Lord Tubbington died yesterday.
I should have been crying out every last bit of moisture in my body. There should have been tears flowing over the edges of my lower eyelids like a couple of waterfalls. My chest should have been tight and shaking with sobs that I couldn't contain, my jaw quivering despite my best efforts to hold it still and strong. Instead, my eyes were dry to the point I had to use drops to fight the scratchiness of my eyelids.
I found him right away. He was curled up in the middle of the small twin bed in the corner of my studio apartment, snuggled down in a crater that he'd made in my thin, dusty pink comforter. At first, I thought he was sleeping, but he didn't move when I spoke to him or when I tried to give him a little scrap from work or when I touched his fur softly with the tips of my fingers. His lungs didn't fill with air underneath my hand like they should have, like they did just a few days before when I curled up with him to watch Beauty and the Beast on my tiny television. He was a good sport and put up with me for a while before he slowly wriggled out of my cuddles and hobbled off for some me time.
Last night, though, he was as motionless as the purple unicorn pillow pet that sits on the corner of my bed. I could still feel his warmth with my palm. I stroked my hands through his fur, from between his ears to the tip of his tail. There was a lot more gray and white in his coat than you would remember, if you could have seen him. I closed my eyes as I petted him and pretended that he was just about to start purring with pleasure or he was just about to roll away from my touch because he was in one of his anti-social moods. He'd amble off, but not before looking at me disapprovingly because I hadn't properly fed him yet that evening, because I was paying him too much attention or not enough attention, or because I was thinking of watching Lady and the Tramp and I guess some people and some cats actually get tired of watching Disney movies all the time. However, he didn't purr because of my petting, and he didn't roll away from the weight of my hand.
He got really boring after you left. He quit sneaking out to do gang stuff, stopped looking for his cigars, never read my diary again. I told him you must have been a bad influence, and I swear he looked at me with large, sad, kitty-cat eyes and shook his head.
He was right.
I don't know what I was thinking.
Everything hurt back then. Everything stopped making sense.
It didn't take long for Lord Tubbington to get cold and stiff. I couldn't pretend anymore. I stood up from the bed and grabbed a big, dusty box that was sitting next to my lone bookshelf which held my television and my small collection of movies and books. It was one of the boxes I never properly unpacked after I moved. I wished I'd taken a different box, because it was full of things I didn't want to look at: old scrapbooks, framed photos wrapped with cloth and a yearbook. I piled the items at the foot of my bed near the wall.
When the box was empty, I made a quick trip to the bathroom to take some old, fraying towels from the vanity cabinet. I also took some duct tape from the closet next to the bathroom. I set the towels on the bed, then sat cross-legged next to the box, flipping it over so I could reinforce the bottom with the tape. When it seemed sturdy enough, I turned the box right-side up again and lined the bottom with the towels, patting the fabric down so it conformed to the edges and corners.
My eyes drifted back up to Lord Tubbington. I clambered onto the bed, crawling over to sit next to my cat. I wedged my hands underneath him until I had enough leverage to heave him off the bed. I cradled him in my arms for just a moment, nuzzling at his back with my chin and cheek and the side of my nose. The absence of warmth felt strange. I shimmied back off the bed underneath the weight of my cat, until I could swing my legs down to the floor. I stood up and then squatted down again, carefully placing Lord Tubbington inside of the towel-lined box.. I briefly entertained the idea that he just needed a short rest. Soon the box would shiver with movement from within, and minutes later, all the glorious fuzz of a newborn vampire or zombie cat would emerge.
I imagined, instead, that he was inside a proper coffin. It was crafted with a beautiful, rich mahogany wood, polished and varnished to the point that it was gleaming. Engravings from his life filled the sides of the wood, accented by gold and jewel inlays. At the head of the coffin, his name was carved in fancy cursive script. Lord Tubbington. The best cat ever.
I had taken a marker from my desk and made the script a reality when it occurred to me that lords need their belongings. I rummaged around my apartment for all the things Lord Tubbington might need in the afterlife. As I found his things, I placed each one in the remaining space inside the box. I covered him somewhat with his leather jacket, as though it could keep him warm somehow. I folded his sunglasses near his head, just in case the sun was really bright up there. I put his cigars behind his tail end; maybe he wouldn't find them right away. I tucked his dish and favorite fondue spoon between his side and the towels.
As I grabbed my big, puffy, hooded jacket from my closet, I told myself that we were on our way to a grand funeral, one fit for a lord. There would be music and fanfare and poems and a celebration of his life. I tucked some things into the ample pockets of my coat: my keys, a small flashlight, my toy harmonica, the duct tape. I didn't own a shovel, so I put some utensils inside the inner pocket of my jacket, a knife and a spoon, and a fork. I folded the top flaps of the box loosely back over Lord Tubbington to give him some privacy and then hefted the box from the floor. Opening and closing the door while carrying such a big box was difficult, so I set Lord Tubbington down a couple of times before I actually made it out of my apartment and on my way to the lordly funeral.
