I just got off the phone with my good friend Jim. I've known Jim for more then ten years. He and I met in Panama in the spring of 2000. We were two guys with similar interests who were pretty serious fish out of water in that land of rain forests and Canal Zones.
We struck up an easy friendship then, one that continues to this day. Of all the people I've come to know in my life, Jim stands out. He's a giant among men and I'm glad to call him my friend.
When he and I met in that land far away, he called Providence, Rhode Island home and I lived in St. Pete. When we said our goodbyes in Panama I never thought I'd see him again. Kismet intervened however, and we stayed in touch after we returned to the US.
Jim had some kind of vague business career I never quite grasped and about six months after we came back to the US he had an opportunity to take a position in San Francisco.
Jim called me one afternoon to ask if I'd be interested in joining him in a road trip from Providence to San Francisco. Jim had a greyhound named Alex and he didn't want to fly her to the opposite coast. Besides, he had a car he needed to get to California and he'd already decided to drive himself. Having me along would make the drive easier for sure. Further, if I were along we'd take our time and get a feel for the US as we drove.
Our plan was to drive south from Rhode Island, through Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania on Day One. We were going to head south before heading west. Day Two had us driving through West Virginia, Virginia and into North Carolina. Jim had friends who had a cabin in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina and he wanted to spend a few days with them before we headed west in earnest.
We arrived in North Carolina with few incidents and were all ready to spend a great weekend in the mountains with Jim's friends.
Jim's friends were amazing and I'll keep them nameless here. They were gracious hosts and their cabin turned out to be so much more than what I'd expected. However, they had an old cat named Punkin and we had a greyhound.
Most retired greyhounds that get adopted can't be around small animals. Their chase instinct is too strong, when they see something smaller than they are and it's moving, they can't help themselves but to chase it down.
Knowing this as we headed into the weekend, all of us decided that we keep Punkin and Alex separated so that Alex in particular would never see Punkin, and Punkin would remain oblivious to Alex.
A great weekend revealed itself. The four of us played board games and cooked up a storm. There was no TV and no interference from the outside world; it was four people enjoying one another's company in the middle of nowhere. We ate, we talked, we laughed and we told stories. It pretty much defined my idea of an ideal weekend and the backdrop of the Smokies made it all the more perfect. The goodwill just flowed and the four of us bonded tightly.
The weekend was winding down by Sunday. Jim and I had to head west and our hosts had to go home to their regular lives in Greensboro, South Carolina. Jim and I had a full day of driving ahead of us and so as Jim packed the car, I decided to take a quick nap.
Within a half an hour I heard a wail from one of our hosts. He was beyond wailing actually, he was keening. His mournings were the sharpest calls from a man in pain I'd ever heard.
Just then, Jim came barging into the guest room with Alex the greyhound in tow. I asked him what was going on and he said "Stay here and hold onto Alex. She just killed Punkin." He was gone in a flash.
I shook off my sleep and walked out into the kitchen while leaving Alex behind in the guest room. I grabbed Jim and asked him what was going on.
Apparently, Jim was loading the car and had Alex outside with him. Our hosts had no idea that Jim and Alex were outside so they let Punkin out the side door.
As Jim was loading the car Alex walked up to him with something in her mouth. He assumed it was a squirrel but he realized (and to his horror) it was Punkin the cat.
Alex had just killed our host's cat.
How do you come back from that? Alex was just being herself, a dog. However our hosts had just lost a member of their family. My heart goes out to them still but the relationships formed that weekend were destroyed utterly.
I don't blame them really. And how to deal with it from Jim's and my perspective was a total mystery.
Really, what do you do when your pet kills a friend's pet? Miss Manners never addresses situations like that.
Our hosts were the very picture of graciousness after the fact and I have nothing but good things to say about their response to the situation.
Jim and I didn't linger after Punkin's murder, in fact we drove twice the distance we were supposed to that day just to have some distance between us and the event that ended up defining that weekend. By the time we'd reached Columbia, Missouri we figured we'd come far enough and stopped for the night.
Alex the greyhound didn't seem to be affected by what had happened in North Carolina though Jim and I were torn. Alex was learning how to be a dog after seven years of being a racer. Jim and I were trying to express our condolences and save face at the same time.
We talked about nothing but through Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. Before we knew it we'd crossed the Continental Divide and as amazing as the experiences we embraced were, there was a shadow over all of it.
Our relationship with our hosts that weekend never recovered and a week after the fact we were in San Francisco.
I don't really mourn the loss of Punkin, but I do mourn the loss of two good people. I wish I could have the friendship back that we forged that weekend. But alas...
But really, what do you do in a situation like that? What's the appropriate response? How do you bounce back from a murder among pets?