I am on an unexpected trip to California this week for a funeral. Then, today--while I'm gone--my cat, Chloe, died.
This isn’t Chloe, but it looks a lot like her. I’m still in California and don’t have any pictures of her on my computer. I knew Chloe longer than I’ve known Peter. In fact, she was almost the reason we didn’t get together. She was a long-haired cat, and he’s allergic to cats. Somehow we overcame that great obstacle. He’d come to the door, and I’d give him a Benadryl. It’s kind of fitting that Peter was the last one with her.
Hmm. Made me think a little bit. I’m getting to that age where more friends and family are dying, although I’ve had friends and family die already. I’m fortunate in that my grandparents are still alive and doing well.
One thing that struck me at the funeral is that a large part of its purpose is to tell a story about the person’s life. This funeral, like all great ones where there is more laughter than tears, had friends and family telling about this man’s life-long love affair with cars. And it made me realize that our lives are summarized in story. We tell stories about our kids. We talk about our growing up years when we’re getting to know our friends. We share memories through stories. Stories are how we relate, how we become fully—and uniquely—human.
So what kind of burden, or privilege, does that put on us writers-storytellers?
I think the answer, in part, is to relate the human experience fully, truly, and as completely as we can in all of its highs and lows, good and bad, ugly and beauty. It’s a small, cheap answer, but about all I can manage to say. I’m sure you all can come up with better stuff.
And since I can’t stay too serious for long, I’ll share with you a story about a funeral and a cat.
When I was in junior high, my friend and I owned a hamster together. Yes, this is odd but when hamsters lived at our house, they usually became a snack for our cat, Tabitha. Either the hamsters would escape or Tabitha would let them out. Either way, all I ever would find of them was their little teeth or tiny claws left on my bedroom floor as a gift.
So the hamster stayed at Gina’s house. But you know, we figured this hamster needed a really cool cage, something way better than Habitrail and a squeaky wheel. What could be better than Barbie’s Dream House? So into the cage went Barbie’s pink shower, grand staircase, cool furniture and anything else we could think of. We had to admit, it looked great. What hamster wouldn’t love it?
The hamster loved it. So much she (he? Can’t remember) ate it. And died. Who knew a hamster could OD on Barbie-pink plastic?
We buried her/him in a shoebox in the field behind our houses with appropriate pomp and ceremony. And a few giggles. Even at that age, it did strike us a little funny that the dumb thing ate itself to death.
At least Tabitha didn’t get to it.
Tomorrow we’re going to the beach. I think Chloe would appreciate the irony of me sitting in essentially a giant sandbox. And maybe I’ll tell my kids about the day I first got that little fur ball.