When I was 15 years old, my parents left me in the care of my best friend’s sister’s best friend while they drove across the country to drop my sister off at college. Why that sounded like a good idea to anyone other than me is well beyond my now-a-parent-of-two-children reasoning but knowing it was my idea, I’ll chalk it up to my being incredibly
manipulative persuasive. One night while my parents were away, I had people over. Things got uncomfortable and I decided to kick everyone out and leave with my friends. I left one person in the house because he wasn’t ready to leave quite yet. What happened when he left, I do not know. What I do know is that when I returned there was a note on my door from the police saying that my dog had been killed and to please remove his body from the side of the road a half a block away.
The remainder of that night and the days after are etched in my memory forever: The conversation my friends and I had while away at dinner about my dog. The girl who came back by my house to see if we had returned only to read the cop’s note mere moments before I saw it myself. The heat boiling over in my arms and face from carrying him home in front of dozens of my schoolmates. The insistence that he was o.k. and would wake up again if only I wouldn’t be forced to keep him in the utility room in a plastic garbage bag. The panicked call to my sister, during her first week in a dorm room, when all I could mutter was, “I killed Radar.” The speed with which my mom returned to my side despite being in god-knows-where-Wyoming on their return trip. The finality of placing him into the crematorium.
When the police returned to my house to explain what happened, they told me that they coincidentally were driving nearby (um, I may have been 15, but I was no idiot. They’d been over already to let me know it wasn’t o.k. to congregate in my residence without parental oversight) when they noticed a car swerve and hit his breaks near the park a block away. They thought the driver may have been drunk, so pulled him over. The driver told them my elderly, deaf Radar – who I’d owned since I was 4 years old – had come into the street and he tried to avoid him. They performed a field sobriety test and determined that, whatever had happened, the driver wasn’t at fault. They let him go.
In all of these years, it has honestly never occurred to me to blame the driver. Even at the time, I held myself responsible. I should have been home. I shouldn’t have let someone stay in my house without me there. My dog was old. He wasn’t visibly injured (God knows, I examined his body in great detail as I stared at him hoping he’d start breathing again).; I’m not sure the car ever struck him. Perhaps he just had a heart attack. Surely the police could have been a little more understanding, especially given that they knew my parents weren’t home. But even in the midst of all that was happening at the time, I had a constant feeling that this is what happens when you match old age with bad circumstances.
It doesn’t take a trained psychologist to suggest that I’m reflecting on my own experiences as a way of dealing with the trauma I endured – and inflicted – earlier this week when I drove my car down one of the major thoroughfares of my town at 9 o’clock in the morning and struck a cat. I wasn’t texting or distracted. I wasn’t drunk. I wasn’t speeding. I was simply driving on a road I drive on every day when a cat bolted in front of my car. It happened so fast and so slow all at the same time. The cat was quick. It passed the near side of my car with ease but wasn’t moving fast enough to avoid all four tires.
I looked in my rear view mirror. I shouldn’t have done that.
I made the nearest legal U-turn. Then another to get me going in the same direction I was originally traveling. I pulled over and put my hazards on to try to encourage cars to slow down. The cat was clearly dead but I didn’t want it to get mutilated too. I called Animal Control and, after waiting on hold, told them what happened. I left my name and phone number. They said they’d be by to pick up the cat.
I can’t be certain it was someone’s cat, as the road I was driving skirts an open space and there are an unfortunate amount of feral cats in this region. But the opposite side of the street is home to a retirement community and a residential neighborhood with children who attended school with B-Bop last year. It could very well have a loving family in mourning right now.
I know it would likely be of little solace for the cat’s owner to know that I’ve been there. That I’m an animal lover. That as a kid I volunteered at an animal shelter. That I was decent enough to call Animal Control when most people wouldn’t have. That I do so whenever I see a stray animal wandering down the side of the road. That one time when Scoot and I were in high school, we found a stray dog on our drive to school, skipped class to bring it to the vet listed on its tag, and then brought it to class with us until we could meet up with its owner.
It probably wouldn’t help them grieve to know that I do all of that because I was so heartbroken that my dog wandered from our yard and never returned that I couldn’t bear for another person to go through that loss. Honestly, knowing these things wouldn’t have helped me when my Radar was killed.
I can only assume the cat had a home and a family and to that family I can only say, I’m sorry.