Happy anniversary. The cat is dead.
It's a lousy Hallmark greeting and -- if you're inclined to find omens in bowls of soup like we are -- it's a tough one to spin.
We marked five years of love, grit and unity Saturday. We ate a fancy meal, dressed to the nines and shared our goals. Finding a dead cat sprawled in the kitchen wasn't one of them.
Mo screamed moments after opening the door.
"Oh my God! Jack is dead!"
We have two cats: Jack and Fig. They look like twin tabbies, but are so temperamentally opposite they seem like stereotypes. Jack is an 10-year-old barn cat who hates everything in the world except Mo. Fig is a 7-year-old fraidy cat, fat, sweet and so dumb that, twice a day, he forgets where he is and weeps existential tears for his mother.
Lately, Jack has been sick. A month ago, he peed blood. Days ago, he peed twice on a couch, prompting an enlightening discussion about the limits of animal charity. It ended poorly, not long after I proposed a two-step solution: (a) Nobody like Jack so (b) We should put him to sleep.
My first thought: Denial. My next thought: I killed Jack.
Huh? He's napping, not dead. See? Uh oh. He's dead. Mo will never forgive me.Of all the crap out of my mouth, God, why listen to that? Why? Poor, Jack. Poor, Mo. Poor, me. I'm in big trouble.
Mo was in the living room, crying. Jack walked up from the basement and meowed.
"That's not, Jack," I said. "Oh my God, it's Fig."
My first thought: Relief. I didn't kill Jack. My next thought: My God, it's Fig.
Four hours ago, Fig was purring happily and actually upstairs during daylight hours. I was glad for him as I put on my suit, thinking: "After 7 years, Fig is finally coming out of his shell. Good for him."
I dug a deep hole in the backyard and learned where the gas line is buried. Thinking it was a root, I whacked it for 5 minutes with a shovel. Fortunately, they are sturdy: Our anniversary celebration did not move from dinner to dead cat to explosion.
We had a quick service, burying Fig with an angel wing costume we made him wear for Christmas cards that did a better job embarrassing us than him. We told him we loved him, apologized for not taking better care of him and sprinkled tuna juice on his grave to send him on his way.
It must have been shock. Everything happened so quickly -- one minute, wine and romance, the next figuring out what to do with a dead cat at midnight -- that the loss didn't really hit until Sunday.
That's when I found myself poring over Internet forums, reading about sudden death in cats (apparently it's common) and bawling like a little girl who missed out on Hanna Montana tickets. Even then, I thought: "What am I doing? Why am I crying over Fig?"
Mo put it best: Fig was a family member, the first we brought home together as a couple. He died alone. We didn't see it coming and we couldn't say goodbye.
We'll miss seeing him in the window when we pull into the driveway, emerging from his hiding spot under Hope's crib to nuzzle our legs during midnight feedings and wailing plaintively from the basement at nothing in particular.
He was a good cat and we loved him. Our crowded house seems emptier without him.