"No! Oh no, no, NO!"
My gentleman friend's son's scream echoed somewhere above. Or was it outside? I jumped up, frantic. The dog skittered under my desk, and I considered joining her when I heard my gentleman friend yell.
"Get back! Get back now, go!"
My spleen lodged in my throat, and my skin went icy. I scrambled toward the door, my gut twisting in anguish. I knew what had happened. I knew it. One of our five cats, hit by a car in front of our house. It was bound to happen.
I ran for the stairs, shutting the dog in the office as I raced toward the sound of yelling. The horrified note in my gentleman friend's voice told me it was bad – really bad – probably one of our favorite cats. Maestro? Matt the Cat? Blue Cat?
I hit the landing below the second flight of stairs and collided with a 6'1" wall of frantic male. My gentleman friend pushed past me and ran for the kitchen.
I followed, swallowing hard. "Which cat? How bad? Is the vet still open?"
He grabbed a giant mixing bowl and turned toward the sink. Why would he need a mixing bowl? Where was the cat? I looked around, tallying felines. There was Blue Cat in the dog bed. Was Maggie under the fern?
"The aquarium," my gentleman friend said, jolting me from my cat count. "The TV rolled off the bed and smashed the aquarium."
I blinked at him, regrouping. "Aquarium?"
"I set the TV on the bed to clean it and turned my back for a second and now there's water and glass everywhere. Kids, stay back."
Relief washed over me, flushing out the adrenaline that had flooded my system. I turned and took the stairs two at a time, skidding breathless into the room where the 10-gallon fish tank gushed water over a TV that lay sprawled on its back like a dead tortoise.
I smiled. It was true then. The cats were OK.
I sank to my knees and began hunting for fish. My gentleman friend dropped to the floor beside me, mixing bowl in hand. Together, we located the flopping fish and got them safely into water.
"Ohmygod," I breathed. "The cats are fine."
"What?" he asked distractedly. "Never mind. We need towels."
He ran for the linen closet and returned, dropping a bundle of towels on the bed behind us. Together, we mopped furiously at the water soaking the rug.
"Who do we know with a ShopVac?" I asked.
My gentleman friend was on his feet in an instant, dialing a friend as he ran outside to hunt for a neighbor who might have the desired appliance. He returned moments later, and we set to work slopping through the wetness, sucking and pressing and maneuvering around on all fours.
My gentleman friend shot me a worried look. "Are you OK?"
"If you wanted me wet and on my knees, all you had to do was ask."
He shook his head, probably assuming I was in shock. "I hope the carpet isn't ruined. I hope it's not leaking through the ceiling below. I hope – "
"All the cats are OK," I breathed, smiling wider. "I thought someone was dead, but they're all fine. All this – the carpet, the drywall, the aquarium, the TV – it's so much better than I thought it was going to be."
He blinked at me, then surveyed the overturned furniture, the sodden carpet, the shards of glass littering the floor. He turned back to me. "Not much."
He smiled. Then we both got back to work.
An hour later, we were both damp and bedraggled and exhausted as we knelt there on the floor catching our breath.
"It definitely wasn't the most fun we've had ending up like this," I said. "But it could be worse."
"At least now we have an excuse to take off these clothes."
"We need an excuse?"
The whole experience felt like such a metaphor for the sort of perspective I've found myself needing again and again and again along my writing journey. So often, a setback can feel like the worst thing in the world.
Ohmygod my editor trashed my last book!
Yeah? How fortunate to have an editor.
Dammit, I can't find an agent to represent me!
No? What a gift to be able to write a whole book.
I'm stuck in this plot hole and can't get out!
What an enormous blessing to have the education required to string sentences together on a computer that sits in a warm home with food in the refrigerator and loved ones in adjacent rooms.
I'm not saying the setbacks don't suck. I'm not saying I haven't freaked out a million times over situations that seemed abysmal in the moment. But most of the time, things that seem lousy feel a whole lot less lousy when compared with the lousiness that could have been.
Have you ever had an experience like that? Please share!
I'll be on my knees doing a bit of blowing. I wonder if this hair dryer has a higher setting?