I’ve got to warn you that this is a long blog, involving the death of my cat, Itchy, with a summing up of my awareness of the whole episode, now. It may be difficult for some of you to read…
I first met my kittens, Itchy and Scratchy, before they were named and before I ever considered that they’d be coming home with me, someday.
I was introduced to them, their siblings and their proud mother when a friend of a friend showed me them, all curled up together, in a bedside cabinet she’d taken the bottom drawer from in order to create a nest space.
There was plenty of purring from their mother, and the occasional, high-pitched ‘mew’ of squabbling for kitty-titty and milko. I looked in with a huge smile on my face and watched them all for a little while. Kittens are, of course, excellent.
As I am now – and I do realise I’m blowing my dating potential – I was living here at my mother’s house. I mentioned to her one evening, soon afterwards, that I’d seen the kittens and she gave a big ‘Aww’.
We’d had cats and dogs (and a menagerie of other lovely creatures) before, but at that time there were no pets. I didn’t consider that we’d be getting any more, as my Mum had often said: “No! We’re not getting any more pets!” It seemed a resounding resolve.
For some reason, when I told her the colours, she said that maybe it would be lucky to have two black cats around the house!
That was all I needed to know…
Six or seven weeks later, with the very enthusiastic support of my brother’s girlfriend at the time, I was sitting in her car with a cardboard box full of meows, driving our two new, ultra-cute friends to their new home. Her and my brother lived and worked at a hotel in the Lake District, but from her joy at seeing them, you’d think she was taking them off for herself.
One of the kittens was very curious and full of energy, pushing her head up through the closed box as we travelled, trying to get out. As much as I wanted to play, I guessed it would be quite dangerous and distracting to have a scurrying fluff-ball running around a car while it travelled at speed, so I had to restrain both myself and my new friend’s eagerness for a time longer. While she – as we soon discovered – was so bright-eyed and eager to see the world, her twin brother was much more timid and reserved, sitting quietly in the bottom of the box, looking quite lost.
When we got them home, the little girl quickly went off to explore the house, looking in every nook and cranny and probably piddling in a few of them, too. Meanwhile, her brother just looked around and shivered. He got a lot of cuddles and seemed to prefer that to going on adventures with his bold sister.
I’m not sure if it’s because my brother’s girlfriend was bossy or blonde that we gave her the honour of naming the kittens… but she did, and whereas I would have given them splendid, noble names, she degreed that they would be called… yes… Itchy and Scratchy.
Itchy was the boy and Scratchy, you’ve probably worked out, was the girl.
As Itchy found his courage and started his own expeditions around the house, the energy of teamwork with Scratchy began to shine. They were inseperable. They slept together, played together, fought together, ate together and even ran up my legs together when I was opening a can of pusso chunks. Forty tiny daggers in my thighs, but it always made me laugh, despite the blood loss.
Scratchy was quite an aloof, independent soul, compared to Itchy. She didn’t like being picked up and preferred to do her cat thing rather than hanging out with the humans, whereas Itchy was a complete hug monster. Within minutes of my mother getting home from work and sitting down on the couch, he’d be up on her and sitting inside her coat with her.
He’s sit on my chest and put his paws on my face, padding and purring, and he’d chew on my beard when I had one, his big eyes filled with perfect contentment.
As they grew and plucked up the bravery to leave the house by themselves, they went everywhere together. I’d go out in the night and hear two tinkling bells, but never be able to see them until they bounded out of the darkness at me for a stroke and the promise of din-dins.
I’d be sitting in the living room and the curtains would ruffle and soft thumps would announce their return. Whenever they didn’t immediately come into the room, and instead stayed behind the curtains, you could be almost guaranteed that closer investigation would result in the finding of plump earthworms, which both kitties would just stare at with gret curiosity.
They were beautiful… so full of love and life… a great team… perfect twins.
Thirteen years ago tonight… at around 10:50pm… that union was torn apart, along with my heart.
