Monday, June 04, 2007

The lost traveller.

When I was a child, my father travelled for work and when he travelled, he would go to Europe or Japan for buying trips, which would last for three weeks at a time. What I remember of these times were going to pick him up at the airport, strangely lovely presents from Japan, and him falling asleep from jet lag at the dinner table for a couple of nights after each trip. What my mother remembers is chaos. My father’s absence had the most extraordinary affect upon our lives. All anarchy waited until he left town. Septic tanks would implode. I would contract something both obscure and serious. The cat would get hit by a car. The 1972 earthquake? My father was in Italy. Watts riots? Tokyo.

It was as if, all evidence to the contrary, my mother was the substitute teacher in our lives, and life was determined to see how much she could tolerate before running, screaming, from the room. I used to think it was some protective force my father exerted. This week, I have come to think it was some turbulent horsepower that my mother generated and that, along with my alto voice and my disdain for puns, I might have inherited it.

Consort left for South Korea on Monday, for a technology conference. Apparently, when one thinks “Technology”, one simply must think “South Korea”. Twenty hours later, he called to say that South Korea was very clean and to say that he missed us already. He worried about us. I laughed. Perhaps I even laughed gaily. Silly, sweet man to worry. We were fine!

Wednesday morning, Daughter leapt into my bedroom in glee. Her tooth had fallen out. I was pleased for her, but not surprised. This tooth had been on a longer retirement tour than Cher. We were two weeks away from having it pulled, because it simply isn’t done to be wiggly for five months without actually leaving. We tucked the tooth into the Tooth Fairy pillow and continued in our normal frantic yet shambling way.

Wednesday night, Daughter and I got home from her usual assortment of after-school activities, and rolled into the garage. Absently, I glanced over at the cage where my small houseguests were located and saw three enthusiastic lumps, crawling over each over to get my attention and their dinner. A chill went through me; we had four kittens. I didn’t see the one which, when clean, resembled a fuzzy orange tennis ball. The only one who answered to his name. The favorite of our family.

Out loud I said, “Oh, no”, and stopped the car. Daughter, who had been reading, said “Oh no, what?” and undid her seatbelt, prepared to fly out of the car, to the kittens. I said sharply, “STAY IN THE CAR”, and ran to her side, where the cage was. The three other kittens were at the door, pawing at me. The orange one was lying on the ground, eyes half-open, body absolutely, weirdly, flat. I started to panic. He had been fine four hours before and now he was dead? I watched him for a few seconds, and saw no breath; he had to be dead. Daughter was getting out of the car, screaming “What’s happening?”. Before I could block her view, she saw him and shrieked. She ran into the yard, sobbing.

I stood there. I had no idea what to do. If he’s dead, my brain calmly informed me, you have to bury him. But in order to find out if he’s dead, I have to touch him and I don’t want to do that, my brain wailed back. At the very least, get the other kittens out of there, my brain rejoined. Happy to have something to do, I moved them into their carrying case. At that moment, the kitten drew in a dreadful, ragged breath. I waited ten seconds, but it wasn’t followed by anything. Okay, I thought, he’s died. I have no idea why he’s died, and my daughter is hysterical and Consort is across the international date line, but at least I know one thing for certain. Now I can go find Daughter and comfort her.

The kitten drew in another rattling breath.

A note to my neighbors. What you heard last Wednesday was the first time I have ever sworn at my daughter. But you have to understand, I had a dying kitten wrapped in a towel and a Daughter who was frozen in sorrow and shock in the corner of the yard and I wasn’t doing all that well myself and I couldn’t get her to move and I certainly couldn’t go anywhere without her and her father was currently enjoying the best hospitality South Korea has to offer and somehow the screamed phrase “HE’S NOT DEAD, GET IN THE DAMN CAR!” came out of my mouth. I apologized profusely to her, and I do appreciate all the messages you left on the answering machine, asking after Consort’s health.

The local vet was already closed for the night. The second one had been technically closed for two minutes, but something about me slamming my entire body against their locked door while screaming “HELP!” over and over caused them to rethink their business hours. He was rushed to the back, and we waited. We ended up waiting forty-five minutes. Daughter was incoherent when we first arrived but as time passed, she started to calm down. First, she consoled herself by reading Cat Fancier magazine. Then, she got to pet a couple of elderly pugs who were going home after a little out-patient surgery. By the time the vet came out to tell me he was stabilized and needed to be moved to the veterinary ER, she was very nearly calm.

