The vet only had two appointments for the day, morning or afternoon, so I took the 3:45. It didn’t seem like the sort of thing I could handle until after the ice show was done.
When I arrived at the rink it was full of parents stringing twinkle lights and plastering the boards with black paper and clear hockey tape, setting the scene, and by 2 p.m. when the lights went down the place was packed. The first small group teetered out onto the ice and I was suddenly emotional, my eyes misting over. It happened again as I watched my oldest senior skater perform, in a dress that clearly wasn’t made for her, a routine we finished three days ago. The salty intrusion confused me for a minute. I had been so relieved to be done with the season, my official ties with this town dissolved, that it was unexpected. They’re good kids. I didn’t want them to think I was abandoning them.
When the final number was over the other coach and I were called to center ice. I didn’t listen to what the announcer said and instead spent my last few minutes on the ice looking at each kid. All winter, so many hours spent just keeping track of them all. The announcer had to call Ava’s name several times before she heard it and rushed over to grab two bouquets and skate them over to us. Lisa hugged her so I hugged her too, but I worried it was the wrong thing to do. I had spent more time shouting across the rink at her than saying nice things when she was close by. Pay attention, stay in your position, leave that other kid alone. But maybe she felt just as strange, had shot her hand up in the air when whatever parent bought the flowers asked who wanted to present them, eager as usual for any chance to stand out, forgetting for a moment that she didn’t actually like me very much. We assembled for a group photo and I squatted next to one of the smallest kids, holding one hand while she used the other to snake broken bits of Doritos through the cage on her helmet and into her stained mouth.
I told Lisa I had to go, grabbed my backpack and walked across the street to the vet. It was just a small white house with a sandwich board out front on the weekends when they were in town. I walked in still holding the bouquet of flowers and worried the vet tech would think I’d got them for the cat. I didn’t want her to think I was the kind of person who would buy a bouquet of flowers and bring them with me to put down my cat. I tried to hold on to the flat, easy feeling from the end of the show, skip like a stone over this part, but my partner arrived with eyes swollen and the cat in his plastic crate and I sank back down. I lifted him onto the exam table and he flopped to one side, too weak to be either curious or upset. The vet shaved a small patch on his front paw, slid the needle in and he was gone.