Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Requiem For A Cat
"They hired me and Fred and Joe to dig the grave and carry up some chairs. It took us seven hours and I guess we must have drunk a case of beer." - Tom T. Hall, The Ballad of Forty Dollars.
"Yesterday they were just two German couriers. Today they are the honored dead." - Rick Blaine, as played by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.
Nothing on God's green Earth can prepare you for the death of a loved one. There is no amount of mental bracing that you can do that will help when the dam breaks and the flood of grief washes over you. You stand dumbstruck, wounded, and broken.
Flannery woke me this morning to tell me that our beloved cat of eleven years was dead. "How?" I asked.
"She got ran over," she said softly, "It's pretty bad."
I dressed warmly and she brought me some rubber gloves. "I wasn't going to pick her up with my hands," I said. She offered to stay and help me but I sent her on to work. This was something I had to do myself.
I won't describe the gore, but she was right. It was pretty bad. There wasn't much left that looked like the beautiful, warm and loving pet she had once been. Now she was food for the crows who were circling, waiting for me and the Wednesday morning traffic to leave them to their breakfast. I scooped her up with two snow shovels and took her behind the shed, then went inside to get the girls ready for school. I didn't want them to see her like this.
While they were in the shower, I snuck off to the Lodge for my morning cigarette and to collect my thoughts. Do you know what grief tastes like? It tastes like coffee that is too strong, acrid smoke, and bile, with a hint of fear and anger in the aftertaste.
I walked the girls to the bus stop and I couldn't tear my eyes away from the wet, meaty spot on the road. I had a moment of weakness and choked up a bit. Then I did a stupid thing and I told the girls that the cat was dead. Lucy announced it to the other kids at the bus stop in the same matter-of-fact voice she used when she explained that three plus three was six. Riley took it hard and bawled until the bus came. I found myself saying all those stupid and pointless words of comfort that you hear at every funeral. They fell from my lips like wet feathers and were of no use to anyone.
I poured myself another cup of coffee and fetched a spade from the shed. The hole was small and I didn't make it too deep. I wanted it to be shallow enough that she could feel the warmth of the sunshine, as asinine as that sounds. I stood over the open grave and said a prayer. She was raised Catholic but I don't know any Latin, so I just asked that her Maker welcomed her home.
I tried to console myself with more coffee, but it didn't seem to help. So here I am at 9:30 AM, drinking a beer and sniveling over a dead cat.