Sneezing, wheezing, struggling for air with itching and puffy red eyes, my son’s friend sat in the living room on the ottoman, his shoulders hunched, his physique conveying sheer misery.
Not knowing what to do, I asked if he needed some Benadryl.
“No,” he said, trying to tough it out.
“Should I call your mom?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
He tried to make it through the night, but no video game or snack food could ease the attack on his system.
At 2 a.m., clutching his pillow and forsaking his Playstation controller, Orlando staggered home looking like an 80-year-old man who had spent his life working in asbestos without a mask.
My son didn’t understand. Looking much like Orlando had with red-rimmed eyes, he shuffled back to bed, sleepover canceled.
“I hate our cats,” he muttered angrily as Mikey circled his legs and followed him upstairs.
I was filled with guilt and sympathy for both boys and determined to find a solution.
From that point forward we went through a ritual when Orlando came over, vacuuming with a Hepa filter, running an ozone air-purifier and spraying the cats with an anti-allergen pet spray.
And Orlando did his part too, bringing his inhaler and taking a good dose of allergy medicine.
Years passed, Orlando moved and we forgot about the poisonous affect our critters could have on outsiders.
That is until I got a call from my son after school one day.
“Hey kiddo, how was your day?” I asked.
“Horrible,” he said.
“My teacher is allergic to me.”
Thinking it must be a joke, I laughed and drawled, “Really…”
It wasn’t a joke.
My son had been in the classroom a few short minutes when his teacher started to sneeze. Gradually the sneezes turned into labored breath and with eyes swelling, she faced the class and asked, “Who has a cat?”
My son fessed up and together they deduced his hoodie, covered in kitty fuzz, had the effect of kryptonite on her.
Offending article moved to a closet, they managed to get through the day, he said.
“I have cat hair on all my clothes,” he said. “What are we going to do? If she gets near me she starts sneezing and can’t breathe.”
“Hate the cats,” he said angrily.
He really liked this teacher and I knew he was torn between his love of the cats and the suffering it caused her.
Reminded of Orlando’s time with us, we set about a routine. The hoodie was hung as soon as he got home and tossed in the dryer each morning before he left. While he would shower, I would take clean clothes straight from the drawer and place them in the bathroom, then he went straight from the shower, out the door, morning kitty cuddle time forbidden.
It worked. His teacher’s reaction to his presence subsided and things settled down.
When he traded his hoodie for a leather jacket, things got even better.
He even let Mikey sleep with him again, just taking care in the mornings to eliminate the traces.
He learned a lot from the experience and I hope he keeps those lessons with him.
Sometimes the things we love conflict with one another and harmony doesn’t just happen.
With a little effort and consideration my son was able to have his favorite kitty and his favorite teacher in his life.
Whether or not she ever knew he thought about her every day, I was proud.
And even if it was just the time it took to toss a hoodie in the dryer, my son devoted at least one flicker of his thoughts each morning to the comfort of someone else.
Now if he can just learn to do his chores. Oh well.
Sharna Johnson is a staff writer for Freedom New Mexico. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org