When you came back to Lima, pretending you were happy with Elaine, pretending you would be happy to become the new Coach Sue Sylvester, it was a wake up call. I knew we had hit a fork when you graduated and I failed, but until you came back, I was so confident that our paths would meet again at another crossroads.
You would have thrown your whole future away for me.
The girl who wrote in crayon.
The girl who couldn't tell left from right.
The girl who forgot where classes were.
The girl who couldn't graduate.
I walked the entire way to a nearby park, humming random bits of melodies that popped into my head. No one seemed to be around at that time of night, at least no one that wanted to walk up to me and question why I was carrying around a coffin. The lights in the park were dim because it was passed the normal operating hours.
I made my way towards a more secluded area of the park, a nice grassy area filled with some trees, bushes, and wildflowers. I wandered around until I found a spot a bit thicker with plants and trees, a location I didn't think would be found or disturbed easily. I carefully placed Lord Tubbington's regal cardboard coffin down. I set the flashlight up so that it was facing the ground in a manner that gave me some light to work with but wasn't a blazing beacon that I was doing something I knew I probably shouldn't be doing...conducting a grand funeral in the middle of a neglected park. I scoured around a bit until I found some suitable branches and rocks. I pulled the utensils out of my jacket and laid all my potential tools next to the place I wanted to dig. I worked at the earth for hours, clawing at the moist dirt with my bare fingers when I had to, digging a grave deep enough, suitable enough for a lord.
When hole was deep enough, I stood up and clapped my hands together, brushed them against my clothes, until the dirt was mostly just underneath my nails. I folded the flaps of the box back down. I leaned down into the box to place a kiss on Lord Tubbington's forehead. He really felt cold now. His body had adjusted to the night's chilly temperature. With one last heave, I gripped the sides of the box and lowered the coffin down into the hole. I pulled out the toy harmonica. I have never been very good at playing instruments, so I played what little I knew. Melancholy notes from Happy Birthday and Jingle Bells and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star drifted through the air.
Crayon was so much prettier than gray pencil.
I don't know why I sometimes forgot which hand was my right hand.
I forgot where my classes were because you looked at me with that smile, hooked your pinky through mine so that little invisible butterflies fluttered up my arm, and gently tugged me along. Senior year was the best, when you laced your fingers through mine and squeezed, and I swear those butterflies were bouncing in my stomach and doing flips in my heart.
When I ran out of simple songs to play, silence once again took over the tiny site I'd chosen, crammed and well-hidden among the park's flora. I tucked the harmonica back into my puffy jacket. Lord Tubbington looked really small inside of his box, inside of the hole I had dug into the ground. I couldn't remember a time he ever looked that small, not even when he was a kitten, and his energy as he bounced around filled rooms and spaces in ways his body could not. He'd never been a small cat. The grave wasn't fit for a lord at all. I couldn't afford a fancy pet coffin or a lot in a beautiful pet cemetery, just like I couldn't afford to take a day off because of a death in the family. I clasped my hands to my chest and said a prayer. I asked Lord Tubbington to forgive me for being such a bad owner. His fur waved in the slight breeze that silently rustled the nearby leaves.
My hands fell to my side. I bit my lip hard, then fell roughly to my knees. I folded the box flaps closed one last time, pulling out my roll of duct tape to secure the top. Filling the hole with the cold, moist clumps of earth took only a fraction of the time that it had taken to dig the hole in the first place. When the grave was completely filled, I patted the dirt down and drew an "LT" with the tip of a branch. I stabbed the branches and rocks into the dirt above the letters. I recovered my flashlight, brushed some of the caked earth off of my utensils and slid the dirty fork, knife, and spoon back into the inner pocket of my jacket. Lord Tubbington's grave looked a little bare, so I grabbed some chunks of grass and wildflowers from nearby and scattered them around the newly displaced earth, around the branches and the L and the T. When the makeshift decorations looked semi-decent, I stopped moving and just stood there as the night grew colder in preparation for the coming dawn and as almost-thoughts and memories slipped around my tired mind.
There was emptiness in my stomach and stillness in my heart.
Crayon has looked gray for a while now.
There was a certain point that smiling felt like I was trying to lift up the whole world with the corners of my mouth. So, I stopped pretending.
Sometimes, I don't know anything. Sometimes, I look at the silly dress I have to wear for my work shifts, and I don't recognize what I'm looking at. Sometimes, I lay in bed in the morning and stare up at the shadowed ceiling, and I don't remember what the point is in pushing myself to leave the warm covers.
Then, my alarm goes off.
It's that one song of yours, the one about finding your way.
I reach up to wipe the sleepies out of my eyes, and instead of crusty flakes, I feel moisture.
I do remember.
I remember color, and I remember what's right, and I remember the best thing that's never been mine. You were always yours, because it was never right for me to pretend I could ever own anyone, let alone someone like you.
It was for the best. You shine so brightly. I'm so proud of you.
Maybe in a while...
Maybe I will save up some money to adopt a new cat.
AN: Written because I've just been feeling very sad.
"So, I stopped pretending." includes things like Sam, school, etc.