Valium Vickie

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Cat's Out of the Bag: A Father's Day Story

When my parents got divorced, they did it the American way* -- my dad moved out, and my mom stayed in the house and kept the animals: Maddie, a 120-lb. Rottweiler; and Hilary, a gray and white stray cat from the SPCA. It was a strange trade-off because my mom was never much of an animal person. I mean, she didn’t support dog-fighting rings or anything, but I don’t think she really understood why otherwise normal people became so obsessed with their pets. 

To be fair, eventually my mom learned to love Maddie, so much so that she frequently took her to McDonald’s for hamburgers and ice cream. She even made Maddie homemade Lasagna the night before we had to put her to sleep because, well, “it was Maddie’s favorite.” Hilary, however, was a different story. I think my mom thought of Hilary the way people think about that homeless guy they pass on their way in to work every morning: They don’t dislike the guy, but they don’t necessarily feel the need to feed him every day, either. Much like the homeless population of America, I believe Hilary fell through the cracks of the Scrimalli (name changed from Bilski after the divorce) household.

Then, one Father’s Day as my sister and I were getting ready to stop over our dad’s place, we felt our gift selection – a tie, a Stargate DVD and a card – just wouldn’t suffice. Our dad needed something better this year. So my sister stuffed our already elderly cat into her ample purse, and we set off to give our dad a Father’s Day present he'd never be able to claim was unoriginal.

We knew he was happy with his new/old gift because he never said, “You need to take this cat back right now,” or “Are you guys out of your goddamn minds?” Instead, he burst out laughing, and it took several moments before he composed himself enough to mutter, “You know, your mother would kill me if she ever found out?” But, we argued, how would she ever find out?

As it turned out, mom noticed the missing cat right away -- not four to six months down the road like my sister and I had anticipated. Not only did she notice, she was also very upset about Hilary's disappearance. She actually sat Jess and me down and said: "Kids, Hilary must've gotten out and, well, it's been a few days now, so I think we may have to accept the fact that she's not coming back. I'm going to keep praying, but ..." And just like that, Hilary got a new home. Of course, my sister and I told everybody what really happened to the wayward pet. But somehow no one ever let the cat out of the bag (horrible, horrible pun absolutely intended). 

Hilary thrived in her new environment. She went from being a skinny, skittish creature that hid out in my mom's basement to avoid running into the giant Rottweiler that held dominion over the house to a morbidly obese diva that acted like every object in my dad's townhouse was her own personal possession. Meanwhile, my sister and I pretended to have faith that one day Hilary would magically appear on my mom's doorstep. Each Christmas, I made it a point to hold up Hilary's ornament and say: "Hilary, wherever you are, I hope you're safe and warm and happy -- and I pray when your adventure is finally over, you'll find your way back to your family, because we miss you, and we love you."

Then, years go by, and it seems like Hilary has been my dad's cat all along. One night, I'm out to dinner with my mom and she starts complaining about the dog's skin problems: "Hon, Maddie's fur is just so knotty and that dandruff is disgusting ... it's hard to even pet her when she's like this."
"You should get this stuff dad uses on Hilary, it's ...."
"Wait, did you just say Hilary. Like my Hilary."
"No, no, no. I don't know why I said that. Dad got a cat, and it's got all these crazy skin problems and ..."
"What's its name?"
"What color is it?"
"Gray, it's gray ... with a little bit of white on the belly and ..."
Before I can finish convincing my mom that Otis is real, I lose it and I'm laughing in the same uninhibited way my dad did when we offered him Hilary as a Father's Day present.
Then, I steady myself and tell her the truth: "Jess and I gave Hilary to dad years ago. I can't believe you didn't find out until just now. Everybody knew about it -- my friends, Jess's friends, even your own sister, mom."

Luckily, my mom has a great sense of humor, and she actually found it funny that we gave the cat she inherited in her divorce to the man she got divorced from -- and let her believe for years that the creature had actually gone missing. But even if she was pissed or hurt or both, it wouldn't have mattered too much. I know that cat ended up in the right place. My dad loved that thing more than most people love their immediate family. When Hilary's health took a turn and even an ardent PETA member would've said enough is enough, my dad shelled out thousands of dollars to put the damn cat through dialysis -- just so she could enjoy the good life a little longer. In the end, Hilary lived to be 24, which is like 142 in people years. By that time, our Rottweiler was also dead, so we had no old pets to offer my dad to fill the void left by Hilary's death.

* I say the "American Way" in reference to my parent's divorce because in certain Middle Eastern countries the men take everything, and the women are lucky if they are allowed to keep their clitoris's.

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