WARNING: This post contains trauma from loss and death. If you are or anyone you know is thinking about self-harm or suicide attempt, please seek help. Click here for helplines around the world.

“Hey, girlfriend,” Manuel says. “The door’s unlocked and you didn’t answer your phone.”

The boys (Matt, Wade, Takeshi, Manuel, and Chrissy) are meeting at Matt and Chrissy’s place to make Pride signs and have a movie night.

“Oh, oh hey,” Chrissy says.

“Hey, you crying?”

A photo album with pictures of cats is on Chrissy’s lap.

“Oh, sweetie.” Manuel bends down and holds Chrissy tightly.

Manuel and Chrissy met at the volunteer orientation at a cat shelter a few years ago and hit it off right away. They’re both elder millennials, nerds, plant-based, and total bottoms. They share a love for JRR Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, comic books, and of course, cats.

“I miss them so much,” Chrissy says between sobs.

“I know,” Manuel sits down on the sofa next to him.

“It still hurts.”

“I know. And it will stay that way. Some days it doesn’t hurt too bad, some days it hurts like hell that it makes you unafraid to die.”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to, not yet,” Chrissy says.

“Good,” Manuel says as he lets Chrissy cry some more. “That’s good. There are still plenty of cats to save. And know that you’re surrounded by people who love you and care about you.”

“Thank you,” Chrissy says and blows his nose. “OK, let me clean up the table and get ready for craft night.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Funny thing about grief: you gotta let it in, but don’t let it take over your life. And crafting helps.”

“Crafting always helps,” Manuel says. He smiles and helps Chrissy set up the table.

For many of us, our dolls become an extension of ourselves. They live in a world where they wear couture, handbags, jewelry pieces, and shoes we can’t afford in real life.

In their world (and ours), they’re perfect, or maybe close to perfect. This universe we create for our dolls lets us experience second-hand happiness. They wear the dresses we want to wear. They live in a mansion we want to live in. They have those rock-hard abs or perky tits that we want to have.

My dolls love sex, or rather, the stories I write for them dictate that they love sex. I’d like to think they enjoy other things too, like love and friendship.

We build our doll universe out of the things we know and are familiar with. And as much as we want to fictionalize the stories our dolls tell, we inevitably imbue them with our own identity and personality.

We take events from our lives and turn them into posts, reenacted by our dolls. And by doing so, we’re able to detach, step back, and see how the dolls deal with those events. It’s therapeutic.

So, today, amidst the porn posts, the political posts, or the tribute piece posts, I want to celebrate grief because it seems fitting that it’s World Pet Memorial Day and National Best Friend Day.

I grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia, and it still amazes me that I had the self-control not to bring every single stray cat home.

My first official cat was a tabby my sister had rescued. She was a feisty kitten with a spasm and she was mostly feral. She had multiple cancers and passed at the age of ten. Even when my sister was the one who had brought her home, I felt like she was mine. She and I were inseparable, mostly on my part.

That morning (it was a weekend because I didn’t have a class that day), I knew it was her final day. I never, ever wanted to put her to sleep but I also knew she was suffering and she’d had enough. I don’t like euthanasia because it feels like robbing whatever minutes my cat has left.

My mom drove us to the vet, and on our way there, my cat passed away in my arms. I was inconsolable. It was 2004. I was twenty-one and I cried like a baby.

Since then, I had taken in several cats. Some of them went missing (my parents didn’t want them to be indoor cats). Some of them died due to car accidents or old age.

There were five cats still living at my parents’ house in Jakarta when I came to the US in 2011 for my MFA degrees. I’d never expected to stay in the US, but I did, and so I practically abandoned my cats even though we’d been very close together for years.

I gave them up.

When my mom called or texted me to let me know a house cat passed away, I’d break down and cry. But the distance and the absence meant it was easier for me to forget, and in a way, process the loss.

In 2021, after almost seven years of marriage, I moved out of the house that my husband and I bought. When I moved out, I also abandoned the two cats to whom I’d become very attached.

