Monday, May 6, 2013

Our Dead Cat Romeo Came Back To Our House Last Night

Dear Jonathan, Abigail, Nick/ Jake/ Zach,

Raise your hands if you are familiar with Mommy’s ‘THE CAT’S NOT REALLY DEAD’ Syndrome.

No one? 

This forces me to compose a private email that will end up on my blog, so here goes:  I experience Phantom Door Syndrome. I expectantly open the deck's slider and call out to a dead cat so they'll come in.  I do this off and on for about a week, after they’ve ascended to the Eternal Litter’d Beyond.

Every single time we lose a cat – and I have lost count now, are we up to seven? – I do this.  It doesn’t matter if they have died unexpectedly or of natural causes (which I think only happened once: Tiger died of being, like, ten thousand years old. She was part turtle. And LB didn’t count, unless you consider ‘dying of being an ASS’ somehow 'natural.' And while Francis-Firecat was old, she technically died of Sudden-Euthanasia because, after her fur fell out and her skin oozed, she looked too stupid to live so I had her put down.
*If I ever start oozing like that, I want you to promise you'll put me down, too.)

Anyway, Daddy and Abby both have a version of Phantom Door Syndrome, except they don’t actively call into the darkness to get a dead cat to come in.  They’re just ‘vigilant’ about the slider-door the cat once paw’d at. Always looking in the door's direction, expecting the cat to paw at it. This vigilance lasts about three weeks.

I am sure spiritual people or those who are just decent consider this phenomenon an act of human hope, civility, or ‘muscle memory’. 

It is none of that.  It is an act of stupid. We simply forget the cat is dead. Our brains stay locked in the habit of Ready To Let Romeo In. 

It’s identical to the Human Phenomenon most folks have where, after a loved one passes, we get perilously close to dialing the deceased to share some snippet of news.

Few of you, fortunately, are in any way versed in this experience. Actually, by the time this happens in your lives, I expect you to text or vid-chat the dead.

Back in the day when technology was slow, there was, thankfully, plenty of time between cultivating the thought, "I should phone Mom to tell her Jake is Salutatorian for his class!" and the walk I had to take to get to our landline telephone.  By the time my hand touched the receiver, my brain had opportunity to fire off an instruction, "Hands OFF that phone, Carolyn! Your mother is not going to answer."

Fortunately, now that Romeo has been gone for more than six months, all of us have transcended the "Phantom Door Syndrome" grief stage.

Until last night, that is, shortly before midnight, when An Actual Romeo-Style-Cat appeared at the slider-door and used Romeo's cry-voice to be let in.

And that's not even the creepy part.

My mind went on 'Auto Pilot' as I calmly walked over to Let Romeo In.

I got as far as touching the slider-door handle. That's when my brain engaged.

The Romeo Imposter and I stared at each other.  She was fully expecting to be brought in. She even bowed her head down at the corner of the slider where it touches the house, then looked back up, eyes agog.  Just like Juliet used to. 

I called out to Daddy.

"Come see the Romeo Cat! There's a Romeo Cat here!" I shouted excitedly as I nearly opened the actual slider door. Because in that moment, hope lurked within my heart ...that maybe ... this was the real Juliet.  

The mind is a terrible thing.

Daddie came pounding over.  Or he would’ve if he were a pounder.  He is a stealth-walker and at least three times per year I need a heart defibrillator from him soundlessly manifesting before me.

But last night he pseudo-pounded over, his voice drenched in foreboding, "Do NOT let that thing IN."

Maybe it was not foreboding.  

More like ...threatening.

So I threw open the slider, wide.

That is when the Romeo-Style-Cat took one look at Daddy's voice -- and turned using her Totally Romeo Body and White Romeo Legs and trotted down the deck steps, into a darkness as black as Romeo's Tail.

I wanted to examine him, smell him, hold him... 

I wanted to know if it was Romeo.

And here's the weird thing.  As the Maybe-Romeo banged on down the steps, our deck motion-sensor light was not triggered.

I know what you are thinking, Abigail.  You are thinking the light was not tripped because this was The Ghost Of Romeo Past.

But that light is just fucked.

We don't understand its mercurial nature.  Certain things -- a strong wind, amoeba – activate it. 

Other things, like large lumbering men with myeloma foot neuropathy who risk their lives ascending stairs in the dark, do not make that light go on.

So I wanted to pad off in search of our big blue lantern flashlight to peer out after her, but I was too busy quizzing Dad.

"Are you SURE it was our Romeo that was dead in the driveway last November? Because there are tons of imposters. Remember when one of Zach's friends thought Romeo escaped two streets away, so she coaxed that cat into her car and drove it to our house, because we were away on vacation for two weeks, and she closed that thing inside our home to keep it safe -- causing the other cats to not eat or sleep for twelve days?? We came home to our two skittering-zombies plus one happy stray -- a taller- than-Romeo ‘Faux Romeo’ with dandruff, one wild eye and a uterus teeming with offspring.  So what you found, Jonathan, might NOT have been Romeo.  And now ours wants to come home."

Daddy just stared.

Since he’d evidently acquired spontaneous mute syndrome -- I blame myeloma -- I went on, "Were there any distinguishing features, Jonathan, on the alleged-Romeo you found?"

"It was Romeo."

"Was Romeo wearing his collar?"

“I think so!  It was the one Tiger, rest her soul, used to wear.  The expensive one.”

“And you’re certain Romeo was wearing Tiger’s expensive collar on the night of her demise?”

“Well, I wouldn’t bet my LIFE on it in this particular moment, Carolyn. I do know that Tiger's expensive collar is down in the garage, though."

"Ahh HA! So you can't recall whether allegedly-dead Romeo wore definitely-dead Tiger's collar -- but you SAY that collar is in the basement -- and you THINK Romeo might have worn it -- which means... eh.  Wait.”

(It is good no one paid money for me to go to law school)

"It means, Carolyn, I took it off of Juliet's corpse and put it in the garage."

"Not where I was headed, Jonathan. It means you were mistaken that Romeo wore it.  We'd never do that to him:  make him wear a dead cat's collar. That'd be like me wearing my dead mother's bracelets and  necklaces or—eh.  Wait.”  

"Romeo is dead, Carolyn."

"I want an autopsy."

"We land-filled him."

“I knew this was a mistake.  Back when we had scruples because our kids lived here, we used to bury our dead cats. Now I can't compare last night's Romeo-DNA with Exhumed-Romeo. Although I suppose I could use a lint brush like on CSI and acquire trace-evidence from the guest room comforter she slept on and—“

"I'm going to bed, Carolyn."

I swear ... this is how Stephen King gets his best ideas.  I used to think it was nightmares but it's from real life.

Anyway, I hope it is Romeo and that he comes back again tonight. 

This time I am not letting Daddy pound over and use his scary voice. I am just going to quietly let her in.  Make her spontaneously manifest in front of Daddy.  Let HIM know how it feels to need a defibrillator several times per year.

I have to go to Walmart now.  They're having a spring sale on lint brushes.

Mommie ... of Pet Semetary