Tourist traps and desert cat funerals

We left the KOA pretty soon after I got hugged by the preacher. (Ha! There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.) Hazel was really sad that we didn’t get to ride the bikes again. She’s got big emotions, this kiddo. She’s learning how to make room for them without lashing out at the people around her. It’s a process. But, I get it. She’s still learning to ride a two-wheeler, so those jeep bikes were a cool kind of freedom (without the juvenile marker of training wheels).

So, she was crying as we pulled out of the KOA. But we were headed to Wall Drug, which we had built up as the place where kitsch dreams came true (yes, I was secretly hoping there would be a Dolly bobble head, but no such luck). It turned out to be a crowded mess of a place, but we did find some presents for family back home. And Hazel tried on the most perfect pair of $500 cowgirl boots (if they had them in my size I would have had to splurge.)

We only lasted about 45 minutes in that tourist trap, and then we headed south to the badlands.

The Badlands can hold a lot of grief

There have been so many times since the red woods that I wanted to tell the girls about Daisy. Like when Iris said that she couldn’t wait to get home and hug her. Or every time she mentioned how even though we were getting kittens, she would make sure Daisy knew she was the queen. (Dagger, meet heart)

But, something kept holding me back. I had made up my mind that the badlands were the place to tell them, and that’s what I was going to do. I’m not sure what I thought would happen, but I knew it was going to happen there.

We pulled through the gates of the park and immediately saw a ton of prairie dogs scampering around. We drove alongside a big ravine and caught our first glimpse of the magical striped desert landscape that used to be the bottom of a great inland sea.

We pulled into a parking area at pinnacle point, put on our hats and masks, and wandered down to the craggy edge. We were staring out across the landscape when I took a deep breath and said: there’s something I need to tell you. It’s not good.

Their faces dropped. What happened next was mostly expected:

I told them that our sweet Daisy had passed away. In an instant, they both began to wail. Iris stormed off back to the RV, mumbling about this fucking hemp trip. Hazel stayed by my side, crying as I followed Iris back to the RV.

We went through all the emotions back in the RV, in the parking lot at pinnacle point. We cried. Hazel kicked Dolly. I hugged them and said I was sorry. Iris said she hated hemp. And was never traveling again and “why did you have to take me somewhere cool to tell me? Why couldn’t you tell me at some shitty spot.” Damn good question, Iris. To which I could only respond: I have no idea. I didn’t know what to do, and this was the best I could think of. She actually understood that and nodded and touched my hand, the first recognition that this was hard for me, too. We asked the universe why the fuck this had to happen again!!! (A little history: Two years ago, when we travelled to Worlds for Iris’s Odyssey of the Mind competition, we lost our 8-month old cat Nicholas who we got for Iris for Christmas that year… after having lost Francis Francis, the cat we had gotten for her for her birthday, to the road a few months earlier. Which was a year after we lost our sweet old cat Rocco… That’s a lot of dead cats. Iris only stopped wearing Nicholas’s collar as a bracelet this past spring.) So yeah, we had a lot to process in the badlands.

But, we did it. And then we got out some of those rocks we picked up on the beach in Oregon. We wrote messages to Daisy on them and we walked back out onto the dusty cliff top at pinnacle point. We found a nice spot off the path, by a sagebrush bush, where we placed the rocks for Daisy and we said our goodbyes. We’ll have another funeral when we get home, but this was a necessary and beautiful (if tragic) memorial. Later, in the car, as we drove through the beautiful desert, Iris said that she’d like to visit the spot again someday and see if the rocks are still there. And that Daisy would like it there.

There were more tears and there are still more questions, but at least they know now. And as I write this we are two days from home.

And, in a moment of synergistic balance, while we were in Wall Drug, our friend Brad told us that one of the kittens he had sent us a picture of was available for adoption after all (originally we were too late and the kittens had all found homes. But one of the homes fell through and he texted to ask if we wanted the kitten). So, while we were shopping in tourist hell, preparing to go to the Badlands to break the news to our girls, he and his daughter were driving to pick up our new kitten (yes, we are gluttons). So, after Daisy’s memorial, as we drove through the Badlands (and somehow had a cell signal) we were getting pictures of our new tiny gray kitten. Iris decided to call him Hiccup, after her favorite character in How to Train Your Dragon. (And she’s pretty sure Daisy somehow played a role in Hiccup’s first home falling through, so we could adopt him.)

We’re still on the lookout for Hiccup’s playmate, but we have a few good leads.

Next stop, Lincoln Nebraska. Then Wednesday, Western PA snd Thursday, home! Where we get to love on our doggo (and introduce him to his new brother Hiccup).

Wish us luck!!