I was sleeping deeply, floating in black unconsciousness, unaware that I was even doing so. Until, that is, a familiar sound sent urgent whispers into my ears, echoing back through 18 years, reverberating with distress and bringing me to full-blown hyper-aware wakefulness.
Somewhere, a cat was puking.
I sat bolt upright in bed, pupils dilated, eyes searching the room, ears focused on every small sound, trying to pinpoint the exact source of the retching. I scrambled to the end of the bed, hands firmly planted, and peered over into the darkness of the floor. There he was, poor little Colbert, barfing. Drew didn't hear a thing - in fact, even when his sleeping self turned on the light for me, he still didn't properly wake up, so he had no idea Colbert was sick until this morning. Clearly, Drew does not have the pet barfing-sound recognition skills that I have so keenly developed over the years.
It all started with our dogs. Dog heaving-sounds are so distinctive that anyone who has ever heard it can now remember that noise. Duke and Duchess were rarely sick, but when they were, everyone in the house could hear it. At first I didn't do anything about it; I was 10 when we got the dogs, and even at 11 or 12 my barf-cleaning skills were not well developed. Instead the sound would wake me up, but I'd either see the hall light go on at the same moment, as Mum went to address the puke situation, or I would go into my parents' bedroom to apprise them of the puke situation.
However, within a few years I'd figured out how to clean up dog vomit, which was useful since Duke had decided somewhere along the way that my bedroom was the best place to throw up in. If he was ever sick, he would be right beside my bed to do it. I would be awoken from sleep by that beauteous melody: hhhhhuuuurrrrrrr hhhhhuuuuurrrrrr hhhhhhhuuuuuurrrrrrrr hhhhhhuuuuuuurrrrrrr hhhhhhuuuuuurrrrrrrr hhhhhhhuuuuuurrrrrrAAACKAUUUGH!
I knew then: somewhere, a dog was puking.
In the middle of the night, in the middle of the hhhhuuuuurrrrrs I would scramble for a magazine or piece of paper or anything I could shove under Duke's nose before the final hurACKAUGH! moment. He would maybe try to move his head to barf on something other than my magazine or paper - preferring to mess up the rug - but barfing dogs are semi-paralyzed, so he couldn't go very far.
Now, any time I hear that familiar hhhhuuuurrrrr* sound I snap into consciousness like an on-call ER doctor, and leap into action. Cats aren't semi-paralyzed when they barf; they're hyper-mobile and afraid of their own throw up, so they sort of run around mid-vomit and get it everywhere. It's terrible. But, the faster you get there to grab it off the floor, the less likely you are to step in a pool of cold puke first thing in the morning.
Pet barfing-sound recognition would be a very valuable life skill if it weren't for the fact that it's not.
*As a point of interest, cat retching sounds more like this: hhhomhhhomhhhomhhhomhhhomhhhAAACH!