A Cat That Once Was

I don't know why I started thinking about my short time with an old cat more than a decade ago, but I simply must share this story. It definitely falls into the "not funny then, pretty hysterical now" camp. When I was just getting by in New York City (working in education while living in Manhattan isn't the easiest needle to thread) back in the early aughts, a friend of a friend asked if I'd house- and cat-sit while she went abroad. The idea of moving from a dingy, crusty, five-floor walk-up into a luxurious Union Square apartment for two weeks was beyond appealing, and I love cats so jumped at the opportunity.

The cat, a sweet old biddy who was seriously advanced in years and in real physical decline, was the last vestige of a marriage that just didn't work. Cat needed several medications each day but otherwise just slept in various spots around the apartment. My first evening there, Cat just didn't seem to be doing well. I mean, I didn't know this cat well, but I think a baby would have realized something wasn't right. I worriedly left for work the next morning and spent most of the day telling my coworkers how concerned I was about Cat. Sweetly accusing me of being too soft and overly concerned about an aging feline, they laughingly asked, "What? You think you'll get home tonight and the cat will have died? Puh-lease."

People, I got home that night, and Cat was in full rigor mortis under the coffee table, skeletal front arms stiff in front of her as if she'd passed away in mid-dive. There was a small bit of vomit by her mouth, and it was clear there was no going back. Cat was dead.

I freaked out and called the vet who in typical NY fashion was still open and said to bring Cat in post haste. I fetched the cat carrier but quickly realized that because of Cat's elongated and utterly unbending posture, she would not fully fit in said carrier. I zipped it shut as best as possible, her paws sticking out like determined sticks, and opened the apartment door. The guy across the hall who just the night before had asked me out for drinks (NY men move fast) happened to open his door at the same time and was like "WTF?!?!?" I just said, "Help me!! Help me get a cab."

We took the elevator down to the lobby where the doorman was also fully "WTF?!?!" when he saw my macabre parcel, and he opened the front door with swift desperation. Across the Hall Guy hailed a cab for me, and when I opened the door to get in, the driver was like, "WTF?!?! Is that cat dead?!?!?" "Yes," I yelled back, "Step on it" and gave him the vet's address.

Not surprisingly, there was nothing that could be done for Cat. I had not yet reached her owner so the only option was to put Cat in the vet's freezer until I could. I returned to the apartment and immediately started phoning Hungary whose countryside Cat's owner was biking-touring through. When I finally reached her, she was, obviously, distraught and asked if I could request that Cat be cremated. The vet said "No" because I was not Cat's owner and so Cat had to stay in the freezer until Owner returned.

The next morning, I got myself to work, and all my colleagues smiled and said, "So Nervous Nelly, how's the cat you were so worried about?"

"Cat is dead you a-holes," I replied.

Y'all, you should have seen the stunned looks on all faces before me. It was priceless. When I told my family and other friends this tale, they laughed hysterically (in the way that shocking stories of horror can also be so wild as to be laughter-inducing). At that point I did not have enough distance from the sitch to be anything but mortified, but as the years have passed, I have definitely come to appreciate the story in the story. Like that in the tale of my kids being brought home by the FBI last September.

Ah, life...