It was the height of Summer and after a long, perfect day, I put on my shoes (I already had the rest of my clothes on) and set out to the local garage/filling station, to buy some cigarette papers. It only takes a few minutes, there and back, down the path to the bottom of my village and across the main road.
When I turned onto the main road – which was and usually is very quiet at that time of night – I noticed two things…
There was a black cat on the grassy verge, at the side of the road. I didn’t know for sure it was one of mine, but my heart leapt, because the other thing was a large van heading fast around the bend, approaching us.
Both were too far away for me to do anything.
I hurried into a trot, moving onto the road, and as the van neared, my mind was willing: “Stay. Stay. Stay.” The cat was turned away and I way praying he’d move in the direction of the hedgerow, if anywhere.
Time seemed to slow down.
At the very, very last moment… where if he’d hesitated a fraction of a second longer, he would have been safe… he ran…
… out into the road…
… under the wheels…
I was already moving towards him in a dazed jog as the van came to a halt.
He was lying on the tarmac, kicking his back legs, still trying to get across the road, but moving nowhere, and even before I got close I knew he was seriously, seriously injured.
I knelt down beside him as he writhed and I put my hands on him. I didn’t know what to do.
I saw the collar. The sodium light had bleached the colour from it, but it was Itchy’s collar… glittery and frayed… and as he pushed with his back legs, there was that tinkling of the bell that always told me he was close by.
The driver of the van, a guy, had walked close. He asked, concerned: “Do you know whose cat it is?”
“He’s mine,” I said.
(Obviously, I must have been in shock during that reply, because… it’s an accepted fact that he was never mine but that I was, in fact, his…)
I picked him up and he was struggling, still trying to twist himself upright and get to the other side of the road.
To my absolute horror, I saw his injuries more clearly as I cradled him in my arms. His jaw had been broken and twisted and… nightmare… one of his eyes had been crushed out of the socket and was hanging.
I tried to put it back in as I carried him across the road and laid him on the grass beside the hedgerow, but it wouldn’t go. My hands were wet and tacky and in the sodium light it looked black, like oil, but the grim realisation was that it was blood.
I knew he was dying and I wanted him to die, then.
The driver of the van asked if there was anything he could do, or anyone he could phone, and I asked him if he had a plastic bag. He said he’d check the cab.
I put my hands around Itchy’s neck and readied to break it… to snap him out of the suffering and send him on his journey. His injuries were massive. I wanted to kill him… because I loved him so damn much.
I put pressure on and he let out a gargle which made me stop immediately… the crazy contradiction being that, though I was trying to bring his death, I didn’t for a moment want to hurt him.
The van growled behind me as it pulled away. The driver had taken the opportunity – while saying he’d look for something I could wrap my little guy in – to drive off.
Without the idling engine, it suddenly became very quite.
I knelt over Itchy. He was just lying there, breathing heavily. His shattered face was hidden from me.
He was letting go. No more struggling.
I stroked him and tried to comfort him as much as I could. I told him I loved him in whispers, my face close to his ear.
Then, it felt like the whole Universe fell into a deep silence to frame what happened next…
He began to purr.
It wasn’t a rasping or choking or anything of struggle…
It was a loud, rhythmic, contented purr.
Tears were dripping from my face onto him, and amidst the torture, it was a moment of beauty to hear that wonderful sound one last time.
He was off his tits on kitty endorphins and he knew I was there, loving him with all my heart until the very end.
And then the end came. The purring stopped. His chest stopped moving. He was gone.
It was such a beautiful night. With a clear sky, as it was then, it never gets dark at this time of year. There were stars out. It was so peaceful, but I’d shifted into some surreal phasing of reality and my heart was breaking.
I left him there for a few minutes and went to the shop, in a daze. Under the fluorescent lights, the tacky black on my hands, forearms and shirt was revealed as a dark red, already drying and flaking in places, but congealing in gelatinous drops elsewhere.
I got my cigarette papers as an afterthought, after asking for some carrier bags that I could use to transport Itchy’s body home in. I can’t remember what I said. There was concern, but no… it wasn’t my blood.
