When I was a teenager in high school, I found my peers at a nearby all-boys school to be far more fascinating that my own male classmates. So when my friend Pat asked me to be his date to their winter formal, I jumped at the chance.
Pat and his best friend Dan had gone to the same grade school as my best friend Lauren. So naturally, Dan asked Lauren to be his date. It seemed like the perfect double date, except that I didn’t like Dan.
He and I had become friends through a political student-run organization, but I’d heard through the grapevine that he’d been saying terrible things about my body to his friends. I was already well aware that I had extra wide hips, and so I had no desire that he was telling guys about them, as though other people didn’t have eyes of their own.
For the sake of fun, I decided to suck up my grudge and go to the dance in this small group anyway.
After we had dinner, Dan pulled me aside. “Hey, I heard that you were mad at me because of some things that you thought I said, but I promise you, I never said anything bad about you EVER. I think you’re a really cool girl and I wouldn’t want to damage our friendship like that.”
I smiled as I put on my jacket. I didn’t believe his innocent act, but I could tell it was beating him up, so forgave him just the same. “It’s cool,” I said. “Guess it was just a rumor. Thanks for talking to me about it.”
And suddenly, the evening became much better.
Dan drove the four of us to the dance. A student band played original rock music that no one could dance to, but everyone tried anyway.
We mingled, took pictures, and swayed to the music. Then we decided to leave early and go to our friend’s after party.
Pat had had an obvious crush on me for a while, and though he was good looking and fun, he was also nice. I was 17, so it would be years before I’d find the whole-package appealing. However, as we left the dance together, I found him more charming than usual. I scooted into the back seat of the car, stopping in the middle so I could be close to him. He put his arm behind me and I snuggled in to his warmth.
I was smiling about how fast his pulse was racing, when suddenly, the car swerved.
I sat straight up.
“Woah, what was that?” Lauren asked.
“I don’t know, I think it was a cat,” Dan said.
“A cat?” My heart jumped. “Turn around!” I ordered. Pat’s had slid from my shoulder to the small of my back, but I was already scooting away from him to look out the window.
I peered out onto the wide suburban street. There was a dark lump in the middle of the road. We drove past slowly.
“Oh, God,” I said.
“I think I saw it move,” Dan said hopefully.
“Turn around again,” I said. He was already making another u-turn around the boulevard.
He parked a few feet from the body and we all got out. I led the group, trotting to the middle of the road. Then I froze. It was a black cat and it was lifeless. The others caught up and circled around the animal in silence.
“It’s dead,” I said.
Pat took off his suit coat and set it on the ground beside the cat. He bent down and carefully rolled the still- warm body onto his coat. Then he grabbed the lapels and carried the cat, now in a hammock, to the side of the road. He unrolled it onto the grass between the road and the sidewalk. Again we gathered and stared.
Then Dan said, “Sir, do you have a cat?”
I looked up. I hadn’t even noticed the old man standing on his porch right beside us.
The man walked our way a bit, puffing on a freshly lit cigarette.
“Do you have a cat?” Dan repeated.
The man crossed the sidewalk and looked down at the cat. “Oh, Cricket,” he said quietly.
I bit my lip.
Another younger man came outside behind him. “What is it dad, is it Cricket?” He asked.
“Yeah, he’s dead.”
“I’m so sorry,” Dan said. “I wasn’t speeding or anything, he just ran out right in front of me.”
The old man looked at us, as if for the first time. Around his pet were four teenagers in formal wear, shivering and feeling terrible. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Cricket shouldn’t have been outside this late at night.”
“I’m so sorry,” Dan said again.
“You kids go on, have a good night. This isn’t your fault,” the man said.
Everyone started walking back to the car. As soon as I turned away from the two men and their cat, I lost it. I made a strange sound between a choke and a moan, and then tears began to roll down my face. Pat walked close and rubbed my back. By the time we sat in the back seat again, I was sobbing. I leaned on Pat’s chest and bawled, tears dripping onto his white shirt as he rubbed my hair.
In the front seat, Lauren, a dog person, snickered quietly at me. And Dan said to her, “Great, now Anna will never forgive me.”
But I didn’t hear them. I cried on Pat until my body stopped shaking and I was just a sniveling mess in a nice dress, on my way to a party.