Stinky, in a drawing and frame made by J. (Like I said, he could do anything.)

Cold Comfort

TO UNDERSTAND WHY my cat Stinky has lived in my ex-boyfriend’s freezer for 18 years, you have to understand Stinky. And my ex, who I’ll call J.

There was no greater cat. He was my gateway to all cats. He appeared one day in the weedy lot we rented behind our loft in industrial Boston, dozing in the sun on the hood of the Rambler convertible we stored there. A wide, handsome face, black spots on a white coat, the filthy white of a stray who exulted in rolling in the soft pebbly grit that collects beside the curb on city streets. He agreed to live with us. He came when we whistled. He walked anywhere on a leash. He rode in the car, supine on the back ledge, bringing joy to every passing motorist who noticed the cat going 70 down the highway. One time when we flew with him, the ticket agent was so charmed she upgraded us all to first class. The flight attendants served him cream. He was king of the world.

When I went to grad school in Ohio for two years, Stinky came along to keep me company. This was a gift from J., because as much as I loved Stinky, he loved him even more. And because like so many kings of legend, Stinky had a tragic weakness. He was FIV positive. We knew the virus would almost surely lead to his early death, so every day with him was a day to treasure.

J. was a king, too, a Leo by birth, a wonder who could do anything: wire a house, rebuild a car engine, teach himself Chinese, understand tax law, paint your exact likeness, sew you a bat costume for Halloween, multiply large sums in his head, forgive you when you got drunk and stupid, let you leave him when you fell in love with someone else yet continue to be your best friend.

It was the hardest and saddest of all partings. I left them on a frigid, windy day in January, having gone back to Boston to pack all my belongings for the one last drive, alone, to Ohio. Six years later, Stinky died in the night, exhaling his last breath as he lay on his best friend’s chest.

J. couldn’t bear to bury him, never to see him again. Instead, maker and fixer that he is, he decided to taxidermy him, a plan I wholeheartedly endorsed. He covered him with a bandana, placed a penny on top for good luck on the way to heaven, zipped up the plastic bag, and put Stinky in the freezer. And there he still is. Not just because some of us are procrastinators par excellence, but because pets hold all the feelings it would break our hearts to feel. Keeping him on ice is a way of keeping grief deferred. —Deborah Way

Adapted by permission of O, The Oprah Magazine.