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American Coming of Age Creative Nonfiction

“You remember the first time we met, don’t you? You were in the same position I was in. Basically securing shelter. The winter was brutal and neither of us wanted to be out in it. But there we were together in that empty room.” 

The overweight cat sprawled across the island in the kitchen. His black and white face surrounding his green eyes glanced back. Then continued to stare.

“You were thinner than. I was too. I’d come off the midnight turn, change out of uniform, and head this way. Walk through that dilapidated addition into this cold, dreary abyss of a house. It reeked of desperation, begging to be restored. But, man, what a project! One I could not have accomplished without your help.”

A long stretch, his black and white paws reaching past his head and missing tail. A big yawn told me he knew what I was going to say next. Like, yeah, I was here. You know back when I was still one piece.

“That's funny furball. But we found the future together, side by side. It was you who convinced me to start with that single receptacle in what we hoped would be Sweetpea’s office. She knew that right away. But the look on the real estate agent's face was priceless as we walked through this dump for the first time. She forgot the For Sale sign had fallen over in the yard and was lost in the overgrown grass. It was dark and damp, old, yellowed trim stacked in corners, and exposed wire in the crumbling plaster ceiling. But Sweetpea loved the tall windows that let in just enough natural light, the house felt like it still had some life in it. And she was ready to resuscitate it. Me, you know cat, I just followed along wincing at the amount of work necessary to make it even livable.”

The furry rascal curled his head towards a callused hand for an ear scratch that came automatically.

“But there she went, knowing what she wanted despite all that was happening at the time. She didn’t flinch. So I knew I couldn’t either. She explained in detail what would occur. This window will be moved from here to there and that space will become a fireplace with shelves on either side. Again that look from the agent. But Sweepea showed the strength and confidence that could only allow this whole thing to happen. I didn’t know where the money would come from and I supposed my miter saw and a small box of tools, along with my limited experience would be responsible for this endeavor. So, I nodded and said I like it. Good Idea. Very good thinking, I can see it now. And when asked, can that be done? I always answered anything can be done. Which is true, right?”

The furry hand just nuzzled itself into the scratching post fingers.

“You don’t have to answer that. It’s rhetorical. But you knew that, didn’t you?

The cat responded with a raspy purr.

“Ah fella, you’ve seen some stuff, haven’t you? Especially that night, that had to be terrifying. But we don’t have to talk about that right now. But like I was saying. We were both underemployed, fighting to pay the mortgage because we hired someone who didn’t think paying payroll tax was important. Instead, we have to refinance the house t an exorbitant rate. They appraised houses drastically higher than they were worth. We were lucky though, people in Vegas, and Atlanta got crushed. Upside down hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some say people should know better. But hindsight doesn’t sit a the dining room table explaining to you the best way to feed your family at the time. Decisions are made at the moment for the moment. The rest is seen when time reveals it. But that’s neither here nor there. And we find ourselves in those pivotal moments. Like sitting at that receptacle. I stared at it. Stared at it for a long time. I was cold, even under three layers. The damp rooms were colder than the outside most of the time. But there I sat staring at the corroded, outdated, and definitely not code receptacle. And it stared back, challenging me to start somewhere. To do anything. Now we had the house, through sheer will and a little help from the mother in laws small line of credit. Sweetpea wrote a letter to the property owners who resided on the other side of the country. She explained our situation and promised that this house would be lived in. That we would not rent it, flip it, or burn it down. But raise a family in it. Rebuild it for our kids. And as you would come to find out our dog.

The furry face did not crack a smile.

“Yeah, that was a surprise for you. That little shih tzu was not impressed with you and I believe you found her as distasteful as anything you’ve ever encountered. Well almost. But she didn’t know you as I did. She was never working on the plumbing in the dank crawlspace with only a headlamp worried about what kind of animal would try to rip my face off when I encountered it. She wasn’t there when you’d sneak in and run your tail over my ear and cheek causing me to smash my forehead into the floor joist, imprinting the butt of the lamp into my skin.”

