It was hardly a year that I had met Oliver and we decided to get married. I was twenty six then. Oliver was twenty eight. Even though we had known each other for almost a year, a new found closeness developed, fueled by the happiness that comes with a wedding, new people, new friends, and new experiences.
Within a month of getting married we got a kitten, a ginger tabby, with bright yellow eyes and a tail bushier than bottle brushes. To nobody's surprise (even though the cat was a female) we called her Garfield. Oliver and I were both big fans of the comic strip and collected books, movies and anything we could find related to it.
Garfield was the best cat one could ever hope to have. She had the usual habits cats generally have- rubbing her face into objects around the house, hissing at insects, catching small prey and bringing it to us at times to say thank you, randomly purring and stretching out all over the house, jumping at new unknown artifacts and furniture, wanting to get scratched etc. But unlike most cats, she never hid or slunk away when there were strangers around, she never had problems with us leaving her with our friends when we took trips, even learnt tricks Oliver taught her and turned out to be quite the star at any party we hosted at our place. Two years flew by in infinite happiness as we worked, traveled, laughed and spent time doing everything possible together. Two years before I missed my period for the first time in my life.
In the third week of March 2014, I realized that the familiar squirming pain that usually accompanied the periods was not there. I gave it a week's time and then another to be sure before I let Oliver know. My husband's joy knew no bounds at the news. Over the next few months, Oliver took care of me as best as he could and Garfield never left my side the whole time, perhaps sensing the new adventure about to start.
Lily was born on twentieth November, 2014. The two years that had seemed indescribably happy and the most peaceful stood no chance against the happiness that gushed through my body that day making me quiver. Lily had the tiniest nose, hands, ears, feet; her eyes were shut tightly as her eyeballs moved under the pale thin eyelids, dreaming of worlds we would never know about.
When we got home with Lily, we weren't sure how Garfield would react to this new member of the family. I watched as Oliver brought Garfield over to Lily's cot. Garfield's eyes widened and she looked back and forth between Lily, me and Oliver a couple of times. Finally, realization seemed to dawn as she finally looked at the sleeping baby. She stopped twitching and reached out a paw to touch Lily and let out a low purring noise. The family was complete now. Oliver and I smiled at each other.
Lily was a weak child. She needed constant attention and seemed to be ill all the time. I had to quit my job to stay with her. Oliver got a new job but even though the money was good, he didn't like the work much. He would come back home in a sour mood most of the days and we had an increasing number of fights over the most trivial of issues.
As Lily grew up we understood that there was something wrong with her. Apart from being sick most of the time, she had trouble recognizing and responding to us, her speech abilities did not seem prominent yet her motor senses seemed fine. After prolific tests and checkups, the doctors pegged Lily's condition on autism.
The future looked a bit darker than before.
Oliver and I sat down that night to discuss how we would work things out. I couldn't go back to my job. Oliver was okay with the new job and agreed to make it work. We sat at the dinner table, talking into the night. Around midnight, Garfield came in from somewhere outside and dropped a small mouse at my feet and looked at me and purred. Now I would have to smile, pet her and say thank you and then throw out the mouse myself later. Once she was satisfied with my response, she went sauntering towards Lily's room.
Lily and Garfield were the best of friends. Whatever Garfield did, wherever Garfield went, Lily tried to imitate her. If Garfield was sleeping under the bed, Lily would curl up under the bed beside her. If Garfield was out in the backyard running around, Lily would be out there with her. They even slept in the same room on matching pillows. We were thankful we had Garfield to keep Lily company. The doctors always stressed on the fact that having pets around for companionship is good for autistic children and sometimes for even grown-ups.
When Lily was four years old, Oliver and I decided to have another baby following the advice of my mother and the doctors. A new baby, a sibling, always helped. Garfield was getting on in terms of age too. She was eight years old already. I could still remember that excited little ginger kitten we had brought home almost like yesterday.
Lily was almost five when Samuel was born. She and Garfield had almost the same reactions when Oliver and I brought home Samuel. As Garfield had done earlier with Lily, both of them looked at me and Oliver a couple of times before Garfield purred and Lily squealed. I picked up Lily and kissed her on the cheek telling her that the baby was her new brother, Samuel. She repeated the name slowly and smiled. Garfield went out of the room and Lily followed her out. I looked at Oliver with a hopeful smile- maybe things would get better here onward.
Lily's speech was slow and hesitant, her eyes seemed to focus late, she needed time to respond when talked to, she did not understand everything at the first time and kept making the same mistakes a few times before she understood that she was wrong. But she was immaculately perfect with her motor senses, if anything a little slow, but none that would hint in any way at her mental condition. We had put her in a different school that addressed students with special needs and she seemed to be doing good there. Oliver's new job left him tired and irritable most days and most nights, he would fall asleep on the couch in the living room itself, drink in hand. I never had the heart to wake him and covered him with a blanket as he slept.
A year later, on the day before Samuel's first birthday, Oliver had to work late in office. "Who works late on a Friday night?" I thought to myself but couldn't say anything. Instead, I called up the bakery and asked them if they could deliver the birthday cake we had ordered for Samuel. They did not have a delivery service. So I locked the doors and windows in the house, put Samuel to sleep and left Lily and Garfield playing in the house for half an hour to get the cake. They had done a really wonderful job on the racetrack decoration on the cake. I came home and started setting up decorations for the next day. There would be twelve children and their parents for the party next day. It was almost ten p.m. when Oliver pulled up in the driveway; by which time I was nearly done with the decorations. As Oliver came in, Lily and Garfield went running up to him, both prancing about, Lily shouting excitedly about the party next day, Garfield silently leaping about. Oliver had got presents for all of them- A drag around musical duck for Samuel, a Birthday Barbie for Lily and a rubber toy duck for Garfield that bounced away as soon she jumped on it, making her chase after it everywhere.
We finished dinner and sat at the table talking about the next day. Lily sat on my lap and said that she wanted to dress up like birthday Barbie and Daddy had to dress up like Ken. Oliver smiled and agreed to do so. As we were getting up to go to bed, Garfield came in to the room with another dead mouse that he dropped at Oliver's feet. Great, so much for the present Oliver got her. The gesture of gratitude needed to be thrown outside. I looked at Oliver and said, "Hey, you got the cat a present, now you deal with her thank you!" Oliver patted Garfield in exasperation while Lily and I giggled.
The next morning, Oliver and I were both up early at six thirty a.m. to start getting things ready for the party. Samuel generally woke up crying around ten a.m. and Lily was usually up at nine on Saturday mornings before coming down for breakfast. We had ample time to finish off everything before the day started with all the kids. As we set up tables and chairs in the backyard, Garfield came out and watched us from the porch. After a few minutes, she got bored, climbed up and slept off on the porch swing. By eight thirty a.m. we were finished with setting up everything for the party. The guests would start trickling in at eleven a.m. Oliver settled at the kitchen table with the newspaper and I started putting together a breakfast of pancakes and fruit.
Around nine, we heard shuffling upstairs- Lily was up. As she came down the stairs into the kitchen, I turned around to tell her she needed to get ready by eleven a.m. and paused. She was carrying Samuel in her arms. That was weird, I hadn't heard a sound from Samuel and it was an hour before he generally woke up so if he was awoken, he would have cried. Lily came up to Oliver and in her usual slow and hesitant manner, said "Daddy, I also wanted to thank you for the present you got me yesterday" and placed the tiny, puffy, red, lifeless body on his lap.