Tuesday, August 31, 2010
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
The annual first day of school ritual came on us this year with added significance. The last of our children would start school today. This would leave my wife alone, all day, for the first time in eleven years. We both had that 'oh my god we have no more babies' look on our face. We tried not to let it show, because this was their day. We went about our routine with the parental mask of joy loosely strapped to our heads.
My wife was tying and untying my youngest pigtails working to get them just right while my daughter was trying, unsuccessfully, not to fidget. I was making a big breakfast of eggs, homemade biscuits, and slices of honey dew melon. I did this knowing all but mine would go partially uneaten.
My oldest daughter was being very cool, this being her fifth first day. Cool or not, she still was up before dawn and dressed when we got down stairs. In about a month we will need a bullhorn to rouse her from bed. She helped me set the table and put a chewable vitamin next to each plate carefully choosing who got which cartoon character. I got the rabbit. My son followed her around and switched them all just too annoy her. His clip-on tie had come undone and held on only by the tie clasp, it was hanging down and out like a cows tongue.
"Fix your tie, put your shoes on and leave your sister alone.", I said trying not to sound agitated. My peaceful summer mornings were officially at an end. He went off to another room and began to bounce a ball; I told him to stop that too.
The thinly veiled excitement was building to a level that our cats, Gladys and Bob were getting skittish. I put them out.
The pig tales were now just right and tied with yellow ribbons. My wife had to convince my youngest that 'no, she could not wear makeup. That almost brought on tears form the both of them but for very different reasons. We made a deal with her; no makeup but she could bring her stuffed monkey to school. She agreed with the deal. I only had to break up one other fight before it was time to leave and wait for the bus.
In the semidarkness, by our front door, we took pictures of the children in their uniforms. They were holding onto their lunch boxes, but losing their grips on their composure. We took a few more snapshots by the stone wall they "helped" me build and a few by the garden with the sun flowers looming over them. I wanted to take a few more but the kids told us to stop.
We waited for the bus by the edge of the road. My wife and I took turns holding our 'baby', (holding back time) until she squirmed down from us to stand with the "big" kids. My son silently slipped his hand into mine. My eldest was holding Bob while Gladys did figure eights around our legs. The bus was due any minute. We fell into silence as we all stared down the street watching the other cars pass by. We could just see the bus rounding the corner and I told my wife to ready the camera to get the picture of them bordering the bus.
She knew the routine and told me so.
The bus was just one stop away when we heard a sound similar to dropping a basketball that lacks air. Out of the corner of my eye there was a black and white blur. Gladys got hit and was now fifteen feet down the road. I thought I was the only one to see it but our baby saw it to and screamed. She started to run for the cat and I told her to stay with her mother. Our eldest was working very hard not to cry. My son kept looking at my wife and me, his earlier cockiness suddenly washed away. All including myself were wondering what to do until my wife whispered to me,"Get Gladys out-a-here. Quick!"
I scooped up the cat and took her to the back of the house. They all had their backs to the road when the bus pulled up. I heard the bus horn sound and then pull away.
I went back out as my wife came toward me and she said "Is she dead?"
"Will she be all right?"
"I don't know. I don't think so"
"Well go see."
"Did the kids get on the bus all right?"
"Yes! Now go see to the cat."
I went back to Gladys. She had not moved. She was breathing but not well. Her eyes were two black holes that looked like they were eaten out by insects. There was a little blood on the corner of her mouth. I just stared at her and both prayed to and cursed God.
My fathers voice, long since silenced by cancer, spoke to me: "When the time comes, a man must kill his own dog."
I knew the cat was suffering. I also knew that unlike my Dad, I did not own a gun. I thought I could just smash its head with a rock and then dismissed that thought. I decided to strangle her.
Putting my hands around its neck I slowly squeezed through the fur; amazed at how thin her neck really was. I felt my grip wasn't right so I started over; this time squeezing harder. When I felt the true circumference of her neck and her hard wind pipe I couldn't squeeze any more.
"It was her time. Just get a new grip and do it, brother! A man has to kill his own dog”. I was saying all this to myself as I took a new grip. I was squeezing harder this time and I could begin to feel the flesh of the neck fold around my fingers and then that cat coughed.
I let go and stood up, went into the house and told my wife I was taking Gladys to the Vets maybe, just maybe, she wasn't hurt that bad.
"What about work" my wife asked.
"Call them. Tell them I'll be late."
"Should I tell them why"
"Uh no. Tell them its car trouble . . . No wait. Tell them the truth."
"I'll call the Vet first to meet you. They don't normally open till nine."
"Let me know right away, if she's ok, so I can go tell the kids."
" Yes. Yes. Of course. But what if . . ."
I took our old picnic blanket and wrapped up Gladys and gently carried her to the car. I talked to her all the way. I talked to her as I carried her into the Vets, and as I told the Vet what had happened I was looking at her. Struggling not to say; “Don't worry baby it will be OK. I don't want to tell the kids you are dead. I don't want you to be dead." Instead I looked at the Vet and said "Do what you can."
Wanting to but not asking how much this would cost.
All right, so, I couldn't kill my "own dog.". But, hey dad, they're other things a man has to do. Like sit in his recliner on a Saturday afternoon and watch old movies on TV with his family while listening to the familiar music of our new baby nursing. Also to have the joy of a fat black and white cat named Gladys take a nap in his lap. Now that she will no longer venture far from the house I have all that.