THE CAT LADY OF RICHMOND HILL
She wore layers of tattered blankets and lived with a menagerie of cats in a crumbling wooden shack in the forest. My friends and I loved that forest. It was filled with trilliums and blue jays and stray pages of porn, and it had a magical abundance of four-leaf clovers. We didn’t bother the Cat Lady, and sightings of her were rare. When she came across us, she’d scream and we’d run as fast as we could, tearing through the woods with the heart-bursting adrenaline of being chased. But she never chased us. The Cat Lady was harmless. She was spooky but not scary. A daylight monster.
In Richmond Hill in 1989, our parents didn’t ask us where we were going because they knew. We were going to play basketball in driveways, ride our bikes, swim in pools, and search for four-leaf clovers.
“Don’t go into her part of the forest,” was all they said.
Don’t go into her part of the forest? What kind of precious alien childhood was that? I won’t let my son use a public washroom by himself, let alone wander a dark woodland where an insane lady lives with a bunch of animals that have rabies. There are no forests in Richmond Hill now anyway, there are only ten million houses strung together in blocks and a thousand restaurants where you wait forty-five minutes for a table. Condos block the horizon and The Cat Lady is a character on the Simpsons.
“But she was real,” I told my son. “I made a film about her after she died. I interviewed people who knew her.
“Can I see it?”
“Sure. I just have to find a projector. But no, I need a flatbed because the sound is on mag. That’s like tiny pieces of liquefied magnets that make a coating? And then you need other magnets to hear it and you need a prism to see it. It’s all on this giant machine, you’d like it.”
“Why didn’t you just put it on YouTube?”
“There was no YouTube. In 1999, we were excited by something called mini DV. It looked terrible but we didn’t even know. And there was film that you held in your hands.”
I dropped out of film school and by the time I went back, everything was digital and I was lost. But the students were so nice, and they taught me Final Cut Pro on their fancy computers.
“I feel like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer,” I said.
People stop getting your references and you realize it’s because they are young people and you are not. Digital replaces analog. Forests become townhouses, your friends move away, your parents get divorced. The Cat Lady dies, and a film sits on a shelf for fourteen years. And if I were to watch it, would it feel any closer to being real? It’s only a copy of a trace of a memory of a ghost.
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by Hilary Dean | May 2nd 9:46 pm
The Cat Lady of Richmond Hill is gone, the forest where she lived has been replaced by townhouses. Memories of her were recorded on film, but that's now a medium as elusive as she was.