Last night about a half hour before closing time, the phone rang and of course I answered it.
“CHRISTINA (Last name withheld)”
“PAM CARTER?…HOW THE HELL ARE YOU??”
I have two friends named Pamela. Both are former co-workers. They are of close proximity in age and both are voracious readers like me.
Except that my other friend Pam emails me and calls me only on weekends and usually more often.
Not that I hold that against my Pam Carter. Pam and I have this habit of calling each other by our first and last names. Well, let me clarify: Pam has this habit of calling me by my first and last name and I picked up the habit from her. I also only practice the habit with her. Weird.
Anyway, Pam is the type of friend I may not hear from for a year and then…boom…out of the blue, there she is, there we are…catching up and waxing poetic on old times.
Pam and I worked together before we moved to Alaska. Pam’s a hilarious woman who can spin a yarn with the best of the bullshitters. She could sell a pile of dogshit simply by saying that she herself “has a pile of dogshit at home, and simply loves it, it’s wonderful!” Pam always took our ribbing with a smile and an easygoing attitude when we called her on her bullshit. “Hey, I made the sale didn’t I?” Who were we to argue? How could you not just adore her?
Pam also had an 18 year old cat named Slinky. Pam and her husband never had children. Slinky was by all accounts, Pamela’s child. My friend Melissa and I would have conversations about how horrible it was going to be when Slinky passed. We knew the day was coming.
When Pamela called in to work and told all of us that her cat had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and would need to be put down in a matter of days, Melissa, who was also our boss, completely sympathized and in fact, we all prayed for Slinky and for Pamela. She gave Pamela all the time off she needed in order to prepare for Slinky’s departure and the grieving thereafter. We all waited.
A couple of days later, I got a call at home, from a sobbing Pamela. “Oh Chris, what am I going to do with Slinky once she’s gone? We live in a condominium and they aren’t going to let me bury a cat and I can’t bear the thought of her being cremated.”
Howard and I lived in a big house out in the country. Our property backed to up a patch of woods, thick with Evergreens and Oak Trees, the ground soft with moss and fallen leaves, a perfect place to bury Slinky.
I offered up my place before Pamela could even ask.
She released a sigh of relief and told me when the time came, she’d call me and we’d make arrangements to bury Slinky. At the office, we kept a working vigil, going through our routines, killing the hours with thoughts of how things were going with Pam. At home, Howard worked diligently on a “secret project” in the garage with his table saw. He was really into wood working during that time, so I thought nothing of it.
Finally, Pamela called with the news that Slinky had passed on. We were all sympathetic. I remember feeling humbled and grateful that I worked for and with such compassionate people. I mean, let’s face it; most bosses and companies really don’t have any sympathy for a deceased pet.
The next day, Pamela, her husband, and Slinky arrived at our house. Before doing anything Pamela revealed a six pack of Heineken and we all drank and made a toast to Slinky, a very good cat. We sat and talked and allowed the beers to warm our tummies and relax us and then Pamela signaled that it was time.
Howard disappeared into the garage and came walking out with a wooden box. A beautiful wooden box, just big enough for a small animal. He’d painted it dark brown and even fashioned a hand carved cross to the lid. He’d lined it with a blanket so carefully and tenderly. Pamela teared up and gave him a hug. I was so proud of him at that moment. He knew Pam wouldn’t want Slinky buried in the cold earth without some sort of “comfort”. No one had to tell him. I guess it’s the sort of thing animal lovers just know.
We walked to the edge of the yard, where Howard had already dug the hole, he and David, Pamela’s husband, transferred Slinky wrapped in her favorite blanket to the tiny casket. Pamela put a few pictures with her, came over to my waiting arms that wrapped around her, and Howard and David buried her cat. David said a few words, Pamela cried quietly, then we came back to the house to finish our beers.
The next day, all of us at the office were immediately on the phone to animal shelters, veterinary clinics, humane societies, trying to find Pamela another cat. She just went about her work and let us do it for her.
Her only stipulation was that she “DID NOT WANT A MALE CAT OR A YELLOW TABBY AND DEFINITELY NOT A TUXEDO CAT.”
Slinky was a Tuxedo cat, it was too creepy so soon for Pam. I have no idea what she had against male yellow tabbies. It was just a personal preference according to her.
There was a vet clinic just down the road from our office. They had a tiny kitten available for adoption. She asked me to go with her to check it out.
Upon walking in the door, there sat a tiny, MALE, YELLOW TABBY. He was curled up in slumber and Pam almost left but I urged her to stay, to give the little guy a chance. His name was Micah. The vet tech scooped him up and he woke up, all bright eyed and positively adorable, and he was placed in Pamela’s two hands.
I don’t know what came over Pam but if there really is such an idea as “love at first sight”, this was surely proof. She immediately teared up, and began kissing his tiny face and belly, and he welcomed it like Pamela had always been his “mama”. I knew then that the fact that he was male and a yellow tabby had become a moot point. We filled out an evaluation form, I swore on my life that Pam would indeed be a fit pet owner, and in less than an hour, we returned from our lunch break with a bag full of goodies, a pet carrier, and Micah.
That was over five years ago. Micah is still happy as the day she brought him home and Pam Carter never lets me forget how much it meant to her that we gave Slinky a nice burial plot, that Howard built her a casket with his own two hands, and that I encouraged her to give Micah a chance.
When she calls me out of the blue and says”Chris, you know I love you and Howard so much for everything you did for me and Slinky and Micah.”
I always reply that it’s because we love her so much that we did what we did.
It will probably be another six months or a year before I hear from Pam Carter again. I will always ask her about all of my former co-workers, she will always want me to catch her up on my latest shenanigans, I will always tell her to tell all of my former co-workers that I love and miss them all, then we’ll have a long conversation about the books we’ve recently read, and of course we will speak fondly of Slinky and Micah.
Sometimes the best friendships are the ones where six months is akin to no time at all. Where we can all pick up where we left off like time stopped and just waited for us to start the clock again.
And where I can happily reminisce and celebrate a girl and her cats.