Rolling up the Rugs: Non Fiction by Ann Chiappetta
Excerpt from “After the Divorce: 1970”
I got my love from animals — dogs, cats, sometimes coaxing a squirrel to eat from a hand. We had a revolving door of pets depending on how long it took mom to discover the new additions my middle sister, Laura brought home. Teika was a calico who had three litters of kittens with a Russian blue tom cat we also owned named Jack. Eventually Teika went to live with mom’s ex boyfriend, Eddie, a few months before we moved to California. Until then, though, she turned out to be a sweet and loving pet.
The summer after graduating from fifth grade, I noticed jack hadn’t been around and I went looking for him. He usually sauntered into the hall as I came in from school or from the complex pool, wanting to eat, but he hadn’t been doing it for a day or two. Something told me to go find him. The tingle was there and I wanted it to go away but I couldn’t ignore it and after feeding Teika, I went out to look for him. I found him lying in the bushes near the front steps of our building, his body stiff and cold. I Recognized that he died horrifically, apparent by the arch of his back and the way in which his lips had shrunken revealing ann open-eyed death mask. I will never forget the shock, sorrow, and anger I felt. It was rat poison, that much I knew, with a certainty I couldn’t explain. I stood up and tried to figure out what to do next. I remembered overhearing a neighbor talking to my Mom about finding her cat dead on her patio and when she called the police, the officer said it looked like rat poison.
Another neighbor had knocked on our door a few days ago and I heard a snippet of conversation between her and my Mom about the fear that the super had put out rat poison to get rid of the cats instead of the vermin. As with many conversations, it really didn’t mean too much at the time but now it bridged the gap of how this could have happened and it fueled my anger.
I knew by the returning tingle that the superintendent had put out the bait. I got a paper bag,
slipped him in it and went to the super’s apartment, He opened
The door and I showed it to him. ” You killed my cat, you bastard. I hope you go to Hell” I said and walked away. I shook with the intensity of it all. Standing up to an adult like that and cursing them went against every fiber of my being, yet I did it. My legs felt like rubber but my mind was telling me I did the right thing.
I walked down the hall, knowing he was watching me, feeling his eyes on my back, but I didn’t stop. I went to the furnace room and opened the outer door. I brought Jack to the furnace and unlatched the heavy door, glad it was cool and not being used. I placed jack inside on top of some garbage already there, closed the door and pressed the button. the whoosh of the
intense furnace heat incinerated his corpse. In less than an hour he would be gone, his ashes swirling up the flue with common household refuse.
I watched him being consumed by the fire in the tiny window in the iron door and cried. A few weeks later, as I headed for the side door to the building to go home and have dinner, the Super was standing there like he was waiting for me. I hadn’t seen him outside since Jack’s poisoning and got a bad feeling. Nevertheless, I had to go inside, so I tried to pass him. He blocked me as I tried to pass.
“I feel bad about your cat.” He said, “Got a gift in my pocket for you to show you how sorry I am.”
I looked up into his face and he smiled. I wasn’t sure but reached into his pocket anyway, not sure what to expect. My fingertips met something soft and warm with a hint of wetness.
He tried to push my hand deeper into his pocket but I jerked it out, the flash of realization making my stomach flip. I’d been touching his penis. The words I cursed him with a few days ago came back to my lips but I held back.
“You’re disgusting,” I said, and walked away.
I remember telling my Mom what had happened but don’t recall anyone ever asking me about that horrible day. Like many grief-laden events in my life while growing up, I shouldered it as best as I could, not knowing I had an option to trust someone enough to share it and unburden myself. I learned this much later, after many years of trying to manage depression resulting from carrying this and many other burdens caused by loss.