There are defining moments that test a person's will to live, their bravery, and their ability to survive under terrible odds. These moments shake the very foundation of one's soul, and change lives forever. I lived the horror of one of those moments this very evening. Deb is working tonight. I don't know how I'm going to break it to her. Thank God the girls survived.
It started like a regular evening. At the kitchen table, I helped Savannah address her valentines cards for school. The girls were watching television, The Wizard of Oz if I remember right. Then we heard something outside. In the dark, frigid night we heard a terrifying sound.
It was the harbinger of what was to come. It was a cat fight.
I threw on my coat, slipped on my boots, and went outside. It was clear and cold. I remember it as if it was . . this evening, which it was. I walked to the backyard. The only sound was the crunch of snow beneath my boots. Our yard is surrounded by dark trees, but by the light of the moon I saw the cat; whatever creature it had fought had fled into the night. I walked back around front, through the garage, and opened the door. The cat followed me inside.
When I got inside, I took off my coat and went to the cat, which was licking his paws. Was he hurt? Then my blood went cold when I got my first whiff of trouble: The cat smelled like SHIT!
It was as if someone had tied a turd to the cat's collar. The smell wasn't some faint smell, but the strong smell of a whole pile of fresh, steaming shit. A chill came over me. At the moment I didn't realize the severity of the situation. At the moment, I was only faced with a stinky cat. How naive I was back then. I knew I couldn't let the cat roam around the house all night, spreading turd-gibblets and shit-smell all over the carpets and furniture, and God knows where else. I needed to think of something fast. I mulled over my options. I couldn't put the poor creature out for the night, it would freeze to death; Deb and the girls would be really pissed at me. I couldn't lock it up in the storage room, because he would get shit-smell everywhere.
Then I felt the cold hands of fate gripping my throat: Try as I might, I could come to no other conclusion, although every fiber of my being fought against it: I was going to be forced to give the cat a bath.
For a full minute I panicked. The very thought that this might be true paralyzed me with fear. For a moment, I went mad as my mind reeled from the conclusions that it could not repel. Should I leave the girls at the neighbor's and flee the country? Shoot myself? Was there some emergency number I could call? Was there some government agency, like the Department of Shit-Smelling Cats? These wild thoughts filled my head as I reeled from the psychological shock. I was going to be forced to wash the cat! I've occasionally imagined bad things happening: violent crime, car accidents, terrorism. But I'd never imagined I'd face anything like this. Not this! Oh God in Heaven, not this!
I considered just sending the girls to bed, closing all the bedroom doors, and going to sleep. Maybe the problem would go away. But I ruled this out at once. If I shirked my duty, I would literally wake up in a world of shit! And my family would be subjected to the smell because I couldn't deal with the situation. I knew what I had to do.
I pulled myself together, and with a sudden resolve I grabbed some work gloves out of the garage, slipped them on, and crept up to the unsuspecting cat. I caught him by the scruff of the neck and carried him at arm's length into the bathroom, terrified at what was about to happen, and disgusted by the smothering waves of shit-smell that wafted off the cat.
Unaware of what fate held for him,--for us--the cat was calm. He was calm until I ran the water in the bathtub.
Lowering the offending animal into the water, it squirmed, squealing like a . . . well, like a cat that didn't want to take a bath. Claws scratching, teeth bare, eyes rolling back in its head, it tried to kill me as I poured water over it. It arched its back and contorted its legs and body in impossible ways to scratch my forearms. The sound of the unbearable howl that poured from that poor creature could only have originated from the very depths of hell itself. Until this day, at that hour, I never believed that animals possessed souls, but now I will never believe otherwise.
I cannot describe what happened in those frantic minutes as I cleansed the animal of the fecal matter that had found its way into the cat's fur. I cannot describe the battle that was waged in that miniature porcelain coliseum, the soul-rending violence and animal ferocity that took place in this otherwise peaceful neighborhood. I can only tell you that I will take the terror and hatred with me to my grave, for until the day I die, I will live with what happened on this night.
It is too much to bear. The shower curtains! Those poor innocent shower curtains! Did they have to pay the price for the terrible misfortune that befell us all on that terrible night?
I thought I'd never untangle that damn cat from those curtains.
It's over now. The house was mercifully spared the smell of shit. I have to put it behind me. I know that tomorrow brings day, a new beginning. For the first time in my life, I'm not sure if that sun will rise in the morning, because I've always known an unspoken truth in my heart: the day I have to wash a cat will be the day of Judgment, and on that day, the apocalypse will rain down upon us all.
But whatever the future holds, if there is a future at all, I know that I will never be the same, and neither will that cat. Now the cat doesn't smell like shit, and although it has more natural, full bodied fur, enriched with important nutrients to help mend split ends, the cat will harbor the terrifying memories of the night he got a bath.
They say that what doesn't kill us only makes us stronger. But I know I can never go back to the way I was before February 6th, 2002. I have seen things no man should ever see.
--apologies to Edgar Allen Poe.
I wrote some books: