Thursday, February 14, 2008

a memorial for midnight

One of the best things about living in Northern Kentucky is the people. Neighbors aren’t just people who live next door. They bring you dinner, stop by with dogs in tow to chat and always welcome a little splash of bourbon and some good conversation on the porch. I’ll never, ever forget the friends that I’ve made here.

This story is from when I lived in Mansion Hill in Newport, on the street where all the flight attendants live. I was really, really (still am) close with my neighbors- most nights we’d visit on one of our porches and we even went up north to the big lake together one fine summer. Things like this happened all the time:

I was out late one night, drank way too much and somehow didn’t make it all the way up the stairs, but slept on the couch instead. I wake up early in the morning to a repeated knocking on the door. I still have traces of make-up on and my head hurts but I grab an old t shirt and shorts off the floor and run down to answer the door. It’s my neighbor Alan’s kids from across the street, looking somber.

“Midnight died last night. We’re going to have a funeral today,” they told me sadly.

Let me explain about Midnight. Midnight was a big black tomcat officially bunking down at Ella’s, a southern belle who lived across the street and on the corner. A flight attendant, Ella is often out of town, so other neighbors would feed the tom and sometimes take him in for a night or two. I am not really a cat person per se but I liked him; he’d often disappear for a couple of days and then come home with a gash in his ear, evidence of fighting, and reeking like kitty, too. I knew Ella and the kids loved Midnight, so I felt really bad for them. Still not really awake, I said sure, I’ll be there, and then I went upstairs and promptly fell back asleep. Ten minutes later, someone is pounding on my front door again. I go back downstairs.

“We are starting the funeral in five minutes so get up and come over,” says Alan. “You need to be there.” OK, OK, I wake up for real, decide to wash my make up off later and manage to brush my teeth. Still in the ratty t-shirt and shorts, I walk over to the field at the end of our street where everyone is gathered.

As far as cat funerals go, it wasn’t bad. Ella, crying, had us each write down a memory we had of Midnight, and then we read them aloud and Alan placed them in the shoebox with the cat. Then, he started digging the grave.

It’s early, but it’s one of those hot, sweaty days in the Midwest in May when you can tell it’s going to thunderstorm all day long. Really hot already, and it’s only 10 in the morning. Alan is digging and digging into what turned out to be shale, and not dirt. For some reason (I guess because of the grave digging), my fancy-schmancy attorney neighbor is wearing overalls and a wife beater. Ella, too, is wearing an old t-shirt and shorts. It is hot, it is sad, the field smells and now there is a mist of red clay in the air, in our throats, in our hair and all over our clothes. Alan dug down as far he could go, buried the cat, and we all stood there silently. Then Alan looks at me and says, “Well, we had a funeral. Now we need to have a wake.”

Dirty, sheeny with sweat and red clay and still wearing streaked eyeliner, I followed the procession back to Alan’s house. Alan’s wife, Caitlin, is in the kitchen already making bloody marys. I walk in and watch her drop three shots into the first one. “That one’s yours, Lisa.” Mmm-hmm. We trooped out to the front porch. Eight hours later, we were still there. Still drinking. Still dirty. Still wearing our grubby clothes and covered in red clay (and last night’s make-up).

We kept drinking and talking, talking and drinking, clearing out all of Alan and Caitlin’s booze, all of mine (half gallons) and all of the booze at Vanessa (another flight attendant who lived next door to me) and Ella’s houses too. And as the storm rolled in, so did a number of guests… Alan’s family is rather well-known so visitors included a would-be mayoral candidate, a higher-up in the local parochial school system and a number of other neighbors and friends. By early evening I am speaking in tongues, practically, leaning all over the mayor and telling him about some city-related grievance.

At some point, I go inside, where Caitlin finds me in the kitchen, hands gripping the counter and staring up at the ceiling (she related all of this to me at a later date).

“Honey, do you think it’s time to go home?”

“I don’t know, Caitlin. What do you think?”

“Let’s go home, honey.”

Caitlin, mother to us all, walked me home and dropped me on the couch. I “take a nap” that lasts until morning.

The next day I wake up, and find a big bowl of water on the floor. I puzzled over that briefly (whatever was I doing?) and then went on about my business. Two days later, I am at Vanessa’s house telling her about the bowl of water.

“Oh Alan and Ella put that there.” Alan and Ella? Did I wake up and have them over?

“No, they came over to see if you had any more to drink and to get something to eat. They brought over young guy and some of his friends to look through your kitchen (young guy lived next door and was always amazed at how much drinking we all do). They wanted to see if you would wet the bed if they put your hand in water.”

Bastards! I immediately stomp over to Ella’s house with a what-is-the-meaning-of-this speech.

“Oh honey, it was so funny,” drawls Ella. “But when we put your hand in the bowl of water nothing happened except that you kicked off your blanket.”

Who was in my house?”

“Just me, Alan, young guy and about six of his friends. I can’t believe…”

“You can’t believe what?”

“I can’t believe the only thing you wear to sleep are those littttle tiiiiiny underpants.”

For as long as I lived over there, ever after when I ran into young guy he would wave excitedly, I would slink away and Alan would laugh himself sick.