Chapter 1:

Prelude to Becoming a Cat

Among the Clouds, and the Cat She Found There

This last spring, I became a cat.Bookmark here

It all happened at the pretentious coffee shop down the block from school. Now, one might wonder about a frequent customer at any coffee shop: Derek, are you one of those hipster fucks who brings their sleek minimalist charcoal grey laptop to an immigrant shop with amber wood panels, dim lighting, and soft Japanese jazz playing in the background, who listens to music for eight hours, writes precisely eleven words, and then returns home to post “what’s your motivation #WritingCommunity?”Bookmark here

Yes. In fact, I am that person. But hear me out, because for once, I'm not the pretentious one.Bookmark here

See, this place markets an item on their menu called “Space Coffee,” where they allege that they launch their beans into the stratosphere before charging almost a hundred dollars for eight ounces of thawed out dark stratospheric joe.Bookmark here

Anybody will tell you that it’s just a marketing gimmick. It’s a psychological ruse to get you to focus on the cheaper, albeit still expensive other menu items. Maybe if we give a socially responsible coffee establishment the benefit of the doubt, it’s commentary on our hyper-commodified marketplace of exchange, how we inappropriately ascribe value to luxury and pretend that we can proudly say, “Ah yes, the flavors of space. The acidity of this Yirgacheffe really speaks to the astrological journey that these beans have taken.”Bookmark here

Now I say anybody, but one day, someone walked in and bought a cup.Bookmark here

I saw him.Bookmark here

For the first time since I read his awful autobiography, I saw Benjamin Franklin. He stared and smiled at me. Me and my stupid jaw-widen mouth. I watched as the shopkeeper pressed his slender fingers on Mr. Franklin’s mouth and I knew as the cash register chimed open, I had been bested by this mysterious buyer.Bookmark here

Culturally.Bookmark here

Intellectually.Bookmark here

Financially.Bookmark here

This buyer turned out to be Erica Zhu. She was a substitute teacher who ran several cultural clubs on campus. She turned out to be a witch with Benjamins to spare and that day, she turned me into a cat. Well, not literally, but I need you to understand that this was a magical moment for me, like a volta to a Petrarchan sonnet.Bookmark here

There’s a lot about Erica that I still don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll ever know, or want to know, or have to know. Knowing really is such a human enterprise. Cats don’t need to know. I would just like to lie in class and sleep, as cats are prone to do.Bookmark here

Ah. Before I forget. I’ve also included an appendix of Erica’s writings at the end of all this. This is not because I think someone’s writing allows you to peer deep into their soul. Often, people attempt to stupidly describe inexistent things with existent words. I don’t think these writings will tell you more about Erica than my own writings will tell you about myself.Bookmark here

Truthfully, this is the last trace I have of her. Otherwise, I have no reason to believe that Erica Zhu was ever real.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.