You know that awkward moment when your date mentions that you and his cat have the same name?
Given that my mother was neither a free-loving child of the ‘60s nor Gwyneth Paltrow, and hence I was not christened Sunshine or Tiger or Mittens or Boots, I was not really prepared for this news during a first date that otherwise had been going swimmingly well. (Translation: I had achieved that magical level of intoxication where I was drunk enough not to feel self-conscious but sober enough to know not to reveal that I DVR Wheel of Fortune every day and belong to the Wheel Watchers Club.)
I also was not prepared for the fact that this date would lead to another and then another and that eventually that date and his same-named feline and I would all be living under one roof.
And this is where our systemically patriarchal fairy tales that perpetuate phallocentric paradigms have taught us to expect, “And they lived happily ever after.” (I actually have no idea what the previous sentence means. But I attended a liberal arts college where students would only receive their diplomas after promising to use the phrases “systemically patriarchal” and “phallocentric paradigms” in all of our writings. Other graduation requirements included participating in African drumming circles and not wearing a bra while playing Frisbee golf.)
But there is trouble Chez Jill-times-two. Sadly, Cat Jill does not like Jill. Or, more accurately, Jill does not like Human Jill.
That the two Jills in our home are differentiated in this way is thanks to a magical day every little girl dreams of known as Meeting Your Boyfriend’s Entire Family For the First Time On Thanksgiving … When You’re A Vegan.
“Hi. I’m dating your son. And I’m not going to eat anything you lovingly spent hours preparing.”
After a conversation at the dinner table that included discussion of my boyfriend’s cats and the amusing Jill-Jill situation, I popped into the kitchen, from where I heard, “Does Jill eat cake? Human Jill, not Kitty Jill, I mean.”
And thus my new sobriquet was born.
This semantic demarcation of the Jills continued throughout the evening, lest anyone be unclear if the subject was Kitty Jill or “Pat Sajek is a Silver Fox” Jill.
For example: “How did you and Human Jill meet?”
And, “Are you still having problems with Kitty Jill getting up on the table?” (Actually, it probably was necessary to clarify which Jill this was regarding. I really need to stop drinking tequila.)
Post-Thanksgiving, Kitty Jill became known as just Jill again. I remained Human Jill.
My Wii Avatar is labeled “Human Jill.” I sign cards to my boyfriend “Love, Human Jill.” If one day we purchase his-and-her monogrammed towels, mine will probably read, “HJ.” (Incidentally, this works out well as my other nickname is Hustler Jill. Yes, that’s how we roll in the Wheel Watchers Club.)
So why did the other Jill get back her unqualified name while I didn’t?
Perhaps it’s because we’re mindful of avoiding the dreaded glottal stop in “Kitty.” Perhaps it’s because we find the Human Jill epithet funny. Or perhaps—and most likely—it’s because the four-legged critter is, undisputedly, the favored Jill in our house. I have opposable thumbs, but apparently that doesn’t trump her ability to sleep 20 hours a day or to stick her leg behind her head. (If I ever managed to get my leg behind my head, that cat would be relegated to second place faster than you can say, “Call an ambulance.”)
Had the Jill/Human Jill distinction existed from the beginning of our relationship, I might have avoided the embarrassment of the following incident that played out a couple months after we started dating.
I was sitting on the couch in my boyfriend’s apartment, reading
Cosmopolitan Dostoevsky. He walked into the room and said, “You look really pretty today, Jill.” I said, “Aw, thank you” and looked up from my Kindle to see him holding the other Jill and looking adoringly into her eyes.
Yes, that really happened. And yes, somehow we are still dating.
I might not have found Jill’s status as Favorite One quite so galling if she didn’t leave any room as soon as I entered it. If she didn’t completely disregard my attempts to play with her. If she didn’t behave toward me as though she were auditioning for the Rachel McAdams character in an all-cat remake of Mean Girls (and, seriously, why has no one does this yet?)
Please know that most animals don’t hate me. Most animals actually kind of love me. I gave up eating animal products because of my commitment to their welfare. I gave up cheese for your kind, Jill. Don’t you understand? I GAVE UP CHEESE.
For months, the Jill vs. Jill pseudo-rivalry was a source of great amusement for my boyfriend and our friends. Eventually, it was for me, too. And just when I had embraced the levity of the situation, of the fact that this beautiful little cat’s supercilious attitude was a punchline waiting to be told, Jill began acting strangely. Jill began withdrawing not only from me but also from my boyfriend, whom she truly, madly, deeply adores. Jill, it turns out, had a golf ball-sized cancerous tumor growing in her stomach.
The vet operated and removed the mass. But, he told us, Jill’s cancer is not curable.
Just like that, our kitty comedy took a turn toward the tragic.
Jill’s first night home after her surgery, she climbed on my lap, curled up in a ball, and fell asleep for an hour.
As I looked at her tiny, shaved belly, my eyes filled with tears—tears because I knew Jill’s diagnosis was breaking my boyfriend’s heart, tears because I knew she was in a lot of pain, tears because maybe, finally she would let me love her and spoil her and pose with me in coordinated sweaters for our Christmas card.
So, two months later, how goes the forging of the Jill-Jill besties bond?
Well, last week, she awoke at 3 a.m., sauntered from the foot of the bed to the headboard, vomited all over my pillow, sauntered back to her original position, and promptly fell asleep again. Jill & Jill matching turtleneck sweaters embroidered with dancing snowmen = not happening.
She is still feisty and still greets most of my overtures of friendship as though she was the president of GLAAD and I just offered her a Chick-Fil-A sandwich.
And that’s a good sign. It means she’s feeling like herself.
A few nights ago I was at a baseball game when a promotion for the Make-A-Wish Foundation appeared on the Jumbotron.
My friend turned to me and said, “Maybe you guys should nominate Jill for Make-A-Wish.”
“Good idea,” I said. “Except, I think I know what her wish would be. And I don’t feel like moving again.”