I’m in a (fairly) good place right now, mentally. Not beating myself up, not assigning fault and blame, not freezing up or melting down. Life is steady and peaceful, mostly.
But certain situations can still trigger memories for me, that still hurt, and I don’t know how to handle this level of hurt and stop the transportation of me back to helpless childhood and re-experiencing those feelings. So I think I need to share a sad story and see if I can grieve for this day in my past too, and then (maybe) it will get out of my head and lose (some of) its power over me.
My current dog is very old, and I love him dearly, he’s sweet and neurotic like me. He has some old age health issues and sometimes has trouble breathing at night, and sometimes I hear him and wake up and just go hold him, in case those are his last breaths I want to be there for him. Mostly I feel strong and calm, and just live in those bittersweet moments as they come, just being there.
Trouble is it brings me right back to a time in sixth grade. If you don’t feel like crying right now, please don’t read this story.
My father, the psychopath that abused his entire family in one way or another, also controlled us with the fear that our pets would be taken away from us. I can’t even recall how many dogs and cats we had growing up – I never knew animals could live so long as my current pets. My dad did not believe in veterinary care at all. Money was not for pets. Dad had let us pick out a puppy finally, years after the last dog died mysteriously. I was quite young, but I recall that old dog fondly, and recall the day it started bleeding. I recall a neighbor saying it looked like it was poisoned, and dad saying something about it being stupid enough to eat poison it deserved to die. I watched that dog die, and watched my dad flop it into a garbage bag and take it to our trash can by the garage. The next day when dad was at work, my brother got the dog from the can, and we went into our back woods and buried the poor thing. We never told dad.
I loved that new puppy, more than anything, and certainly more than my parents. I did my best to train it, but it was very young (and so was I!) and it was not yet potty-trained. I would rush home from school to clean up any messes it made while we were gone all day before dad could discover it. One day dad found a mess that I did not, and though he never yelled, never raised his voice, his silent anger was terrifying. He calmly picked up that puppy and put in a cardboard box. He told us we were not allowed to take him out of there. I slept on the floor next to that box and listened to my puppy cry all night. I knew this was just a punishment, but that if I did take him out, the punishment would likely be much worse.
We were all much more careful, and eventually puppy got potty-trained. But it was still energetic and poorly trained. It chewed up daddy’s shoes one day. A few days later, I came home and couldn’t find my dog. He was gone. Dad said it ran away. We were not permitted to call around or post missing signs. All us kids combed the neighborhood for weeks, possibly months, calling and looking for that dog. I still don’t know what he did with our dog.
So I took to having secret pets. I would rescue birds, stray cats, even field mice. We would feed them scraps outside. I had one stray cat that year, that was so fluffy and friendly, it was always in our yard. I started to let kitty in the house, sneaking it into my room after school, and putting it back out before dad came home. The nights were getting colder and I was getting worried for kitty. One night the news (11 o’clock news – I was never told to go to bed as a kid) warned about the wind chill and to not leave any pets out that night. I begged to bring kitty in, just for the 1 night. I was told no. I snuck in kitty easily, but never thought it through, and of course we were discovered.
My dad was furious, but again, no yelling. He calmly went to the cupboard and got out the bottle of disinfectant (lysol or pine sol) we used to clean floors. He said I couldn’t have a nasty germy creature in the house, and dumped most of the bottle on the cat. And then told me to clean the floor and anything else the cat had touched – meaning me, so he dumped the rest on me. It burned my skin where it touched me, and burned my lungs to breathe it, and burned my eyes. I started coughing, and my dad started laughing. Said I looked like a drowned rat, and told me to wash up. I did – I had to get that stuff off of me, but I didn’t want to leave kitty, so I did it very quickly. When I came out of the bathroom, kitty was gone. Dad said it asked to go outside.
I went to the big sliding glass door and looked for kitty. I put on my coat and boots and went out to call for kitty, but the snow and wind chill and my wet hair was too much, I had to go back inside. I sat by the back door and waited.
Kitty did come back, and I sat there watching it through the glass, mewing at me. I was paralyzed, too scared to open the door, but not willing to turn my back on my friend. I lost it. I started crying. Howling. I knew I’d get in trouble, but the sobs were uncontrollable. I don’t remember who opened the door, or how many hours I went on like that. But finally, kitty was permitted inside, just to shut me up so dad could sleep. Kitty’s fur was frozen solid everywhere the disinfectant had it wet. It could not move its back legs at all, ice had encased them. It could not open one eye, and blood was trickling from it. We got towels to wrap it in, and waited for kitty to thaw, and then slowly gave it a warm sponge bath to remove the posionous cleaner, and then blow dried and rubbed it with towels. Usually cats do not like this sort of attention, but kitty was not moving much or fighting us. Once kitty was all clean, I held it, like a swaddled baby, and watched its chest move harder and harder as it gasped for air. I found the yellow pages and called a 24 hour vet. The vet said milk might help dilute the poison, but that we should bring it in immediately. We put a saucer of milk in front of it, but it didn’t want any, so we got a medicine dropper and tried to perk it up with drops of milk. We lifted its little head and rubbed its throat, it didn’t seem to be swallowing. Eventually brother fell asleep, but I didn’t. I sang and petted my kitty until it had no more strength to lift its head, and then no more strength to breathe.
My dad found me in the morning, holding a dead kitty, and called me a fool. He said I killed that cat by loving it. He said if I had followed his rules and not been feeding the cat secretly, it would not have relied on me to take care of it and would have been safe on its own somewhere.
I’m not sure how, but I got ready for school and got on the bus like usual. I could not concentrate and held back tears all day. Finally, the teacher’s helper asked me why I was sad. I told her my cat died last night. Her answer is permanently etched in my brain, “Oh, is that all? Sweetie, it was just a cat.”
Just a cat. Right.