…but the Fan’s a Wind Turbine and the Shit’s a Lot of Shit
July has been a motherfucker of a month, y’all. I say that in full recognition of the fact that we’re only one week into it. We’re doing our best to hold stuff down. It’s getting easier, but it isn’t quite easy yet.
As I stepped out of work on Tuesday, the second of July, I got a call from my wife. Our second-oldest cat, Maria, was throwing up blood. At seventeen-years-old, this wasn’t something particularly unexpected. She came into our lives at the feral end of the How Much Does This Cat Like People bell curve. She was found under a porch with her litter mates and taken in by an animal rescue outfit. The poor brown tabby was around six-months-old, riddled with ear mites and underweight. We figured that she probably wouldn’t be around long, but we’d show her a good life while she had it.
Strictly speaking, she wasn’t our cat: she was company for Galen, a one-year-old yellow tabby who was already sharing our home. He was a high-energy little shit and delighted in fucking up everything he could. My wife figured that some of this energetic upfuckery might be a symptom of boredom. We were both working two jobs and only had so much time to entertain him, after all. It took a little while for them to warm up to each other, but they were fucking shit up together before long.
Galen would knock things off the kitchen counter in the middle of the night, and we’d find them both on the ground investigating the pieces. Over the next seventeen years, they almost never slept apart. Hell, if he was sleeping by himself, she would find him and either squeeze in beside him or just lay down on top of him. He’d groom her, she’d sometimes—very rarely—reciprocate. They were practically siblings.
It took Maria years to warm up to us. The introduction two years in of a pink, wriggling atrocity of screams and smells didn’t help much. A little while later, the two cats and the sapling made the 750 mile move to Arkansas my in-laws’ place, then an apartment in Little Rock, then a house, then a rental house (the fan’s been spinnin’ for a long damn time and it seems like there’s always someone willing to toss a turd at it). Through all of it, she somehow held on.
That’s not to say she didn’t have issues. We had beanbag chairs. Great for playing video games and watching movies, not great at handling a flood of cat piss. Ear mites remained a problem for a while. She was obsessive about cheek marking, to the extent that she would rub her chin raw on counters and corners. She started exhibiting signs of blindness past the age of twelve, but it would come and go. Arthritis came knocking. In the last few years, her stools became loose and unpredictable. They were on the floor about as often as they were in the litter box. Vet said pancreas issues, gave her meds, the meds didn’t really help. She still hung on—sore hips, ratty fur and all.
Back to the second of July. The wife’s crying on the phone (logged out of the work phones and at a loss for what to do). The sapling’s caught Maria throwing up blood in the back room. We’re basically certain this is The End for her. Wife and I settle on her calling a vet clinic while I drive home. We had thirty minutes to get from our house to the clinic. Tight, but doable. I got home, they had the cat loaded up in a crate. Cat, wife, sapling, and I pile into the car and GTFO. Halfway there, we find out someone else had a turd to throw.
I’m driving the speed limit down a four-lane street, trying to avoid the worst semaphores and afternoon traffic snarls. I see a white sedan pull up to a stop sign on a cross street on the right up ahead. The driver looks to her right but never looks left, never sees us coming. She starts to pull out, but I’m already moving from the right lane to the left and speeding up, it was already too late for braking to do any good. The girls notice my maneuver and I probably say something, I dunno. They’re yelling, tires are squealing somewhere to my right and behind me.
I got into the left lane and almost cleared her, but her front bumper caught my passenger side rear quarter. The good news is that I avoided a direct perpendicular impact on the side where my wife and the distressed, elderly cat were. I also gave the other driver six more braking feet. I pulled over to the right side of the right lane and thew on my hazard lights and the rest of my ability to deal appropriately with such a situation completely evaporated. The wife called the police. A witness handed me her contact information. We and the other driver, who turned out to be visibly pregnant, pulled off into an empty parking lot. My wife and the other driver traded information while we waited for the cops. I meandered aimlessly about the parking lot for the forty-five minutes it took the police to show up. Why? It was a minor accident, hardly something to be shook up about. Part of it was the adrenaline from the crash, part of it was my shitty ADHD brain struggling to switch tracks from “I’m taking a member of my family to be euthanized” to “No one’s injured? Awesome! Let’s trade license, registration, and proof of insurance.” A lot of it was something that occurred to me in the fractions of a second before we swapped paint.
In mid-July of 2003, my wife was newly pregnant. How newly? We were on our way to work (we worked at the same company at the time) from the ultrasound that confirmed the pregnancy. I was preparing to turn left onto a four lane highway at a semaphore. The red light came for the cross traffic and our green light came on. I gave half a second to make sure the front rows coming from left and right were stopping, then went forward. As I entered the intersection, I saw a white car speeding through their left turn lane and headed right for us. There wasn’t room for braking; I was already almost halfway through the intersection. If I tried to slow down, the other car would catch us square in the middle of our front bumper and all of our force would transfer through the seat belt into a sapling that we had only just learned was truly there. I threw my wheel as hard to the right as I could and punched the gas, hoping for a glancing blow or at least for the bulk of the impact to hit me and not my wife. It wasn’t either.
