This is a repost from a very, very, very old blog of mine that has since crumbled into digital dust. In this day and age, I am compelled to preface it with a warning [TW: animal violence] because I talk about being a kid who isn’t very nice to her pets. But it’s okay. I got better.
Also, I have edited this down because the original is long and it’s my writing.
It’s been 18 years since I wrote this. Taking stock of what’s changed:
- I’ve put two cats down. One was my lifelong (up to that point) companion, and I still miss her and wish she were in my lap right myow.
- I’m about to release a whole swarm of ladybugs into my garden, repentance for being a shitty 5-year-old.
- Still no hamsters. Probably for the best.
- I feed a lot of neighborhood birds with my feeders. And I have it on good authority that the raccoons and opossums are very fond of my tomato plants, goddammit.
- I have my own 5-year-old. And a 2-year-old. Soooo much repenting.
speaking of cats
Speaking of calicos, one of the webloggers I read had to have his childhood cat (a calico) put to sleep yesterday.
I’ve never had a cat die on me. All my cats growing up just…disappeared.
That was four cats — Keija, Ogden, Callie, and LBK (“Little Brown Kitty” — an old, old stray my mother and I took care of) — who vanished in the course of a year, and all at the same time of year (late Fall). I don’t know what happened to them. I don’t think that I want to.
But they were outside cats, and things happen to outside cats. I’ll never forget the morning Ogden came in blinking at me, and I picked him up and realized he had gotten a hull from some winter wheat in his eye. Lucky for him (and me), he sat still while I pulled it out. Good cat.
A house without a cat just feels so empty. There’s no fun in opening doors or bringing in groceries when there’s no cat around. There’s no reason to purposefully open a book, hoping to lure the cat from her hiding spot to your lap. You feel less important without a cat wailing and banging on your bedroom door, trying to get in to see you. Dogs are great, they make you feel loved, but cats make you feel like an individual.
Hamsters, however, make you feel like a sadist.
damian at age two
Children like to push boundaries. I was no exception. I thankfully had adults around to correct me at the right time.
For instance: ladybugs. I remember very clearly the shock and horror my mother expressed toward me when she caught me pulling the wings off a ladybug. I was about five at the time, sitting by our pool in the desert, happily dissecting the ladybug. And my mother scolding me and telling me ladybugs were good, and I shouldn’t do that.
And then there were the hamsters.
Around the same time, my parents entrusted my sister and I with two hamsters, which my sister named Laverne and Shirley. I think mine was probably Laverne. Not sure. I do remember, though, picking the hamster up by its tail and twirling it. And my mother walking in on me doing just that, and taking my hamster away from me.
(The hamsters later met an unfortunate end when mom put them out in the garage and there was an unexpected cold snap. In the desert, when it gets cold, it gets super cold. They didn’t stand a chance. She still feels bad about it.)
I suspect a lot of the curiosity and unfortunate animal experimentation came from a marked lack of squeamishness when it comes to blood and guts. As I got older, this ability to deal with the ick factor meant certain tasks fell to me. Rat in the kitchen? Go get Steph. Cat drag in a lizard? Go get Steph. Possum under the bed? Go get Steph. All of this happened, and all of this required me, the youngest and “bravest”, to deal with it.
(My siblings are brave in their own ways. I’m brave with a broom around wild animals.)
which brings us to the bird
You might get the impression I’m a serial killer in training at worst, a well-adjusted sociopath at best. But now we get to the other half of the story where everything flipped.
When our mother cat had kittens, she would go hunting for them because her instincts were in overdrive. She’d bring back all sorts of things — mice, birds, lizards — and sometimes they’d be dead, and sometimes…ehhhh, not so much. The kittens liked to play their own form of “cat volleyball” with the unfortunate critter. And you could always tell when she’d brought one into the house, because the discovery was usually followed by my sister or my mother yelling for me to come get the half-dead critter and throw it outside.
One time, the cats brought in a bird. And the bird was still alive. So it fell to me, of course, to carry the sad thing outside. The cats had done a number on it — it was bleeding all over me, and I remember thinking, aw, jeez, this poor thing. I have to kill it.
I stood alone on the driveway with the tiny brown and grey creature in my palm. It barely moved, barely breathed.
I told myself I was doing it a mercy.
I have to kill it.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t any more than I could put a gun to my own head and pull the trigger.
I cupped it gently in my hands, still convinced that killing it was for the best, but now knowing I couldn’t do the deed. I felt ashamed — I was, essentially, dooming this thing to a slow and painful death. Then I opened my hands to put it down on the ground —
And it flew out, into the air, and just…disappeared.
I love my cats. I miss my cats. But I don’t want to know how they died.