I couldn’t shoot the cat: Part I
I was 16. It was my first car. My step-dad bought it for me from his an Italian guy named Scotty. In retrospect it was a gaudy shade of gold, but I didn't care. It was a Nissan 300Z, stick. I loved this car like boys love catching mitts, or girls love horses. It was a lab where I experimented with booze and cigarettes; a bedroom, where I kissed post-cerfew; a sanctuary, where I could listen to the music dialed up while the windows were rolled down.
I was only pulling the car out of the driveway, so I didn’t need to look behind me. It was a straight shot. I pressed in the clutch, turned on the stereo and whizzed backward. In reverse, the car made a winding up ‘z’ sound.
When I ran her over, the cat howled so loud I heard it over the Goo Goo Dolls. Instinctively, I threw the car into neutral, yanked the emergency brake up and was out of the seat just in time to see the cat, our cat, our family cat, scuttling into the brush, her back hips broken and deformed, her guts trailing behind her.
Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.
I ran inside. My mother was already gone. My sister too. My step-dad was home, sitting in his brown chair, eyes red from a vodka hangover.
Get the gun. Get the gun.
I held to no illusion about what had to be done. Mercy demanded fast action. But when we finally found her under a palmetto bush, I flinched. I pointed it at her, trembling. I raised the gun. Lowered it.
I handed the gun back to my stepfather, and hurried back to the car. I pushed in the clutch, sped down the driveway. I heard the shot just as I reached the stop sign at the end of our street.
Waiting: Part II
I was 19 when I meet Jamie. It was instantaneous love. The kind that hurts real good. He was a hanggliding pilot, and a dashing archetype: dark haired and a little reckless. The week I was scheduled to move in with him, I got a call that he’d been in a crash.
There was construction for several miles between Tampa and Orlando and I could hardly see. It was night. I was sobbing. I drove the Z all over the road, weaving in and out of traffic. I hit several traffic cones, and pummeled through a bright orange, 50 gallon traffic drum. I didn’t care and I didn’t stop.
The doctor met me in the ICU waiting room, an awful, stinking place where hopelessness is tasted on the end of one's tongue. He explained where the surgical team was at with his surgery, the kinds of cuts would have to make to try and save him. It was clinical. He reminded me of an SAT proctor. Then he escaped through a swinging door.
I was left to thumb through magazines, watch television, stare at the swinging door. I was 19, my whole life ahead of me, but Jamie would likely be paralyzed from the waist down. Could I live with half of him? Could he?
Hours later, the doctor waved at me to come into the hall of suites, which were eerily quiet. He told me step-by-step how they tried to save him. They had acted decisively, but couldn’t fix the tear in his heart fast enough, so his lungs filled with fluid and he drowned.
I nodded and asked when I could go see him; told the doctor I didn’t care that all the bones in his face were broken, or that his spinal chord was severed and he was paralyzed. We were young and full of love and hope. We’d figure it out.
But would we? Would I have stayed? Would I have become the dutiful wife cleaning up after a degenerate body? Would I have given up my scholarships? My oh-so-carefully-crafted plans for a bright future?
The doctor had to tell me several different times that Jamie was dead because I couldn't process what he was saying. Finally, he just took me to his body. Let me see for myself.
Standing at the end of the gurney, I stared at his feet. They were uncovered. Instinctively, I covered them so they wouldn't get cold. I stood for a long time at the foot of the gurney, listening for the answer to those big questions. I listened with my whole body. I waited for the shot, the sound—any sound—that would signify what I might have done had he lived, had I been a girl made with more courage. I leaned into the void, strained to hear, waited for an answer. But only terrible silence followed.