Mom calls when the cat is dying. Her sobbing is less for the death, more for the grimness of it: Dad ran over the cat’s back legs with the car. In the garage, sprawled out in a warm summer.
I don’t need to know more, but of course she tells me. She didn’t cry or make any noise, just dragged herself away from the tire and began to breathe real heavy. The image doesn’t leave.
When sixteen, I dreamt I ran over neighborhood children. The roads to my home are very winding. In the dream it is always night time. It is always dark and my brakes don’t seem to work.
Each day I performed the same routine: followed the curve until the stop sign, took a right, rounded the corner, and hovered down the hill. Always slowly. Always with caution. Mom would say, Slow down, you never know what little kids will run out in the street. I have an anxious mother.
Mom is sobbing now. I couldn’t stand to see her like that. She goes on. Tells me that Dad has grabbed a blanket to scoop her up with, placed her in the backseat, has sped to the nearest vet.
I don’t want to think of the physics of it—her legs, the matter, her consistency. Dad realizing what he had done. It’s macabre and feels wrong in my gut to replicate. I can’t stand to see her like that.
Mom asks if I think she felt any pain; Do you think her body kicked in?
When I was fourteen my mother broke her leg in the same garage. She tripped going down the steps from the living room. She had called to tell me she landed wrong—I was away at church camp when it happened. Her foot was bent the wrong way. She had to scream until my dad heard her from inside the house.
I stayed home with her that summer while she healed. She would cry anytime she, on crutches, got near any steps. She was scared she would fall and do it again. Here she became fragile and breakable.
We stayed mostly downstairs that summer. The cat had fleas and they were jumping around in the carpet. They were difficult to kill, we had to squeeze them between two fingernails or crush them with the head of tweezers. Mom was embarrassed we’d let this happen.
I read Harry Potter all day, and salted the carpet each night before she went to sleep on the couch. Each night the same routine: I’d give her blankets, turn on the fan, and return to my books. In this motion I realized my mother had once been a child. I dreamt of magic, of being a chosen one.
I don’t cry until she hangs up the phone. I’ve just returned from a trip to Miami. My suitcase is still packed. It feels silly to be this upset about a cat. 49 people were killed two weeks ago in a nightclub.
I read about kids dying in sad ways. Swiftly and out of nowhere. A girl accidentally shoots her friend in the head with a shotgun, at a sleepover. A basketball goal falls and crushes a kid during his senior year. A boy dies in his car on graduation day. It hurts in the head to think about. I grieve something like time and helplessness.
Do you think their bodies kicked in?
Dad calls when the cat is officially dead. It’s less about death, more the guilt of it. I tell him it’s not his fault, it was an accident. I’m sorry, he says.
I’m sure that before this I’ve heard him cry, but I can’t remember what it sounded like. Mom orders a gravestone with an engraved cat on it. I can’t think about it, she says. She was so calm.
I hang up again and begin to weep. It’s just an animal, I think. I am lucky it’s not a person, but I can’t stop crying. I don’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t cry this much when Will died. I can’t look at my phone. I’ve become afraid of news.
* * *
Our last night in Miami, I resolve not to sleep before my flight. I’ll pack my suitcase in the morning.
The five of us, new friends, walk along the beach until we find a moving rock. It’s a mother sea turtle. We fall silent at the legend in front of us. We plop down in the sand, pass around mini bottles of booze.
Watching magic, we hold hands and lean on each other, looking over the Atlantic, wondering how many eggs she will lay. We get used to the rhythm of her writhing. Everything looks blue.
Then the police come, as they do. We hide the booze in pockets and in the sands knowing what happens to us. They are only here to take photos. They laugh loudly, invite more of their kind. We ask them to stop; You’re scaring her. They keep flashing until she flees.
We’d all seen the documentaries: little turtles racing to the shore away from predators. We bless the eggs and follow where the mother had waded into the water.
We leave our clothes on the shoreline. Black and brown queers in the ocean. I feel seaweed everywhere. The water is warm. I gaze into the moon. I feel buoyant amongst the waves. I feel so free and alive.
Note: Excerpts above first appeared in BOAAT and The Blueshift Journal.