I’m one of those individuals that when something horridly traumatic happens to me, it takes a little bit to actually open up and talk about it. In this case, this series of events happened in late November of 1999.
I’ve relayed this story to random individuals over the past several years, usually with the aide of several questionable drinks at some bar along the way in my travels. Most people laugh, some stare at me sympathetically, and one elderly woman handed me a religious tract. Perhaps I just give off the ” My soul is corrupt. Help me.” vibe. Who knows.
But due to the encouragement of the few sick individuals that actually enjoyed this story, and to let my mind (and soul) start the healing process, I’m posting it here for all of you other sick individuals to read.
So grab your coffee, here we go.
I had a cat once.
I was 19 years old, living in my first apartment on my own, and decided that I should add taking care of an animal to my routine of playing video games, drinking, passing out, waking up, going to work, playing video games. Occasionally I’d hit Waffle House, because back then they were cool enough you could pay $5.99 and eat all the waffles, eggs and sausage you could handle. I had a pretty good routine going actually. Don’t eat for 2 days, find $5.99 somewhere, binge at Waffle House, wait two more days. I was saving serious cash. Granted I probably took about 20 years off of my life, but I was saving money.
One day a friend and I went to the local animal shelter, where amongst the addled and foul-smelling characters that inhabited the place (the employees, not the animals) I found Henry. At least that’s what was scribbled on the card on the front of his cage. I distinctly remember that in the cage next to him was a hideous beast that I can only assume was at one time a cat, but had since made a Gollum-like transformation into a snarling ball of fur with severe emphysema and a drooling problem. It was the kind of cat that probably lurked in the dark corners of Craigslist offering to take unwanted kittens. It was a scary cat.
Henry, on the other hand, was a beautiful brown tabby with green eyes. No drooling. No wheezing. So far so good. I opened his cage and reached in slightly to give him a moment to either sniff my hand or maul the hell out of it, neither of which he actually did. Instead, with complete grace and sophistication, he walked up my outstretched arm , sat on my shoulder, and pressed his head into the side of mine. And sat there. We held that position for about 3 minutes when I decided that it was partly because the cat liked me, and partly his way of saying ” Help me.”, and so home we went.
We had a basic understanding with each other; I would feed him, change his litter box, scratch that spot right above his ass that he couldn’t reach, and in turn he would eat the food, occasionally act happy to see me, and do his business in the box on at least a semi-regular basis. We never had any real altercations to speak of. Though I remember once walking out of the shower sans towel and either I startled him, or he just honestly wasn’t expecting to see that much of me that early in the morning, and as soon as he saw me his ears flattened, eyes bulged, and immediately hissed while bolting for the sliding glass door, and repeatedly flung himself against it. This lasted for about a minute while I watched, partly wondering if my cat had just completely gone mad, partly making a mental note that I should probably go on a diet soon.
I remember once in that same apartment I had a first date. I’d known the girl for a few weeks from work, and after finally getting the nerve to ask her out, she agreed to let me cook dinner for her. At 19 years old, I already had a firm grasp on garlic cheese bread and frozen pizza. I also had a firm grasp on the knowledge that I had my own place that was rather nice at the time, and any woman alive couldn’t possibly resist the temptation to lock lips after large quantities of garlic and cheese. Perhaps my logic was a bit flawed at the time, but regardless a girl was coming over to my apartment. A girl with all of her teeth and eyes that both looked the same direction. That’s kind of rare for the midwest, I’m not going to lie.
Somewhere between the pizza going in the oven, candles being lit partly to enhance the mood of love, and partly to cover up the smell of Henry’s random flatulence problem (Never underestimate kitty farts. Ever. You will die.), the doorbell rang. My apartment even had a doorbell. That’s how legit I was back in my day.
And it was my parents.
For some reason in the grand cosmic scheme of bad timing and unfortunate irony, my parents had chosen to stop by at that precise moment. The baffling thing to me was that, from all the interrogation I could throw at them, they didn’t know why they’d stopped by. The grotesque mistake on my part was actually being honest at that moment and explaining I had a date that was about to come over. The moment those words left my mouth, I knew it’d been a mistake. I should’ve lied.
“Yeah. Henry and I were just planning on and evening in. Pizza. Some candles. He picked out Sinatra on the surround sound, actually. He’s a smelly little bastard, but he’s got good taste in music. We were probably going to cuddle later.”
So on the couch they planted themselves, like two movie goers waiting for the show to start. And then came the doorbell once again. Only this time I was greeted by the 18 year old Goddess of Retail Clothing Sales from work, looking stunning and smelling like perfume and shampoo and unicorns and happiness. And she hugged me. And she saw my parents. And with every apology my eyes could form, I explained they’d just randomly dropped by on their way home a few moments ago. They weren’t staying long, surely. Right? Right. Surely not. The only seat left open in my apartment due to my parent’s forced captivity of the couch was a small love seat directly across the room. My date and I sat there as I tried to make small talk.
I knew instantly that my parents didn’t like her. Not from anything they said, but simply by the fact that she was a girl. And girls had boobs. And therefore could not be trusted around their innocent snowflake of a son. And as I sat there, my mind trying to comprehend the dismal failure of a romantic evening that was unfolding, the most amazing scene that is forever scarred into my memory played out before my eyes.
See, my father had this weird habit of carrying around a cigarette lighter for the sole purpose of holding it next to his ear to burn away the ear hairs I can only assume. Unless he just really liked the sound of it. Not long enough to keep a steady flame, but just a quick flick of the lighter to create sparks, which would then singe the ear hairs back into submission. I had seen it several times growing up, but each time still left me wondering why I had been adopted by circus folk and what had happened to my real family.
And at that precise moment of awkward small talk, pizza in the oven, candles burning, Sinatra in the background, hot date sitting next to me, my mother talking about something mundane, my father reached into his pocket and pulled out his lighter. And I knew what was coming next. And I couldn’t stop it.
Mom talking. Pizza starting to burn. Henry packing his things and muttering obscenities. My date staring wide-eyed at my father trying to set his head on fire.
Flick. Flick. Flick.
And then it happened. One of the flicks from dad’s lighter lasted a little too long, and it caught the hair on the side of his head on fire. And my mother stopped talking, mid sentence, and started beating the hell out of my dad’s head with her hand until the hairs stopped burning. And I swear on everything holy, she picked right back up where she left off in the sentence and kept talking.
And then my dad started on the other side of his head.
Flick. Flick, flick. Flick.
My date left quickly after that when suddenly remembering she had to be home early that evening, and my parents stayed and ate the pizza. I think I briefly tried to make an apology to her at work once, but it was to no avail. There’s really no coming back from that.
“Hey, I’m sorry my dad set his head on fire and my mom beat the hell out of him the other night. The pizza was good, though. So you want to make out?”
It wasn’t long after that night that Henry went to go live on a farm with some friends of mine. I really only have one rule when it comes to living with me; don’t take a massive crap on my chest in the middle of the night while I’m asleep. Henry knew about this rule and chose to blatantly disregard it for a one way ticket out of the crazy, I can only assume because he was afraid that at some point my father would probably try to fix his ear hair problem as well, and he’d go up in a flash of smoke and bad decisions.
Flick. Flick, flick. FWOOSH!