The two shared a chuckle. Sort of.

“That’s right. That dog never got to see how funny you were. How much fun we had. She only saw the side of you that bloodied her nose in a trial by combat that neither of you enjoyed. But it didn't stop you. And you have to remember, she believed you belonged solely in the basement. Anything above that, regardless of its unfinished status, was hers and hers alone. But I was pretty sure you two would never be able to get along. And despite the day I caught Sweetpea snuggling with you, she looked at me and said this doesn’t mean anything. I just smiled. We’d figure it out. And like the dog, she wasn’t there the day you first showed up. Crawling through the doorway and slithering around my leg as I cut two-by-fours. And no one will ever understand the day I sat staring at that receptacle. I wanted to cry. I was close. And I hadn’t cried since Dave. The overwhelming feeling of the project’s immensity placed its yolk upon me. But Sweetpea needed me to do this. And she was by my side when she could be, but this was my responsibility. She had seen me through and she deserved the best I could give her. I knew I was having trouble finding it. I needed something at that moment to tell me I could do this. I was capable. I wasn’t going to quit. But the decrepit walls remained silent. Not a sound. Not a peep. The receptacle seemed like an easy start, but what about after that? What next? The entire house. So I sat.”

The cat looked up and connected eyes.

“I knew you’d remember. That's exactly what you did. Your tail rubbed against my arched back. It didn’t scare me. I was relieved. I needed something warm. Something reassuring that life belonged under this roof. That we all need a place to call home. A sign that it was going to be okay. There you were. Sliding under my arm, brushing the new receptacle in my hand. You made your way to my lap. And snuggled in. Then you looked up at me. Your eyes brought me to the orange-carpeted living room of my childhood home. A Saturday morning filled with my brother and our favorite cartoons on the console TV. The place Benji would know when we needed consoling or reassurance. You would have liked her. She had a spirit like you. An ability to sense and understand. She found comfort in our feelings. And that's what you did for me that day. You sensed and understood. You looked at me and said we’re in this together.”

A raspy purr as the cat stretched back out satisfied with the story even though he’s heard it a hundred times.

“That’s what no one understood. The day Sweetpea called me and said there was something wrong with you. I rushed home from my new job and found you in your bed at the top of the basement stairs. Your tail was mangled, your legs disfigured, and dried blood coated your matted fur. I went to grab you but you refused. You had too much pride, and are still a little feral from your life on the streets. You staggered from your bed. Dominic was distraught. You walked him to the bus stop every morning before taking off on your adventures. You helped him adjust to his new school. You brought him comfort as you did me. That’s why we couldn’t leave you under the deck. We crawled under there and slowly pulled you out. I know what you were doing there. You were ready. But we weren’t. It was Memorial Day weekend, so the only vet was an hour away. S we took to the highway, you in a box, not overly concerned with what happened next. We went there and they gave us two simple options. One was cheaper than the other, and maybe easier. But you taught me that easier isn’t always the answer. Some things are worth the expense and time. The vet, Sweetpea, and Dominic, all eyes were on me in the bright room. You lay calmly on the table brave enough for whatever would come next. I looked at you. You raised your head and tuned it enough for our eyes to lock. Tears streamed down my face. With the house, we didn’t ha e pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of.  Every dime we had and didn’t have was going into that house. We were living upstairs was I’ll was still trying to put the kitchen together. Plus we had a dog who didn’t understand you. I made a phone call. One I didn’t want to make. But I looked at the vet and said save him.”

The furry black ad white body curled in on itself and then out again revealing a belly to be scratched. A cat’s show of trust.

“And now look at us. Your recovery allowed you and the dog to reconcile. You were much less ferocious in a cast and dosed on pain meds. And here you are, completing the family and making this house a home. Thanks, furball. You helped save me.”

February 27, 2023 03:02

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