This morning I picked up Chamba from Takoma Park Animal Clinic.
Dr. Kriemelmeyer gave me a cheery greeting when I entered the door. “Good morning. How can I help you?”
I don’t think she recognized me. “I’m here to pick up Chamba—in a box.” Instantly her face turned to sympathy mode.
She went to a room just off the reception area. I could see her scanning the shelves. She couldn’t seem to find Chamba. Great. I’d come prepared for a fiasco, so I kept calm.
A staff member intervened and she somehow knew who I was, and what Dr. K was looking for.
Dr. K came out with a white cardboard box, maybe half the size of a shoebox. She opened the lid and quickly glanced at the “certificate of cremation.” Then she closed the box and handed it to me. “I’m sorry, ” she said again.
The box was heavier than I expected. I tucked it under my left arm and walked out the door into the chilly wind.
The walk home is familiar and short—about a third of a mile. Although it was unnecessary, I felt compelled to keep my right hand lightly on the box. Tenderly, as if the cardboard cared.
My face tensed as tears came. I struggled to appear composed when cars or pedestrians passed. As I walked past the suburban bungalows on Sherman Ave., I began speaking to the box under my arm.
“You pooped here.”
“You used to sit here.”
We entered the condominium, and began to climb the stairs. I said, “Look at him go,” and imagined how, at 12, Chamba was able to bound up seven flights of stairs.
I used to think with pride of how healthy I kept him. His performance up the stairs was proof that he’d be around for a long time to come—if the cancer didn’t get him. Which, of course, it did.
Once home, I opened the cardboard box. Inside was a smooth wooden box with a flat base. No inscription.
I refused to let myself feel silly. I stroked it and kissed it, and finally put it up on my bookshelf.