I was asked to check in on my brother-in-law’s cat while his family was vacationing in Mexico, which is a task I thought I could readily embrace — no real responsibilities, since the food and litter situation was taken care of, just the request to infrequently socialize with a cat, which is pretty much one of my very favorite things to do.

The first day I checked on her was about 3 days into their trip, and she was extremely vocal and pleased to see me. Normally too shy to endure being approached, she wound around my ankles with a lot of flopping and purring. It was a nice visit: I took a photo, sent it to Joe, and went on my way.

The next time I stopped by, the cat had clearly had enough of being cooped up without any company: as soon as I raised the garage door, she came flying out in a blur. I mean a BLUR, she was like a small furry Secretariat gunning for the win. She led me on a grim and probably comical-to-observe chase through the neighborhood before sequestering herself in a crawlspace several houses down, ignoring my pleas and the rattle of her food bowl.

I ended up reluctantly leaving, with the plans to come back later and hope she was waiting by the garage. She’s an inside/outside cat but in the family’s absence they had corralled her inside with access to the garage where her food and litter was. Thanks to me, she was now locked outside, with no way to enter the garage or house.

Of course it began raining, like actual aggressive buckets of rain, and when I came back later she was nowhere to be found. I called and called and eventually left the garage cracked enough for me to slither myself out on the ground like some sort of bizarre reverse burglar (I had no key and couldn’t lock the front door from the outside) and that’s when I got the text from Joe:

“How’s my kitty?”

Now. I ask you: what would you do, in that situation? Keep in mind Joe and his family were in another country, enjoying themselves in the sun, and there was nothing whatsoever he could do to help with the missing cat situation aside from worry.

I asked a friend for moral guidance, and she advised that I ‘fess up: maybe Joe could tell me where the cat’s favorite hiding spots were, for instance. I considered this but either out of a true wish to preserve Joe’s vacation or my own cowardice, I went to Riley for a second opinion.

“Yeah … this sounds like a you thing,” he said, after hearing the situation.

“NOT. REMOTELY. HELPFUL,” I told him, although I could deeply identify with the perspective of not wanting to get involved.

He briefly removed his ever-present earbuds to come up with an idea: text Joe back, but say something that was technically probably true without providing any unpleasant details.

She still doesn’t like me, I wrote, But she’s doing fine.

Now that I was both a total failure as a cat caretaker AND maybe also a horrible liar AND I’d left their home unsecured, I went back again after Dylan’s basketball practice that night, and did what John advised: I shut the garage door without entering, crossing my fingers she’d come inside but not giving her the chance to escape again.

Just before I pulled out of the driveway, though, Dylan said he thought we should go in and see if she was hiding under the bed. “I’ve seen her do that before,” he said, and I weighed my options: go in and not find her and then live with that bad feeling, or just drive away while preserving some modicum of hope.

So many things to wrestle with! This was supposed to be FUN.

I did go back inside and at first I was awash in total doom because she didn’t come when we called her and I was like O GOD SHE IS FLATTENED UNDER A MUDDY TIRE SOMEWHERE and then as we started walking up the stairs she was just suddenly there, rubbing herself against a bannister and looking at us like jeez, you guys seem stressed out.

“HECK YEAH,” Dylan shouted, and we slapped palms and tore ass out of there, not even stopping to pet her. Garage door down, cat verified inside, skin prickling with adrenaline, I peeled out of their neighborhood and vowed not to return before Joe did.

Once they got home I learned that the cat probably would have been just fine because she does come and go as she pleases, which was information I could have used before, say, flattening myself on the ground in order to Mission-Impossible my way out of a garage but not before the spiderweb-encrusted door scraped its way across my actual sideturned face — however, all’s well that ends well, and next time I’m demanding either a tranq gun or a house key, or better yet, my own trip to a relaxing beachfront resort because that shit was STRESSFUL.

John has been out of town this week, his absence both a bit of alone-time luxury and the pang of an essential puzzle piece gone missing. I texted him last night, about how I’d caught sight of my earrings — the diamond studs he gave me many years ago — and remembered how cherished I felt by that gift, how I still feel special when I see those sparkling stones. You made an investment in me, I wrote. We invested in each other, he wrote back.

Marriage most definitely is an investment, one that can sometimes feel like a bad gamble on penny stocks. There are times when it feels like there is not one single thing more to give, and yet you must, you can’t just bank on what’s already been put in.

It’s a long game. God, there are so many things to weather over the years. The chart of a marriage can look like an electrocardiogram, staggering up and down all those hills and valleys of two intertwined lifetimes.

In our instant-gratification culture I think it’s become harder for us all to really grasp what it means to do a thing for decades. Raising children can be so consuming it’s hard to imagine what life looks like when they’re off to college; how there is, if we’re lucky, so much more time to be spent in yet another season of marriage, one where it’s just the two of you. Like it was at the beginning, but with a completely different set of perspectives. The landscape is nothing like it was. The person you were back then isn’t the person you are now, and the same is true for your partner. What a miracle it is, really, if you can still be walking side by side.

There have been times when I did not believe John and I would make it and I guess I have to say I’m grateful for the experience, as bleak and awful as it was. It forged something in me, a resolve to keep doing the work. Being married is sometimes as easy as breathing but I never forget that it is an investment. It takes both of us to keep it going, it takes effort.

John and I don’t align politically and that’s been very difficult in the last few years, and I imagine this coming election is going to be hard on both of us. I don’t love that we’ve become so different in that regard but I love him. I love us. I love that we’ve come this far and we’re still in it, we’re still going, we never gave up.

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