Heartbroke and Then Some

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I have been a Debbie Downer this week, or, more aptly, a Debbie Even-Farther-Downer-Than-Usual, obstructing the Haus’ generally buoyant vibe (sustained by the insistent, mindless happy-go-luckyism of NotClooney, against which the boys and I do not have the energy to fight but to which we groove only reluctantly) with stormy-clouded moods and the tendency to dissolve into puddles of tears at a moment’s notice.

I weep for Tangerine, my ginger-haired friend of over sixteen years, who shuffled off this mortal coil at the ripe old age of seventeen. Tangerine (or “Tange,” as I always called her, because it rhymed with “Ange,” and every creature in my life must reflect me in one way or another) was the first pet I ever belonged to, who began my adulthood-long love affair with all things feline, and who was, as my dead Grandma Angie (whom I did not, interestingly, call “Grandma Tangie”) used to say, “a real pistol.”

Tangerine acquired me in Austin, Texas in the fall of 1992. My friend Bev was an SPCA volunteer who had struck up a friendship with Tange during Tange’s stay there and eventually was successful in adopting her out. Twice. Tange was returned to the SPCA. Twice. For—I paraphrase—“being a bitch.” Bev of course decided that that made her the perfect pet for me.

I resisted at first. I predicted—quite rightly, as it turned out—that I would have to move back in with my parents after graduating, as a Master’s degree in journalism, during the economic recession brought on by the policies of the first President George Bush, contributed to only marginally more fruitful employment than a Master’s degree in journalism does now, during this recession brought on by the policies of the most recent President George Bush. My parents, however, hated animals. We never had any pets growing up (beyond the goldfish we won every year at our church carnival, who invariably died on the ride home from the carnival, floating lifelessly in the water-filled plastic sandwich bags in which we always hopefully-against-all-hope transported them to their exciting new lives with the Pandolfo sisters) because, according to Mr. and Mr. Monopoly, pets smelled bad, shed snarly hair and flaky dander all over the house, scratched and peed with abandon, and brought comfort and joy to everyone whose lives they touched, so clearly they were completely undesirable. I would not be welcome back to Casa de Monopoly if I arrived with cat in tow, no matter how bitchily, orangely adorable she was (and she was). I pictured Tange and me living on the mean streets of Wanaque, with only each other’s considerable bulk for warmth during the brutal north Jersey winters, lugging our sad carcasses and everything we collectively owned to the endless zoning hearings and school board meetings we’d be covering as stringers for whatever half-assed weekly community newspaper would deign to hire us. It was not a pretty picture.

Unfortunately, Tangerine’s alternative was even less pretty. The SPCA shelter at which Bev volunteered was not a no-kill shelter. That lay a bit heavy on my conscience, so I agreed to foster Tangerine—to give her a place to live and to socialize her so that the next time she was adopted, it would stick. Of course, our genius plan did not take into account the fact that I am perhaps the least likely person on the planet to de-bitchify anyone, and so after two weeks with me, Tangerine was ruined for the remainder of the human race. She was haughty, spoiled, mean, loud, and angry, absolutely everything I required in a companion. We prepared ourselves to live in a refrigerator box in Jersey come June of ’93, but, since it was still September of ’92 and we were still in Texas, we made the most of our time with a roof over our heads.

Eventually, though, graduation came (highest honors, baby!), and shortly thereafter a really, really long flight to NJ—for which I had to check Tangerine as baggage, a slight not easily forgiven—and arrival at the homestead. I had forewarned the parents, who said the cat could eat and sleep in the garage and that I’d better get my own place before winter. A friend dropped us off from the airport, and I let Tange out of her carrier in the garage before opening the door to the house to let myself in. She barged past me, plopped herself on my father’s lap, and my folks were done for. Their warp-speed transformation from the two uncuddliest personalities you were ever likely to encounter into baby-talking, cat-spoiling “grandparents” still bemuses and confuses these nearly sixteen years after the fact.

And so, as I scrimped and saved for an apartment with my meager, entry-level corporate communications salary (because, as it turned out, exactly zero half-assed weekly community newspapers would decline to hire me), and Tangerine continued to impress and amaze with her mad wondercat skillz—delivering the Monopolies daily gifts of chipmunk and field mouse; introducing herself around the neighborhood by scratching at every door, inviting herself in, and demanding food; and, perhaps most significantly, once waking me up in the middle of the night and alerting me to a gas leak that would literally have killed us all in our sleep—it became ever more clear to me that, whenever I did manage to move out, my cat would not be joining me. We had an additional nine months together in New Jersey, on top our initial nine Texan months together, before I could afford to move to the big city (Okay, more accurately, Hoboken, which is a little city quite near the big city) and when, sure enough, my mother started negotiating: “You know, Tangerine really is a country cat. You can’t let her outside in Hoboken. You can’t afford fresh shrimp, and she loves fresh shrimp. The whole neighborhood will miss her if you take her to Hoboken …” And on and on and on. Tange and I had a tete-a-tete, and though the knowledge made me die a little inside, we both understood that the old people needed her.

So I moved out, launching my own new family with Hobbes (and then NotClooney, then Oscar, then Agent Mulder, then The Heir, then Mister Knightley, and finally, at least for now, The Spare). But, being Italian, I returned to my parents’ house at least once a week, and usually more, for all the ensuing years, and I saw them love Tangerine uncharacteristically unconditionally, the dollar bills that constantly fall out of their pockets spent on elaborate cat climby structures and fresh seafood and her own bedding. I witnessed in horror Tangerine coming home one afternoon with a .22-caliber bullet lodged in her upper leg, followed by heart-swelling gratitude as the Wanaque PD, led by Monsieur LaCouture, my very first boyfriend back in grade school, launched an investigation into the shooting. I knew, in 1998, that Tangerine understood that Grandma Angie was dying, and I watched her put aside her typical sneering aloofness and not leave Grandma’s side for those last weeks of her life. I watched her live a long, good life, making others’ lives better in the process.

So Godspeed, Tangerine, on your new journey, till we meet again (and you know we will). Thank you for never biting my kids (whose own cats chomp on them pretty regularly), for opening up my parents’ hearts, and, most importantly, for starting me, those sixteen-plus years ago, on my inexorable march to Crazy Cat Ladyhood. It is a sorority I join with pride.

By Angela Pandolfo-Roy, From Hausfrau

Photo courtesy of Offsprung


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