For our fifteenth wedding anniversary, Joel adapted Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem to commemorate each year of our marriage, which I have partially excerpted below:
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways……One wall papering job (our first year of marriage which almost became our only year of marriage after undertaking that project together)….Four moves…..Eight cats…..Ten surgeries….Thirteen times daily turning the lights off (Joel‘s pet peeve about me leaving all the lights on)…..Fourteen Christmases, and Fifteen Wonderful Years of Marriage and three beautiful children.”
Of those entries, eight cats is perhaps the most demonstrable evidence of Joel’s good nature and true love. He does not love cats. Heck, he doesn’t even like cats. But, when we were dating, he hid that fact when I introduced him to my two Persian cats, Sophie and Othello. Oh, kitty, kitty he said as he gingerly patted their heads and goofily grinned. Over all these years Joel has been extremely accommodating and good-natured as a procession of cats has come and gone. And, so far he has only killed two of them. Accidentally, he says.
One Autumn evening a regal silver cat turned up on our back porch—well, actually, he stalked Joel in the darkness and followed him home as Joel walked our poodle— with glistening gun-metal gray fur and Coke-bottle green eyes, and mewed pitifully as he stared wistfully through our glass back porch door. One ear bore the mark of battle with a notch missing from it. I fed him, and of course, once you feed a cat, it becomes yours. Sterling was sweet and affectionate, and favored me over everyone else. Of all my cats, Sterling was one of my favorites.
That same winter, mere months later, Joel called me as I drove home through winter’s darkness and haltingly blurted out, “I killed the cat. I ran over him in the garage and the kids were in the car when I did it. And now they are all crying.” Five minutes later I arrived home, raised the garage door centered within the shadowy outline of the house against the starless night sky, and gazed into a brightly lit diorama vignette reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. Except for the macabre subject and bad lighting. And copious tears. There stood Joel and all three children still huddled in a semi-circle sorrowfully looking down upon an obviously dead cat with blown pupils and tongue lolling out to one side. The fluorescent overhead lighting cast a greenish pall over the scene, and I felt green in my stomach.
Okay, everyone. Let’s go inside and move away from the body. I ushered the crying crew into the house and began triage to calm each person, including despairing Joel. Joel had also called my father, a doctor, who was on his way despite the absurd pointlessness of a house-call. Sure enough, Dad arrived a few minutes later and officially called the time of death. Inside, the children were in various states of mourning: Noah, our animal lover, sobbed. Sarah Grace was tearful, but settling down. And, Samuel, our future doctor, plotted how to conduct an autopsy on the goo drooling out of Sterling’s mouth onto the polished concrete floor. In between consoling his brother, sister, and father, I issued stern warnings to Samuel, “Don’t you dare touch that fluid! Stay in this house!” Dad and Joel dug a grave in the black coldness.
Not long after that, one night at our supper table, the kids were unsettled and wild. Milk was spilled. Joel was angry. I intervened with a general observation that accidents happen and we all need forgiveness. To which Noah commented sarcastically, “Yeah. Let’s not forget who killed the cat, Dad.” And, with our humor regained and a sad event now ruefully funny, we all moved past the night that Daddy killed the cat.
Until the next cat died on Joel’s watch. Which is a story for another day.