On a sunny morning in 1993, my 13 year old cat Boris jumped into my lap, stretched luxuriously, curled into a ball, and went to sleep forever. It wasn't totally out of the blue, he'd been suffering from urinary blockages, a chronic problem with neutered males. He'd been in a coma once, with a little kitty catheter attached. Still, he'd been fine for nearly a year.
I put Boris into a cardboard box to take him to the animal hospital for disposal. I called ahead and was told there was a $40 charge. Fine. I could do this. I kept my brave face on all morning, but once I was alone in the car, away from my roommates, I began to fall apart. On the drive, I talked to the closed box, telling Boris he'd been a good friend. At the animal hospital, I placed the box on the counter and waited for my turn. There were several others customers waiting. I kept my sunglasses on because I was embarrassed by my red eyes.
I was waited on a by a boyish young dyke who handed me a clipboard. I had just begun filling out the form when she asked me a question that seemed so odd to me, I asked her to repeat it.
"I said, do you want to keep Boris' remains?"
I still didn't understand. I was having him disposed of.
"Keep his remains?"
She smiled patiently. "Yes. You can check a box on that form if you'd like to get his ashes back after the cremation."
____ $40 General Cremation
____ $240 Private Cremation
I looked at the two choices, somehow still not fully comprehending. "So...it's an extra $200 to get the ashes back?"
"Yes, because we clean out the crematorium of the other animals' remains, and then we'd cremate Boris by himself, in order to keep his remains separated for you."
I'd never considered this. I'd never been responsible for another being in this regard. My pragmatic side told me that it was silly to fork out $200 just to get back a box of ashes. What would I do with them anyway? Then I flashed over the previous 13 years, during which I probably moved about 13 times. Boris had been with me through all those apartments, all those cities. He'd been with me through half a dozen roommates and at least as many boyfriends. The more I thought about it, Boris had been the only true constant in my life, up until then.
"I think I want to get his ashes back."
The clerk nodded and said, "Let me go see if they can do it today." She disappeared into the back. In less than a minute, she was back. "They can do it today. Do you want to come back at the end of the day to pick up the remains? Or you can come back tomorrow. There's no....hurry."
"I'll come back tomorrow."
The clerk said, "OK, well I'll just need your check for $240. Do you want to say goodbye to Boris before I take him back?"
I almost said something, I almost changed my mind, I almost said, "Yes! Yes! I do want to say goodbye!" But I didn't. She pulled the box down from the counter and took it in the back. I stood there with my pen frozen over my checkbook. The clerk returned and mistook my discomposure, saying "Oh, don't worry about filling the top part in, we have a stamp for that." She reached across and stamped "Broward Animal Hospital" on the top line of my check.
Still, my pen was not moving. After a long moment, I scratched down the date. Then the amount. But I could not manage the finality of signing my name. My hand was shaking so hard that the pen dropped from my hand. I picked up the pen and the shaking got worse. The clerk, that young boyish dyke who'd been all business up to then, gently took the pen from my hand. I watched her face redraw itself, the way you might see a computer screen refresh a previously static image, revealing to you something completely different.
She glanced around the room and said softly, "I just need your driver's license."
I pulled my license out and laid it on the counter, my hands still trembling. The clerk laid my license next to my checkbook and carefully copied my signature onto my check. She forged my name on that check, and I think it was one of the greatest kindnesses even shown me.
I nodded my thanks to her, afraid to speak.
I picked up Boris' ashes the next day. They were packed in a plastic-wrapped, cube-sized box, about the same size as a box of Kleenex. At the top of the box, the plastic was knotted, with a spray of loose plastic above the knot, rendering it much like a birthday gift. I walked in the house and stood in the living room. Did I place the ashes on the mantel over the fireplace? Like a trophy? Or out of sight in a drawer, to be forgotten about?
I had no idea what to do with ashes. I never would.
To Be Continued.....