I got back home and took my bundle inside. My Mum was watching the TV and stood up when she saw I was carrying something that I shouldn’t have been.
“Itchy’s been killed,” I said. I broke down as I laid his cooling body on the kitchen floor.
It wasn’t right. It couldn’t possibly be true that my little guy was dead. I loved him far too much.
I don’t recall any more words from that night… just the sense of deep, awful sorrow.
I remember my relief when Scratchy came in through the living room window. She was a little barrel of kittens – absurdly large for her petite frame. She trotted over to me, sitting on the floor, and I told her about her brother, but she didn’t even sniff the body… it was as if there was no connection between the spirit of him that she loved and the shell that was lying there.
The sense of loss in the aftermath… of feeding her alone… one bowl… of hoping there was some mistake and he’d jump down behind the curtain with a big, juicy worm for me to rescue… every waking moment was unbearable.
Nine days later, she gave birth.
I’d prepared a ‘nest’ for her in the living room cabinet, taking out one of the lower draws and filling it with bedding.
She called me when she was ready, with a new, croaked meow, and I sat with her as she pushed out little kitten sausages and her instinct of care took over.
I was there for their very first breaths in this new world. Four beautiful, helpless, utterly adorable new friends, wrapped up in the love of their doting, very-surprised-looking, wonderful mother.
The poignant irony of the death and life, life and death cycle was not lost.
Two of those kittens were Titan and Orion, my boys, now. Their sisters, Bruiser and Piper, were adopted when they were a couple of years old.
Thirteen years on… Scratchy runs in from the garden, up the stairs and meows at me to let me know she’s safe and well. She always does it. I’m the first person she makes for when she gets back in the house.
I lie on my back, on my bed, and she sits on my chest and headbutts me with kitty love while I stroke her. She drools and puts her ear against my mouth as I whisper to her: “I love you.” Hehe. I do it lots and I mean it with my whole heart… think what you want.
I’m often reminded of Itchy, and though I cried writing this (of course), the pain that was once attached to his memory is no longer there. The love is, though, and that’s what bring the tears.
It took me years to come to terms with his death. I was traumatised and my mind must have ran that simulation thousands upon thousands of times, taking me back into the agony over and over again, knowing that whatever it showed me or how many alternative endings it could suggest, there was one certainty… I couldn’t do a thing to bring him back.
Combined with the other problems in allowed myself to believe I suffered from, I know that agony was heightened. I know I should have dealt with it and let go way sooner than I did, but my life has been just how it has been.
And yes… I know some people will be chortling at this story and thinking “It’s only a cat”… but he was my little guy and there was so much love there. He was a member of my family, not a peripheral ‘pet’ that was shooed and treated as an inconvenient burden on the weekly grocery budget. He was loved. He is loved. For those who don’t understand… well… I have compassion for you, all the same. 😉
I went into my mind, writing this story… but now I’m back here, right now, where I am. Any pain that I felt when I immersed myself in the past, to recount these events, is dissolved by the present moment. It is just thought and nothing to harm me in the moment I live in.
I would say this is the most traumatic incident in my life… you could argue that the passage of time has healed the wound, yet if I put my mind back there, it still brings an emotional response.
However, the only way I can feel that emotional response is if I actively put myself into that situation again, inside the mind and – apart from today – I’ve chosen not to do that.
Consider it this way… you know Bambi is a sad film, but unless you actually get the film out and watch it, you’re not going to cry about it, are you?
Wouldn’t it be madness if you were breaking down and weeping all the time because you had Bambi’s Mum being killed looping over and over in your head?
So, Itchy’s death doesn’t hurt me any more… unless I choose to load up that recording and watch it. The same is true for all events that I would have, in the past, considered hurtful.
I’m sure – unless I die first – that I have more experiences of close death to come, but I know that nothing will ever be as prolonged and tortuous as that experience.
I’ll honour the dead by living to the best of my ability, remembering them with love and letting go of the pain that I could only ever be inflicting on myself – those I would mourn would never want me to suffer.