It was an odd pairing from the beginning.
I was eleven. Penny had gray hair. Her frame was thin, frail. My round face and chubby thighs didn't qualify as thin even in the kindest of circumstances. But I desperately needed a friend. And she found purpose in comforting me.
And then she peed all over my floor.
And let me tell you, there's nothing like waking up in a giant litter box to start your day off on the wrong foot. Patient and forgiving, as eleven-year-olds tend to be, I banished her from the house.
From that day on, my cat and I shared a tense relationship. She was a gift for my birthday, and as such, I had predetermined that she must always prefer my lap for her resting spot, purr adoringly in my general direction, and reserve her hairball issues for occasions when 1) I wasn't around, and 2) someone else was available to clean up. Bitter at her inability to live up to my standards (Do cats inherit their human family's genetics? No? Sure?) and make everything in my angst-riddled junior high years come up smelling like teen spirit, yet shamefully guilty (Seriously, no?) every time I pet her unkempt, mangy, outdoor-cat coat, I kept my distance during each driveway encounter. I didn't need her pathetic cries and wild, feral eyes penetrating my soul with the stinging reminder that I'd abandoned the creature that was supposed to be my best friend.
(It wouldn't be the first or last time I refused to acknowledge the pain I'd caused someone else after running away when the going got tough. But more on that later.) (And seriously, peeing on the floor (repeatedly!!) is grounds for immediate dismissal - I don't care who you are.) (Pay attention, Little C. Mama loves you, but Mama loves her some hardwood floors more.)
Fast forward 16 years to a nondescript Thursday night, as I tote the baby up the steps onto the front porch of my parents' home to visit for dinner.
Curious. Has Dad been running a fish market out of the garage again?
The stench grew to overwhelming. I frantically searched for my keys, a fruitless effort when lugging a squirming toddler and a purse the size of Kansas. Handheld Yahtzee? Check. Banana of questionable edibility? Check. Four size-too-small disposable diapers? Check. Empty tupperware from yesterday's leftover lunch? Check. Keys? Ch- no, no check. Gah.
My fingers clawed at the front door as I sank to the ground, my throat tight in the clutches of the all-consuming stink. My eyes darted violently, wondering at what point the orange oxygen masks would descend and reminding myself that proper emergency procedure is every man (or baby) for himself. (Ear muffs, Little C. Mama doesn't mean that.) (Kind of.) Just as my vision closed to a dark tunnel, my dad nonchalantly cracked open the door. Gasping, I slithered inside and kicked it shut behind me.
"....Dad. Something has gone awry on the front porch."
"Oh yes. That. I don't want to talk about it."
"Seriously. It smells like a rotting meat convention out there. Septic line back-up?"
"We're sitting down to dinner. It's not dinner conversation. Forget it."
Halfway through the meal, my mom mentioned one of the dogs was due for a visit to the vet. Then an afterthought: "And speaking of which, has anyone seen Penny lately?"
And suddenly, my dad stopped chewing. He stopped moving altogether and stared fervently at his pasta, adopting the "play dead" strategy that surely translates from woodland survival to table talk. With the dawning of understanding, my gaze turned from inquisitive to accusing and a gasp escaped my gaping mouth.
"There's something under the porch!" I eeked out.
I groaned, the weight of our failed friendship and her lonely, undignified death heavy on my shoulders. Dad looked defeated. "I don't want to talk about it." He paused, an awkward moment of silence in memoriam. "I do, however, want to know who's volunteering to start removing the floorboards out there. We've got to get it out."
"Not me!" I quickly volunteered. "She peed on my carpet. Hateful beast." I snatched up Little C, mumbled something about bedtime, held my breath, and made a mad dash for the car.
Because that's how I show love to all God's creatures entrusted to my care. (Kidding, Little C.) (Kind of.)