Back when I was married, I did lots of homebody things. We worked on the pipes underneath the house (I actually had to do that twice, which sucked big time), we tried to expand the yard for the animals, we made little improvements that took a lot of time and ate a lot of money but didn’t really outwardly show unless we pointed it out to someone who had been there before we fixed it.

During this time, I felt I bonded with my wife’s father. He was a gruff guy on the exterior. He rode motorcycles, worked on cars and built them from scratch, did a lot of yard work and maintenance things. He was a real “man’s man”. I was the opposite, and I really had no clue what I was doing most of the time when it came to house maintenance. He sort of took me under his wing, tried to show me different things. We bonded on other things like fantasy novels and video games, which he loved. We once played Halo one night for a few hours and chatted the entire time.

One of our biggest projects was when we renovated the entire front entry of the house. We put in new flooring, new insulation, fixed the walls, and even the entryway doors and the ceiling itself. It was a very long process, and took a lot of patience on both our parts. He tried to be patient because I really had no experience with most of the stuff we were doing, and I tried to be patient because even though I had no idea what we were doing I had to trust that he did.

One day we were having a rough time of things. It was going to be a work-all-day kind of day, and both of us wanted to be doing other things but we had to finish the entryway before fall and winter came. It was the day we were going to be putting new insulation in. So, we opened up the walls and were tearing all the old insulation out, shoving handfuls of it into a contracter’s trash bag.

“How’s Bruenor doing?” I asked, mindlessly detaching wall planks. Bruenor was his cat.

“He’s doin’ good,” he said, moving much faster than I was. “Being a jerk as always.”

I smirked. Bruenor was very feisty. Finally getting to the actual insulation, I grabbed a handul of the stuff and ripped a wad of it in half. I tossed the pink pieces into the bag and started grabbing more.

“Yeah, Jetta is the same way,” I said, speaking about my black cat I had named after my first car model. “Just the other day she jumped on the guy who was here to look at our furnace to give us an estimate.”

“She jumped on him?”

“Yeah, she clung to his back and he was spinning around and yelling. She’s evil.”

He laughed and just kept tearing up the insulation. I took another large, thick, sheet of the stuff and tried to tear it. It wouldn’t rip.

“What the heck?” I said, straining to tear it in half.

He laughed. “Havin’ some trouble?”

“Yeah…for some reason….it’s just…not….tear….”

Finally, a corner of it came off and confronting me was the ugly, desiccated corpse of a very large rat. I had unknowingly been trying to tear its dead carcass in half with my work gloves as it was concealed within the insulation. I screamed and dropped the thing on the ground, its face looking up at me in a frozen death snarl. My father-in-law was howling with laughter, crying tears as I shuddered and threw my gloves on the ground in disgust.

Later on, when I would re-tell the story, I included my impersonation of the dead animal and it would make him crack up every time. I believe that The Rat was our little inside joke. It was something we immediately connected on any time it came up. He would often bring it up, do “the face” and chuckle, and I’d laugh right along.