I ran over my cat today with the car.
She was my Christmas present in 2004. Daniel was trying to postpone fulfilling the demands of my uterus. Back in those days, Northgate Mall hosted regular pet adoption days. He surprised me one Saturday by taking me to the mall (this was before either of us worked there, so it was a trip out of the ordinary for us). We ooodled puppies and kittens and discussed the dog option. We’d just bought a house with no real yard and were each working 40-50 hours a week, so we decided that the canine option was not for us. Plus dogs are just so . . . dependent. Also, not so much for us.
I started looking at the cats. No fluffy cats. No male cats. No mean cats. No de-clawed cats. Then I saw Kitty. A gorgeous tortoiseshell, she seemed twitchy and nervous. We found out she’d had a litter of 8(!) kittens and nursed them all until they were old enough to adopt out. She was aloof, a wanderer. I liked her, and we brought her home. Our inside/outside cat eventually became strictly outside since we live in a “hardwood rainforest” and she gets fleas regardless of being treated. She was the neighborhood huntress. She was affectionate, but not clingy; she was friendly, but under no one’s dominion. Our dear neighbor, Jim, has scolded her numerous times for slacking on the chipmunk killing (even prompting me to stop feeding her to give her more of an edge for it). Our old neighbors Amy and Ann got her fat and happy last winter with their big hearts to feed all God’s creatures. Our kids both adored her, really learning and practicing the concept of “gentle” with her . . .and she was such a gentle teacher to them.
So, today, one of my worst nightmares played out. I had a car full of groceries and was half an hour late for naptime, so of course something awful had to happen (I regularly play through emergency scenarios when the odds are against me). Kitty, lazy thing as she is when she’s not murdering baby bunnies, was splayed out in the driveway. I was reversing up the hill, watching for her to move. I saw a flash of her tail as she rolled over. And then I felt the bump. You know that weird jolt you feel when a bird flies directly in front of your car and you’re so worried you’ll hit it? But you never do. Because it always catches the wind right before you ram into it. Cats are like birds in that way. They always move just in the nick of time. Except today.
Today I saw her tail, I swear I saw her move, but I felt the bump. And I thought, Please, God, let that be a big branch in the driveway. Before I even had the car in park, I’d opened the door. I saw Kitty limping down the driveway, and I knew the bump had been her. Trying to not let the kids see my imminent freak-out, I got them out, sent them up the front steps, grabbed the pack-n-play out of the trunk, and dashed to the door. I could see her pausing half-way down the hill, blood running out of her mouth. Oh, God, it’s bad. As I was rushing to get Atticus ready for his nap (groceries still in the trunk of the car in the 90 degree afternoon), our neighbor across the street rang the bell. Um, something’s wrong with your cat, he said. My immediate response was, Do you have a gun? Because I knew that was what was coming. She’s bleeding from her head; she’s going to have to be put down. The poor man. He doesn’t know me, and I just asked him for a gun. In front of my kids. I am a crazy person. He was so kind, and he offered to take her to the vet for me, but I had no idea what that sort of thing entailed. While I like Kitty, she’s not been to the vet once since we first brought her home. She doesn’t have a collar with a bell or nametag; she doesn’t get rabies shots; I am a total slacker pet-owner. So, of course, my first response is to shoot her . . .how else do people handle bleeding-from-the-head pets?
I called Daniel, made him aware of the emergency, ran the groceries in, got Grey down for her rest, called the vet, sobbing into the phone while trying to set up an appointment. Between all of this, I kept running down to sit with Kitty. She’d limped her way down to the mailbox and lay there, wheezing loudly, blood running out her nose and mouth. Her left eye bulged in the most excruciating way, the pupil completely dilated. I pet her ears and neck, afraid to touch anywhere else. I still wasn’t sure where she’d been hit. Daniel . . .Daniel, Daniel, Daniel. There are no emergencies in Daniel’s world, but he got home in time to take her to the animal hospital. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. After a while I got his text: I’m going to say goodbye. That’s when I poured my second glass of wine. And I cried and cried.
I got a cat (Abby) when I was 9 from a family in our church. We kept her through her first litter (read a bit about that here). Eventually Mama took her to the pound. When I was 12-ish we got a dog (Tori). One year we came back from vacation to find out that Mama had told our dog-sitting friends to take Tori to the pound. I’ve never really connected with animals the way some people do. I’ve also never had to say goodbye to a pet because at some point they just disappeared. Over these years I’ve wondered about how Kitty would leave us. I’d worried about moving to a rough neighborhood with her, how would she do with the tomcats and new setting. Just this morning I was thinking what a freak I am because I got so mad once that I punched her (I have a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, and it wasn’t a very hard punch anyway . . .let this be a lesson to you: do not screw with my sleep). I am so sad that she is gone, but I’m even more sad that it is my fault. I’ve never really killed anything before today.
When Daniel got back from the hospital, he told me that I must’ve run over her head because her jaw was broken and her temporomandibular joint (TMJ) was dislocated, which was causing all the pressure and swelling in her eye. We could’ve nursed her back to health. She would’ve had a few surgeries, including wiring her jaw back together. We would’ve had to feed her liquids through a feeding tube for several months. While I like Kitty and am weirdly flattered by her offerings of dead beasts in my garden, I am opposed to this sort of medical and financial investment. Saying goodbye was so heavy because of the circumstances. Blah.
So, Daniel went out and got me a cheeseburger (If we were in California, and you were ordering at Ruby’s, what would you want on it? Yeah, he’s a keeper). If there’s ever a time for emotional eating, mourning is that time. Excuse me while I indulge.