She was so calm, in fact, that I started to worry. Yes, we had gotten him to the vet, but I was losing hope for him, and frightened about what this would do to her. This kitten had been her baby, the one she favored above all the others.The trip from the vet to the pet ER was only about fifteen minutes, but he was clearly fading away again. His eyes were opening and closing, but his pupils were dilated and his head was jerking around. I drove and held him wrapped in blankets, alternately praying he not die in the car, and praying that this would all end. I said gently, “Kiddo, he’s breathing, but not well. We’re going to do everything we can, but he might not make it.”

From the back of the car, I heard her say “I don’t want to know”.

Being as I was driving on the freeway while trying to comfort a dying kitten, I couldn’t look back to check her expression, but you’re going to have to take my word for it. She knew exactly what was going on. She had enough presence of mind to know how much she could stand, and his death wasn’t bearable. I nodded in agreement, and cut quickly into the offramp for the ER.

The ER vet whisked him away, and we waited another half-hour. Finally, the vet called us into an exam room. The vet began, “He’s being having seizures since he got here…“

I held up a finger to the vet and turned to Daughter, handing her the book she had been reading while we waited. “Sweetie, can you go wait in the waiting room? I’ll be out in a minute.”

Daughter, who has never met a request from me she didn’t cross-examine, left without a word. The vet filled me in on the inevitable end, and decisions were made.

I walked back into the waiting room, having splashed some water on my face. Daughter was petting a rat terrier. She looked up. “The dog has a sore throat, they think. But he’s still very nice.”

“Good,” I croaked. I cleared my throat. “So, the kitten is too fragile to come home with us, but the vet is going to send him to live with a family who knows how to take care of sick cats.”

She nodded.

We left, stopping by Petco on the way home for some extra formula for the other ones. Lacking any evidence of what had happened to him, I was told to assume the other kittens were sick as well, and start syringe-feeding them, to keep their strength up. We got home and I allowed Daughter to make her own dinner while I force-fed kittens. What they ate was definitely more nutritious than what she had, but I couldn’t find the energy to lobby for vegetables. She crawled into my bed to read, and we both fell asleep in my bed before nine.

The next morning, I felt her dash from my bed into her bedroom. I checked the clock; it was at least a half-hour before she usually woke up. She came back in, puzzled.

“The tooth fairy didn’t take my tooth.”

An adrenalin blast directly to the brain is more effective than a double espresso. Feigning sleepiness while hiding panic, I mumbled, “Huh…”. I then parried with “Did you ever brush your teeth last night?”

Grumbling, she went off to her bathroom. I leapt nimbly from bed and started tearing the house apart.

When Daughter’s teeth first started loosening, I had done a survey of how much the Tooth Fairy was leaving at houses these days. I was appalled to find out that the Tooth Fairy no longer dealt in coinage, but in paper bills. Fives weren’t uncommon, and I heard about the occasional ten-dollar tooth. One woman had given her child a twenty for her first tooth, but she has round-the-clock nannies and can’t easily answer the question “How many houses do you have?”, so I left her out of the statistics. After consideration, I decided the Tooth Fairy would give a Sacajawea dollar coin. My thinking was they’re gold, so they look fancy, they’ve got a girl on them, which is kind of neat and they are a buck, which is really all my Tooth Fairy wishes to spend.

Of course, this means locating Sacajawea coins on a regular basis. I cannot tell you how few stores keep these around, which means trips to the bank. It was just me and the little old ladies who have nothing better to do than argue about a four-cent discrepancy with the teller. I got twenty dollars worth of coins, and I carefully secreted them someplace Daughter won’t find them. Then, I forgot where that is.

So, now I had the length of time it takes a small girl to brush her teeth to try to find a gold coin and come up with a valid reason why the Tooth Fairy had taken the night off. I knew Consort had also secreted some away somewhere, but doubted I had enough time to dial his hotel number, let alone locate him in a conference on the future of digital radio and force him to recall something he had done four months’ ago.

She came trotting out of the bathroom. I, having just been tearing apart the linen closet, attempted to look casual. Suddenly, the muse struck me.

“Say,” I began, “I know why the Tooth Fairy didn’t take the tooth. Where did you fall asleep?”

“Uh, your bed?”

“Exactly!” I said excitedly, my eureka moment of parental lying energizing me. “She looked in there, and didn’t see the tooth pillow, and didn’t think to look in your room.”

Daughter nodded, slowly. What she actually thought was anybody’s guess.

“Go feed the cat, would you?”, I chirped gaily.