The car caught my front driver’s side corner with their front passenger side corner. The driver hit their brakes and pushed us through the intersection. The impact pushed me out of my seat and bounced my head off of the top of the driver’s side door (not hard enough for a concussion, but who knows how many of my neck issues trace back to that). Wife sprung out of the car, fueled by adrenaline alone, and dashed to the gas station on the corner to call 911. While on the call, the adrenaline abated enough that she remembered that she was pregnant and the dispatcher sent an ambulance out as well as the police.
While she was on the phone, I checked on the guys in the other car. I don’t know if they couldn’t speak English or felt it safer not to at the time, or if they were in shock themselves. They didn’t appear to be injured, but the language barrier made an exchange of information basically impossible. It had to wait for the cops.
The police and ambulance arrived, and the medics looked my wife over while the cops got information from me and the other driver. He wasn’t the owner of the car, the owner didn’t have insurance. While I was finishing up with the cops, the driver and his three passengers got a ride from a friend and vanished.
So, back again to the second of July, 2019. Our elderly cat, who was just throwing up blood and who we were taking to have put down, is rattled in her crate in the back seat of my car and the sapling is comforting her. I’m shaking in the 90º heat of a parking lot, remembering a white Chevy Cavalier hitting my green Chevy Malibu and almost destroying the only good things I had. My wife is standing at the rear of a white Nissan Sentra that has just hit my brown Nissan Versa.
I am not ok.
The driver’s not the car’s owner. The driver’s pregnant.
I am not ok.
I wasn’t crying: crying is blood in the water for people who want to hurt you. I wasn’t angry: what was there to be angry about? But I couldn’t deal with the situation. Fortunately, my wife could.
By the time the cops finally arrived, the vet clinic was closed. While we had waited, though, my wife let them know we couldn’t make it and made an appointment for the next afternoon. We got home, and called insurance companies. Ours was a smooth experience. The other insurance was…taxing. The woman who answered the phone sounded like your great-grandmother—not the one that baked cookies with you and taught you to put cinnamon candies in Pepsi, the one who thought that the phone company was trying to steal her teeth. I repeated every piece of information to her no less than eight times. It took thirty-one minutes to provide ten minutes worth of information. We’ll see if an adjuster contacts me next week. Let’s just say that I have some doubts.
After all of this, we slept. Poorly. My wife didn’t work the next day, on the advise of her employer. She dealt with errands instead, trying to keep her mind off shit. I went to work and they let me off early for the holiday. We went home and faffed around until it was time to take Maria to the clinic. This time, the drive was uneventful. We walked in and my wife and daughter broke down. After everything, it was time to say goodbye.
They took the cat back to insert a line. When she returned the girls gave her hugs and kisses and went to the lobby. My wife had held the last cat we lost as the drugs were administered; she’d felt the last breaths and heartbeats and couldn’t do it again. I’d stroked that one’s head as she went, watching everything that was her fade out of her eyes. I’ve got a different relationship with Death than my wife does, though; so holding Maria and keeping her company was something that I was fine doing. I stroked her head as she went and wrapped her body gently in a blanket. We drove her home and I set the carrier with her in it next to an air conditioner register to stay cool while we did what needed to be done.
We bought wood to build a box for her. It was a gesture that my wife wanted to make. While I dug in the thick clay of the back field, the girls measured and cut the wood. The sapling made a plaque for the top of the box. All told, it took about about three hours. By the time all was done, it was going to be too late to make dinner. We were between paychecks and had just shelled out $60 bucks to put our cat down, so going out to eat seemed a stretch, too. During one of my digging breaks, the sapling came back and told me that she was buying dinner for us all. She is and will always be the best fucking sapling.
When box and plaque were ready, I fetched Maria from the crate. Despite the cool air, the scent of death was already heavy on her. I sealed the box and the sapling asked to carry it into the field. We settled her in the grave by lantern light and filled the hole in.
Thursday, we went grocery shopping in the morning and visited family an hour away. We got home and slept like shit again. Friday, my wife worked and I spread grass seed on the bare patches around the grave. Before I could water the patch, I saw a couple of butterflies on the clay and snapped a photo. I don’t attach any particular meaning to it, but it was still beautiful.
The rest of Friday was a load of cleaning. I scrubbed everything and got rid of the litter boxes that had always had some amount of crusty feces stuck to them no matter what we did to combat it. Put in new boxes, fresh litter. Kept going and did things that needed doing. We went to my mother-in-law’s place after my wife got off work to borrow her steam cleaner and she took us out to dinner. Afterward, we grabbed some beer and visited a close friend who lost their own cat (fifteen-years-old) that morning. We talked a long time. The sapling played with a kitten they recently took in. (Everything about that friend and that kitten is another long-ass story that you don’t need to be subjected to right now.) We all went home and slept like shit. Again.
Saturday was more activity. We took the sapling to a local community college to take a placement test so that she could get dual credit for some of her high school classes. Despite her short night, she did fuckin’ awesome. A friend of the sapling came over that afternoon for a sleep-over and to watch a few episodes of the new season of Stranger Things. Today was waiting for her to be picked up and contemplating the upcoming week in between little chores.
This week has been really fucking hard. I wanted to get a quiction exercise done, but that hasn’t happened…won’t happen. This is what we get, instead. Rather than a short piece of fiction about a character accepting their impending death, we get a middle-aged twat nattering about his dead cat.
Sorry about that. I wasn’t really out to be a downer. Thank you, though, for your patience and understanding. Thank you to those of you who shared pictures of cute critters. Thank you to those who hit me with questions on Curious Cat. All of that helped. A lot.