Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Neighborly Relations

When I got home from running errands today, there was a huge plant under my carport. It was a painted lady hibiscus, a big, lush plant with glossy leaves and gorgeous blooms. I assumed it was a gift from my mother-in-law, who is gifted with plants and probably thought I'd enjoy the showy flowers. Then I saw the card tucked between the lower branches.

The card was a pet sympathy card, the second I've received in as many days. (I honestly didn't know this genre existed but I am so glad it does.) A handwritten note on the inside flap said:
We know that pets are part of the family. We are so sorry this happened. There is no way to replace your cat, but maybe planting this in your yard will help you remember him. We are so sorry, Paul & Judie.

Paul and Judie are the neighbors across the street, the owners of the Siberian huskies who escaped their enclosure and attacked Benny. They have always seemed like nice enough people, but we didn't know them very well. The morning of, Paul came over to tell us to send the vet bill to him and he profusely apologized to Royal (I was too busy sobbing in the bedroom to talk to him myself). I knew they weren't bad people, and this was all just a terrible mistake. But I did harbor a wee tiny amount of resentment toward them. After all, their dogs were alive and howling to keep the entire neighborhood awake, while my cat was dead.

The plant and the card really moved me, though. I walked over and knocked on the door, and Paul answered the door, looking a little wary to see me. At his feet was his little black dachsund, Fred. Paul was wearing a black tee with an American eagle on it that I tried to not look at too closely because I was afraid it might be some Tea Party bullshit. Fred was wearing a neon mesh wife-beater. Paul and I had a nice chat, awkward at first. I've never met Judie, beyond waving to her while she's in her yard, and Paul told me all about her job. We talked about what home renovation projects we're working on, and lamented how it's always something, isn't it? We shook hands as I left and he apologized again. It was a nice chat.

Strangely enough, I felt some weird relief as I walked across to my own house. Benny's still gone, but a neighborly gesture helped me feel a tiny bit better about the world.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Goodbye Benny

Two weeks ago our beloved cat Benny -- all of 6 years old, fat and pampered -- was attacked by our neighbor's dogs while playing in our backyard. We rushed him to the vet and he seemed to get better for a few hours. Royal and I began to plan the fence we'd build in the backyard to protect him. The fattening foods he would be allowed to eat. The window seats we would put in all the windows for him to watch the squirrels. Our baby was hurt, but surely he would get better. And we would atone for letting this horrible thing happen to him.

The next day the vet called and said we should put him out of his suffering. Now who will put Royal and I out of ours?

I don't think I really understood the meaning of the word "suffering" before. I've suffered through a bad first marriage, an unwanted pregnancy that thankfully ended in miscarriage (but resulted in two weeks of intense physical suffering), bad bosses who undermined me, boyfriends who thought they could control me. I've suffered the misery of being separated from the man I loved by many months and many thousands of miles. I've suffered from years of depressions, sometimes so debilitating that I couldn't find the energy to even brush my teeth. I've been broke and sick, bereft of friends, miserable with jealousy, curled into a little ball on the bed wondering if this was all there was to life. But until now, I had never suffered this kind of heartbreak.

For people who don't love their pets like children, this all probably seems silly and incredibly melodramatic. The practical side of me sometimes pokes up in my head to say, "Benny was just a cat. Not a child you wanted and lost or a best friend who died. Just a cat." Only he wasn't. He made demands like a child, he listened to me and comforted me like a best friend. He didn't mind the depression or the weird songs I'd sing (although his little face would wrinkle with disapproval). His only task in life, besides ruling our house with an iron paw, was to love me. He had a squishy belly I loved rubbing my face on and practically drooled with ecstasy while being brushed. I loved him so much and I can't bear the thought that I won't see him any more.

Sometimes out of the corner of my eye, I do see him. He was big and white, with a black tail and ears, and sometimes I see a slow-moving bundle of white move past the doorway or I imagine I hear his particularly plaintive meow. As painful as those moments are, when I realize not only is Benny not there but he will never be there, I dread the time when I will cease to see him at all.