Re-sharing for the evening crowd. I shared this story a really long time ago in the comments on a post about pets I believe. I decided to dedicate a post to it because it's a bittersweet story and it reminds me of one of the many reasons why I love my dad so much.
When I was a junior in high school my dad's house burned down. I couldn't say I was all that surprised. It was a house slapped together haphazardly on the 110 acres of land (mostly woods, some field) my grandpa bought across the street from the famous chain o'lakes (a popular tourist destination and home to many multi-million dollar homes). The idea was to move in to this little house and put up a bigger, nicer home in the next few years. They moved in when my dad was in high school. Eventually throwing up an addition to add more space because it became clear a new home was never going to be built. It was in this addition that the fire broke out. My dad had set up a desk for his computer back in the family room and I guess the wiring in the electric back there wasn't very good. The neighbors across the street and down the road (think large lots with lots of tree and brush) noticed smoke but by the time the firefighters got there it was too late. Everything was destroyed. The house only had a basement in the back half of it and the house had collapsed into it. The other half had an attic which dumped its contents everywhere. Did I mention this was January? Between the snow and the fire and the smoke damage and the water from putting out the fire it was a mess, a total loss. Nothing was salvageable.
Of course he had homeowner's insurance, and the American Red Cross set him up in a hotel room for a few weeks but can you imagine losing everything you own in one night? (Side note: I lived with my mom in high school but would eat dinner a few times a week at my dad's and spend every other weekend there so I didn't really have much over there permanently that wasn't very easy to replace). My dad always told me the worst was losing his artwork (he had quite the collection from local artists/friends), the photographs (especially of his parents who are both dead) and his old notebooks. My dad is a musician but mostly a song writer. A brilliant bassist (who had the opportunity to do really big things but choose his family over Hollywood) and a songwriting genius (not that I'm biased or anything but he really is quite good) he had lost all his old notebooks from all the way back to when he was in high school. Granted I'm sure a lot of the writing wasn't that great but holy shit the nostalgia alone to lose that. Insurance can't replace those things. I can't even begin to know how terrible it was for him. He went into a depression for a few years and didn't write anything new. It was a dark time.
When my mom called after school to tell me the news I laughed. Honest to dog that was my reaction. To laugh. It was hysterical to me that the universe would let something so fucking terrible happen to my dad. MY dad. The guy who played in a wedding band that he hated so much to support his family, the guy who was a stay at home dad during the week with me and was a chaperone for almost every field trip I went on from kindergarten to fifth grade (and guise I wasn't even embarrassed. He was the "cool" dad). The guy who stayed in this tiny shithole of a town with no opportunities for a real musician until his house burned down a 2nd time in 2012 and his children were grownups when he moved to Charlotte and is thriving in the music scene down there. It wasn't fair. But as all of us know pretty well fair doesn't mean shit in the real world.
After I hung up the phone and the shock subsided a bit I drove my car over to his house. It was a black mark on the ground. Quite the contrast from the sparkling white snowy woods surrounding it. I wish I had taken pictures although that seemed really disrespectful at the time. This was before everyone had a cell phone to whip out to snap a pic whenever. I couldn't imagine taking out one of those awful Kodak disposable cameras, clicking a pic, winding it up, getting another shot and then getting the pictures developed. It was horrible. I walked the perimeter taking note of every cassette tape, notebook, CD, piece of furniture I could make out in the pile of ash and ice and debris. I cried. I sobbed. And then I had an awful thought. My cat. What happened to my cat?
Now this next part may sound callous to some but let me explain. I am a cat person. I like dogs just fine but I can take or leave them. I love cats and I knew it from a young age. My mother is allergic to cats and hates them. So we had a dog. As an 8 year old whose parents had finally divorced after years of fighting and were doing a damn good job co-parenting my first thought was "I can get a cat!" after all my dad wasn't allergic. My dad wasn't really a cat person per se but he was well aware that I was a daddy's girl and we've always had a really close relationship. He knew I wanted a cat. So when the opportunity presented itself he got me a cat. Of course only spending a few days a week with a cat and being a 10 year old who had her share of Elmyra moments the cat wasn't my biggest fan until I got a bit older. He loved my dad though. I named the cat Boss because he was a stray that had immediately taken over my dad's friend's house and her cats when she found him. Boss was a tough old bastard. Declawed but would still hunt, fight with raccoons, had his tail run over and eventually lost the tip to a raccoon fight. But he loved my dad. My dad would tell me stories about how the cat would come up behind him when he was shaving in the bathroom and rub up against him and give him "love" bites on the calves. He'd watch Packers games with my dad even after he was thrown from my dad's lap when a particularly great play occurred. My dad joked they were just a couple of bachelors living it up together.
The morning of the fire my dad had trouble remembering if he let the cat out of the house before going to work. The firefighters never found a body so we assumed that Boss must have been out of the house. For the next two weeks my dad drove out to the house at his lunch break to call for Boss. He hoped the cat would be close enough to hear him one day and come out to him. He was less hopeful every day. Finally one day he was out there calling for Boss, walking around the house and he heard a very faint meow, almost a croak. He could recognize it anywhere. Boss! Boss had crawled down into the collapsed basement and was tucked away under the remnants of the stair case hiding. My dad was pissed the damn cat wouldn't crawl out to him. So he did what anyone would do and climbed down into the basement and rescued his cat. He took him back to the hotel where he surprised my brother and me with Boss that night. And because karma is a funny thing my dad hurt his back pretty badly and would fondly tease the cat about how much he owed him. The next day Boss went to the vet where the veterinarian had surmised that Boss had actually come back to the house to die in familiar surroundings. He was very thin; winter in Wisconsin means slim pickings for animals, but was otherwise in good condition. He recovered fully and went on to live a happy life of killing small animals and rolling in cat nip. If my dad and Boss weren't bonded before this all occurred they sure were after. He would affectionately bring small animals like rabbits and birds as offering leaving them headless on the front step, which in cat language translates to "I loooooovveeee youuuuuu."
I've had a lot of cats in my life but none was quite as special as my first and I think it's so fitting and telling of our relationship that my dad brought him into my life and fought hard to keep him there.