Saturday, October 13, 2012

Death and falling stars

I recently lost a close friend. Literally, as I typed that, a huge, fast burning, falling star appeared before me. I literally mean literally.

Let me tell you where I am as I write this. I’m in a suite – they keep calling it condo but, I’m pretty sure it’s a suite – on the beach in Destin, Florida. I’m on the balcony, smoking a rare cigar which I’m pretty sure is against the rules, listening to the surf. It’s just 5am and I’m recently awake. The sky is still dark so, instead of the gorgeous beach scene that I’m expecting any minute now, I’ve got the Milky Way which, is as good or better than most any terrestrial scene you can serve up.

I should be more content just now than I ever am. But, that’s not my MO. Looking back on life, thinking about some of the incredible things I’ve seen and experiences I’ve had, I know that at every moment I was always too much in my head. Look at me now. It only too me two an a half paragraphs to see a stunning falling star and then climb right back up my own ass.

I slept on the coach last night. When I went to climb into bed, after washing a good cry off my face, I found my wife on my side of the bed. Now, I’m not a dictator about things like this, but I’m also an extremely flawed man who has trouble dealing with change.

Oh, I said, I didn’t know we were switching sides, as I gathered my night-time things from the nightstand next to her head. She looked at me silently.

A sit-com rerun was on the TV so I tried to settle into that. No luck. I squirmed and flopped for about 30 minutes while she fell into a dead sleep.

I tried to sneak out without waking her. At the last moment she groggily asked what I was doing. Did I want her to sleep elsewhere? No. Okay.

Earlier last night, over dinner, her son asked why we had put the cat down. Her son, who is successfully carving out a career for himself in the Army, is treating us to this weekend. It’s my birthday now and hers in a week. It’s a sweet gesture that I don’t think he fully understands as his wife has been gently explaining the whole experience to him every step of the way.

My wife explained how Desi, a lifetime indoor cat, got fleas a few months ago. How? She’s not sure. (I brought fleas home from a temporary, outdoor job I had to take working with plants.) We tried and tried to get rid of them but nothing we tried seemed to work. The cat became more and more upset with the situation and stopped using his litter box. She decided the night that he peed in her gym bag, that he had to be put down. There was just no other choice.

His sister, Lucy, died a few years ago. She developed some sort of strangulation in her intestines and couldn’t eat. It was far too expensive and uncertain to risk surgery; she had to be euthanized. It was too much for me to take Lucy to the vet that day so my wife did. Later, she told me that she couldn’t bare to go with her into the room so Lucy died scared, confused, and alone in the arms of a man she’d never seen before. It broke my heart.

I vowed that when it came Desi’s turn, I wouldn’t let that happen.

It wasn’t Desi’s turn. There were still a couple of options that we could try. They would take time and patience and more cleaning supplies but I wanted to try. My wife didn’t. She was mad at him for peeing in her gym bag and was certain that he planned to ruin our couch, next. She woke me up in the middle of the night and told me that I had to take him to be put down the next day.

I explained the options we still had, she wasn’t interested. We argued. I pleaded for more time but, she said that if I didn’t do it the next day she would do it in three days. Three days wasn’t enough time for the other options to start working so, I knew that if I didn’t do it, she would send him back to the death room, alone like Lucy.

So, I got out of bed and went upstairs to the living room. I made a bed on the couch and Desi, as he usually did when I lay on my back, came and curled up on my chest. We slept like that. Then, the next day, I killed him.

As he lay on that steel table, being held down by me and one of the nurses, or whatever they are in a vet’s clinic, I scratched him in all his favorite places and bawled. I kept saying, Desi, my love, a thing I used to say all the time, and I’m so sorry, a thing I’d rarely had to say to him before.

He craned his neck around, looking at the room and trying to understand what was going on. Finally, he found my face and stared in my eyes while the needle went in and he quickly drifted away.

That was well over a month ago and I’m still not close to being over it. I thought I was until last night when I heard the situation described so breezily. It was all I could do to keep from bawling uncontrollably right there at the table in the highly recommended seafood joint that the daughter in law so carefully picked out for us.

I’m aware of the thing with pets and I hope and believe that most of you have stopped reading this by now. No one really wants to hear about the death of another’s pet. Desi wasn’t a special cat to the rest of the world. He only knew about five people and, as far as I know, only two have cried at his death, my wife and me.

My problem is, I don’t know how to get around this. I thought I was getting there but I’m not. I can’t forgive her for forcing the situation and I can’t forgive myself for allowing her to do so. I didn’t get up and move to the couch last night because I was on the wrong side of the bed. I got up and moved to the couch because, since Desi’s death, I haven’t been able to sleep in the same bed as her without chemical assistance.

I want to recover from this. I don’t know how.