It was very late August that summer we stopped in Portland on the way to the Redwoods and Loren made me some CD with early Pink Floyd I hadn’t heard, and I waited to play it until we left a campground one early morning and the sun changed, it’s like it just changed that day, the tint went from summer to autumn.
Our cats were always dying in autumn, it seemed. They waited until September, like they knew. One day I came home and Pokey was just there on the floor, undeniably dead, something I’d never considered before. And it was the first time I experienced the psychological value, the necessity, of burying a body.
We had a parking strip out front our bungalow in Wallingford, the place I rented from a Greek who was very hands-off but kept the rent low, and I was out there digging when one of our neighbors came by, a new couple who’d moved in and both looked like models, that look of wealth from entitlement, and the woman started showering in a side bathroom that faced our house but only had glass brick between the two of us so I could make out her silhouette in the mornings while I sat there with my coffee trying to wake up, and I wondered who was stranger for it, she or I.
But as I was digging a hole for Pokey she had an attitude one might have toward a renter, toward someone of lower status on the street, when she asked just what I was doing there and said it like I owed her a response — and I said I’m burying my cat and that got rid of her, and afterwards we scattered wildflower seeds and even though it was September they bloomed soon after, and the Greek’s nephew who rented the place below us stopped parking on it because I asked him to, I didn’t want him leaking oil onto the strip, onto the flowers.
Dawn and I went for dinner as a kind of distraction even though we couldn’t really afford to, and I got a stiff drink because I thought I deserved that at least, and the other cat, Pokey’s mom, sniffed the area where he’d been and looked at me, sort of glared, like she was probing or trying to transmit something to me psychically, but I’d never understand what happened, we assumed his kidneys just failed, he had that blood-in-the-pee problem for years we tried to manage but couldn’t, that was that.
It was the same time of year after we’d bought our first house I had to bury Sherman, Pokey’s mom, and because I didn’t have a car then I had to carry her to the vet’s office in a crate to have her put down, and walk back with it effectively empty, just the remains wrapped in a towel, and people would stop on the sidewalk to look inside but I just kept walking, and my team at work wrote me a card and mom tried to console me, but there’s some things like that you just can’t relate to fully, you have to let people suffer, to work through it. When I was in the waiting room with Lily last week I asked the nurse if I could come in with her for the procedure (she had two teeth pulled, and a chain fitted to another tooth to get it to come in right) and the nurse just looked at me like obviously not, you’ll wait here, so I said goodbye to Lily and went back to my book, and thought this is where it starts now, they start growing up, they have to learn about pain and putting gauze in your mouth to keep the bleeding down, and how it hurts more than you’re prepared for usually but you get through it, and that’s part of growing up, seeing the other sides of life.
In his backyard in Portland, Loren aggressively pruning the grape vines over the trellis, tearing it down and upsetting the wind chimes, collapsing branches into a waste bin, unable to sit, agitated. Playing the Moody Blues too loud on a Friday afternoon with cans of beer and the nearby freeway, the sound of cars, the same as our place in Wallingford, when I sometimes imagined the sound was the sea, the break between tides when it goes quiet, the otherwise constant rush. Loren, snipping with a pair of clippers, pulling out the brown sword fronds. A cat across the street preening by the recycling crates, and me looking at our car parked there thinking about going home, back to Seattle, how small and hopeful our car looks, as if it’s just there to serve me, to take me somewhere else.