuable time; forced free time can often not feel like time at all. We are all in a conga line someone pushed us into without our choosing (6 feet apart, of course). We are all making do, eyes glued to our screens until they blur us to sleep.

For Byron, his world is as big as it’s ever been; his life as a cat is a practice of dealing only with what is in front of him. Byron has seen me more vulnerable than anyone I know. He has seen me at my peaks, lip-synching drunk in the living room at 3am with my headphones on, feeling like I could never die. He’s also seen me through a lot of pain, that kind where you’re crying into your pillow because you saw it all coming but hoped it would be different this time. He knows that I do not like to slow down and I don’t know how to relax and I don’t know where the flow is, but if I ever find it I will have no idea how to go with it.

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 Maybe he knows how hard all of this feels, like the walls are pressing in and I would rather sit sober through my high school reunion then be in my apartment any longer. And yet there are moments in all of this where everything is lovely, surreal, delicious even. My body stretches easily in the morning, having not worked hard in weeks. I feel my neck crack and I grin; I haven’t taken someone’s drink order since March 15th. I make no promises, no plans. I am not anxious about not being invited to things; I’m not really anxious anymore about expectations, of others or myself. Byron and I nap for 12 hours every night, emerging blurry eyed with only my roommates as witnesses. I look at Byron and realize this is how he has woken up every day of his little existence, moving through time like it’s a vat of Jell-O. I love the way this has made the big things seem small and the small things seem big. It’s the first time in a long time I have allowed myself to settle, where my apartment is more than a transit stop. It’s the first time I have been forced to deal with who I am stripped away from the things that normally compose my life, pushing to the forefront the things that are really essential.


And through it all sits Byron, unfazed and unbothered. Byron is immune to many of the heartaches we are experiencing. Byron had no plans to move to New York or LA or back home or to that neighborhood. He did not have trips, weddings, funerals, jobs, or plans that have been abruptly taken. He is not wondering where his food will be next month, if the roof over his head will still be there; he has not been on hold on the phone for hours. He did not walk outside on the first warm day in Chicago in what felt like years, just hoping to get enough sun that it might let his bones start to unthaw. Byron is not thinking about how we all ran outside, one collective and defiant body; how every second out there took us further from the end of this, and yet how beautiful it is that we all needed each other that much. He does not have to check in with his body, do what he can to bring it back to him when it begins to float away beyond the grasp of his paws. He does not think twice about asking for food, asking for help, letting me know that things are not okay for him right now. Byron knows he doesn’t need to have a solidified opinion on this, something different to add; because it can feel like we all need to have an opinion that’s different and fresh and new, right?

Despite it all, everything around me has begun to sound the same and feel the same and look the same; even talking about it being the same can feel the same as it is, and the same as it’s been, and the same as it’s going to be. I hope that after this, we are able to see ourselves in one another more, see the sameness. Remember the ways we took care of each other and ourselves. I hope I allow myself to emulate Byron more, grip life by the paws and give in to time spent resting, time spent belly up, agenda-less in the sun.

Maddie Rogers is a photographer / writer / bookmaker currently based in Chicago. Through found objects, textures and experiences, she's interested in making the small things feel big and the big things feel small.