My husband had adopted these two cats, a black cat and a tabby, from shelters in Los Angeles before we began dating. They were there when I visited him every two months. I was living in an apartment in Berkeley that didn’t allow animals, so I savored every visit.

The thing is, unless you have a pet tortoise, you’ll experience the loss of your animal companions, perhaps even several of them in your lifetime. I’m here to say that some days it’s easy, some days it’s not.

The black cat died on March 1, 2022. Almost a year after I moved out. And her death gutted me even when she favored my husband more than me. She was one of the sweetest, most docile cats I’ve ever known. She never once bit me nor scratched me. She passed away due to complications of old age and thyroid issues.

The day she passed away, I printed out a picture of her and put it in a frame. I kissed it every night before going to bed.

The tabby died a few months later. She was the one who had been very close to me when my husband and I were living together. She’d curl up on top of me. She’d spend hours sleeping in my craft room while I work on my stuff. She was the spicy one, very feisty and scratchy and bitey and I still loved her.

About two months before she passed, with us knowing she probably wouldn’t live long enough, my husband asked if I wanted to spend time with her on weekends. After the death of the black cat, going through the process of prolonging the tabby’s life with drugs and trying to feed her proved to be too much for him.

I said yes. Yes, absolutely.

I’d pick her up from my husband’s house on Friday after work, spend the whole weekend with her (food, potty, medicine), and drop her off Monday morning before driving to the office. And in the final week of her life, we decided that I’d pick her up every day after work so she could spend the night with me and I’d drop her off in the morning.

I cursed myself for not being smart enough or having a good enough degree and experience that’d allow me to work from home so I wouldn’t have to keep picking her up and dropping her off and potentially causing her more stress.

It was Saturday, October 8, and I’d been crying throughout the weekend, trying to make peace with putting her to sleep. I still hated euthanasia (still do), but I knew it was time. So, I made an appointment with our vet.

Forty-five minutes before the appointment, my cat, who’d been lying next to me on the sofa, started gasping loudly. And I knew she was leaving me. I just held her and cried until she let go.

A few days later, I printed my tabby’s photo and framed it. It’s now next to the framed photo of my black cat and I kiss them every night (or every morning) before I go to bed.

I never understood why someone would have a photo of their family as the wallpaper of their phone or their computer, but a few weeks after my tabby passed, I changed my phone’s wallpaper to the rare photo of them being side by side. The black cat and the tabby weren’t really close, they barely tolerated each other, but we could tell the tabby was grieving when the black cat passed.

Now they live in my phone.

At my age, it’s difficult to make friends. I made the bulk of my good (and best) friends when I was in college back in Jakarta. I abandoned them when I moved to the US. We’re still in contact, but it’s not as good. It’s never as good.

My current apartment allows cats but I spend the majority of my day at the office or commuting to and from the office so I’ve decided keeping one (or two) in my tiny apartment wouldn’t be fair for the cat(s).

And so, I turn to dolls. They’re still terminally middle/working class (well, most of them are), but I feel like they have a better, more held-together kind of life. That’s why they deserve to have cats. And for now, I have to be content with the second-hand happiness I get from writing their stories.

BTS Thoughts

Manuel and Chrissy are surrounded by Matt and Chrissy’s cats Galadriel (a black and white girl cat), Diana/DeeDee (a white girl cat), and George Meowchel aka Georgie Porgie aka Miss Meow (a gray boy cat).

I chose to print Chrissy’s crop top with the title of one of Tori Amos’s albums, To Venus and Back. The album contains my favorite song about grief called “1,000 Oceans.”

Manuel’s muscle tank features the signature of the late singer-songwriter Selena (he’s a big fan).

Dollsexposed showcases queer erotica, kink, fetish, and activism through twelve-inch doll photography.

Their adventures in the doll world began in 2011 before establishing a home on dollsexposed.com eleven years later.

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