She shuffled off. I flung myself into her room, grabbed the tooth, and jammed it in my hiding place for her teeth. I then snatched a dollar bill from my wallet and put it under the pillow in my room. I yoo-hooed. She appeared in the doorway, cat-food spoon in hand. I gestured toward the pillow, indicating she should look underneath. She found the dollar bill and, looking pleased, put it into her American Girl savings bank. But for the second time in less than twenty-four hours, I had the strongest feeling Daughter knew exactly what was going on and just didn’t feel like talking about it.

Call me a coward but, after the day we had, fine by me.

P.S. It's been five days. The other kittens are okay, we think. And the vet who saw him originally did all sorts of expensive things when it turns out they should have done the kind thing right away, because there was never any hope, and they let him suffer needlessly. If anyone lives in Los Angeles, I am more than happy to tell them which animal hospital takes advantage of pet owners.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am so sorry about your kitten. Please know that you and Daughter are in my thoughts.


8:10 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I know just that look from my daughters. A slow nod and a measured look of relief and skepticism, like she wants to say, "Riiiiight ... that's a lie I can live with."

So sorry bout the kitty.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Melissa C Morris said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your kitten. I have been to the 24 hour ER with Monty 2 times in the last 10 days -- it is an awful, powerless feeling to not be able to help your animals (and it's super anxiety producing). I'm glad to hear the other kittens are doing well and I hope all else remains well -- at least till mr. man returns from Asia.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

oh, so sorry. that is awful. i'm glad the other kitties are doing well.

11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep- I think kids tell us what they are up to knowing much of the time. Sorry it was such a lousy time- especially with the Consort away.

5:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to hear about your kitten. It is also a tough lesson for kids. My thoughts are with you.

2:21 PM  
Blogger guerrilla girl said...

I'm so sorry about the kitten, and sorry, too, that you (and the kitten) had to endure such treatment at the animal hospital. I suspect it is the same one we were sent to when we lived up in that area. The one we visit now that we're further south is marginally more competent but considerably more compassionate.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Valerie said...

poor you. and poor Daughter, too. death is hard enough when it involves a person, but let it involve a pet, oy.

fingers crossed that the other babies heal quick.
and that the schmuck of a vet goes out of business.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Chewy Mom said...

sorry about your kitty! i know it must've been hard for you and your daughter, as much as you have mothered these little things.

7:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so sorry about the kitty. I'm sure daughter is coping in her own way. I was about 6 when a beloved dog died. My family always recounts my response to the news was a stoic one word "oh" But all I remember was being crushed.

8:11 PM  
Blogger John, famous in Siberia said...

All cats go to heaven, and some vets. Sorry about your loss.

I used to get the gold dollar coins as change in the automatic stamp machine at the post office. I don't know if it still gives them as change since it's been about 5 years since I've bought stamps, but you might give that a try.

3:11 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

Oh, Quinn.

Sorry about your kitty.

On a lighter note, my son once insisted that he had seen the tooth fairy. I countered that I KNEW he hadn't.

What he described sounded like an angel straight from the Bible, and his description made me scared witless to enter his room.

That's because I KNEW the tooth fairy was a large naked man holding a pillow in front of him.

5:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said you father died when you were 9, did anarchy follow your mother forever?

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so sorry about the kitten! Excellent cover on the tooth fairy, though - nobody could have done it better!

1:47 PM  
Blogger OHN said...

The tooth fairy has forgotten to arrive at our home a couple of times. WHile the upset child was in the shower I scurried and put the obligatory funds under the pillow and told child to look again, that maybe they didnt look well enough. He bought it both times! (note I said HE,that may explain the non questioning of the sudden cash find).

Sorry about the kitty..son #1 lost his pet when he was about your daughters age and HE was the one that found it..he was heartbroken and nothing seemed to comfort him. It was his first real loss in his short life to that point. It broke my heart that he was having a hurt I could not help. My heart goes out to you.

5:59 AM  
Blogger Detail Muse said...

From the back of the car, I heard her say “I don’t want to know” ... She had enough presence of mind to know how much she could stand, and his death wasn’t bearable.

I thought of this post a dozen times last week ... when I was at my mom's and had to admit her to a nursing home for some (temporary, please) rehab after surgery. I stumbled on things in her house (like her make-up drawer; her shoes, in neat pairs) that touched me so deeply I had to look away.

Even at middle age, I felt like your daughter -- looking at just the corner tip of things that weren't yet fully bearable. Thanks so much for sharing this.

1:06 PM  

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