INTRODUCTION Choose Your Own Romantic Adventure
My boyfriend and I were on our third date with another couple when our cat Jean died.
That’s not quite accurate: we were chopping up cucumbers and avocadoes for a romantic DIY sushi night with Tony and Meg when our cat’s legs collapsed beneath him. I met Meg through work—a place where you are traditionally quiet about being in the kind of relationship in which you and your partner could be dating another couple. But after I left my job, Meg and I stayed friends on Facebook, and Facebook is a considerably less private sphere. On social media, I’m out as being polyamorous—that is to say, I practice ethical, consensual nonmonogamy. Meg messaged me one night to tell me that she was poly, too. “Let’s be friends, possibly?” she wrote. “Or feel free to ignore this message; I promise not to find it rude if you choose to.”
Meg had been my superior at work, and from the moment I met her I had a big, fat, unprofessional crush on her. She wrote scathing, intelligent news analyses (superhot when you’re a writer), and she had a dexterity to her walk; later I would find out she was into circus arts and acroyoga. So, months later, after I’d left the job and figured I would probably never see Meg again, I was dizzy to get a message from her. I responded that, uh, yes, we should totally be friends, I mean, ha ha, I’m not weirdly eager or anything; I’m, like, superbusy, but if she wanted to, you know, I would like to . . . whatever. Somehow, through the
grace of the universe, this rambling spurt of a reply didn’t drive Meg away, and a few weeks later, she came over for dinner.
At dinner, I tried to act cool and look Meg in the eye a few times, but it was difficult, because she was even more beautiful and interesting than I had remembered her being. Luckily, my boyfriend, Luke, was also there, and he quelled the tension. He’s a pro at asking good questions (“What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done for love?”)—it’s one of the things I loved the most about him when we met. Regardless of the presence of a third person, though, I still felt like I was on a date with Meg. Luke knew I had a crush on her; if she didn’t know I had a crush on her, then she was (mercifully) ignoring a few pretty obvious signs. I think the vibe was felt around the table.
We went to the sex party, which was amazing. I’m sure you have a lot of questions about the sex party (such as, “What is a sex party, exactly?”), and I promise that, eventually, I will answer them. But this part of the book is about my cat, who left the world before his time, and the people who were there to care for us in his wake.
At the sex party, we met Tony, who is one of Meg’s partners (the one she lives with). We also, technically, met Meg’s other partner and a host of people Meg dates or has dated or plays with from time to time. But Luke and I both felt drawn to Tony, who was refreshingly forthcoming. A week later, Meg asked if Luke and I wanted to go on a date with her and Tony, and we both thought that sounded great.
If I had been nervous about my friendly initial dinner with dreamy Meg, I was a wreck about going on an actual date with her and her partner. It was especially terrifying to embark on dating another couple as a couple—territory neither Luke nor I had any practice with or guidelines for. At the end of the date, if I wanted to kiss Meg or Tony or both of them, did I ask? Did we all have to kiss the first kiss together, in a kind of Spring Break–style quadrilateral?
The date was really like any other date: We ate dinner and learned about one another. We asked questions about childhood; we told stories about past loves. There was kissing at the end, and while I’d love to get into that right now in detail, I’m telling you about this date right here and now only because I want you to know, at least marginally, the nature of our relationship with Meg and Tony before I tell you about the night Jean passed away.
Everything was nearly ready for our date that night: the sushi rice had been cooked and was cooling, and the seaweed was artfully arranged on a red plate. I’d even tempered some chocolate and was dipping butter cookies in it for dessert. When Jean’s legs collapsed, I called the vet, hoping he would say something like, “Oh, yeah, cats’ legs collapse all the time. That’s normal. Give him three sips of water and he should be good as new.” But instead, he said that we needed to take him to the emergency room immediately. So Luke got the cat carrier, and I called Meg.
I should pause to say that while people who have cats are generally a little crazy about them, I am high on the spectrum of this feline-related lunacy. I buy food for my cats that costs significantly more than the food I buy for myself. When I go out of town, I call the cat sitter and ask to speak to my cats on the phone. Jean was one of a pair; Puppy, the other cat, seemed deeply troubled by Jean’s sudden collapse, and that felt like another major crisis that had to be dealt with.
“Come over,” I told Meg distantly. “Call Tony and tell him what happened, and when you get here, we’ll sort it out.”
I told Luke to take Jean to the vet and to call me when he got there, and we would go from there.
When she came into the apartment, Meg didn’t even take off her coat before she held me tightly in her arms. “What do you need,” she said, making it a statement, not a question; like she was going to do whatever it took to make this situation better and easier. I didn’t have words. I just let her hold my hands.
Tony arrived just as Luke called from the vet. I shut myself in the bedroom and took in the bad news: it was a heart condition, and it was serious, and they didn’t know if Jean would make it.
When I left the bedroom to tell Meg and Tony, I couldn’t get the words out.
The second time I said it, Meg seemed to grasp the subtext: I needed them to stay. I needed someone to be with Puppy; I needed someone to hold us to the ground.
Tony and Meg made the sushi. When we had to pay an ungodly amount of money for the procedures Jean required, I called Meg and
had her find my emergency credit card and read the number to me over the phone. When we got home, exhausted, defeated, and in total despair, they were still there. They stayed. They cleaned. When they finally left, holding us both a little longer than normal during their good-byes, I thought to myself, “This is what love is.”