When I was about eight, my dad hit my dog with a car, and she died. As I had decided not to bring her upstairs with me when given the opportunity shortly before the accident, I have always blamed myself.
For my seventeenth birthday, despite her allergy, my mom allowed me to get a kitten. I named her Jordan, and loved her very much. That year was a tremulous one for me, however, and I ended up moving into a shelter for a few weeks, where she was not allowed to come.
The shelter set me up on welfare – that was standard practice – and got me into an apartment of my own, where Jordan was allowed to stay.
In that first apartment of mine, I lived in a small attic of a house, with no screens on the window, and a very sensitive smoke alarm. If I cooked anything with the windows closed, the alarm would go off through the house. So I often left the windows open.
Jordan liked to go out, and sit on the roof of the house, and one day she ventured further. That July, she had four kittens.
By that time, a friend had moved in with me, and we relocated to a larger apartment, in a not so great area of town. We met our upstairs neighbours when they climbed down the balcony, and came through our sliding door. These same neighbours, on the day Jordan had her kittens, brought us another cat that had been left at their home during a party.
When the kittens grew old enough, we found homes for two of them. My son’s birth father had moved in with me, and once more we found ourselves moving, as my friend didn’t want to live with him. We rented out the main floor and basement of a house, where we lived with my cats – Jordan and Judas, and John’s cats – Spook and Satan (nice guy.)
The trouble was – well likely a lot more than that, but for the purpose I am speaking about today – John, being seventeen, couldn’t get welfare (his parents wouldn’t sign the papers) and he didn’t have a job. However, because he moved in with me, I lost half of my cheque, and couldn’t afford rent or anything else.
For four months we were all starving. Literally. We had no food, so obviously the cats were hungry, too. With my digestive issues, I couldn’t eat a lot of the food from the food banks, either. We were sick, poor, and very hungry until we decided to move in with John’s parents. The SPCA came and took Jordan (who by that time would attack anyone other than me who came near her, as John was so cruel to her), Satan (who was tiny from hunger, and had a broken tail – again courtesy of John), and Spook (who was actually a very friendly cat, and may have had a chance.) Judas escaped through the vents, and the upstairs neighbours adopted him.
My failure. My fault.
During those same months, I got a bird. Casey lasted one day when a friend and I were playing with him upstairs, and her boyfriend let Spook out of the basement. Being a cat, he did what cat’s do, and killed him. The boyfriend said it was an accident, but he was not a good guy at all, and I didn’t believe him.
My bird. My fault.
At the age of twenty, my childhood dog, Bandit was living with my mom. She had a lump on her stomach that the vet thought was cancer. She was a nervous dog, who cried whenever she was left alone, and my mom lived in an apartment where she would get in trouble for the noise. When my cousin died, and we needed to be away for the funeral, my mom decided to put my dog down.
I went with them. I don’t know if it would have been easier over the years had I not been there, but the nightmare lives fresh in my mind today (nearly twenty years later.) She was wagging her tail going into the vets office. It felt like murder. It still feels like murder.
I should have stopped it. My fault.
After those failures, I was both afraid of, and begging for another chance with animals. People are maybe… maybe more forgiving with animals. I didn’t chose to harm my pets. I didn’t attack them. I wasn’t a violent person – but the self blame over their experience has been overwhelming.
I have had many animals since then, and have done well with all of them. I have also lost to death 2 cats (age 16 and 15 years), 6 rabbits, and 7 guinea pigs. Many of them I held in my arms as they died, sung to them, and talked to them through their pain. People who know me these days know that I am really good with animals, and the animals tend to like me, and most live long, happy lives.
I relive… fully, truly, relive each of these losses several times a month. Pictures, flashbacks in my mind, songs, details of the days… and many other days I have to block them out. On those days that I can’t, I will cry for each of them again, as if I were losing them again each time I thought of them.
There is where my memory is strongest – in these times of my life that caused the greatest pain. These are the moments that have shown me that I do not live well forward, and that I have far too much power for pain (or powerlessness to avoid it) to live okay the first times through – and there is the reason I fear the future with so much of me.
If I cannot forget, or heal from any of these moments, how can I hope to forget, or heal from my childhood abuse, or the loss of the children I called my own?
Those moments are etched in my heart and mind likely until the day I die. Hopefully then, I will find healing. Until then, I guess the pain will continue.