My writing exercise last week had us exploring our experience with loss and grief. For me, it all started with two pets. My first pet was a cat. She was mine. She was dark black and full of love. Her dark coat was the reason I named her Midnight. Queenie, on the other hand, was a family dog, a beagle.
Today I will write the first part – about Midnight.
I will warn you, this could be triggering for some people.
Part One, Midnight
I do not recall the circumstances surrounding how Midnight came into our family or why she was designated as my cat. I thought perhaps those details lived deep in the recesses of my mind, but if they do, they are not yet accessible to me.
Midnight lived with us at my grandmother’s house in the Valley. She was a sweet and lovable cat and I loved her. When my parents decided to move to a nearby town, Midnight stayed behind and continued to live with my grandparents rather than move to a more urban landscape. At my grandmother’s, she could remain an inside/outside cat free to safely roam within the confines of their yard. She never strayed away from home, always staying close to the house.
My grandparent’s house stood on a rise in the property with the yard sloping downward and leveling out. At the lowest level in the yard was a narrow stream which we referred to as a ditch because of the low water levels. There was a small footbridge to cross the ditch. There stood a grand plum tree and the walkway to our clothes line where my grandmother hung the laundry to dry and the pathway that led to the barn.
The property line was just beyond the plum tree. Next door was a similar house with another large lot and a barn, where my parents’ good friends lived. They had two sons, and a sweet Collie named Lassie. Their youngest son was the same age as my oldest sister, and their oldest son who was about 20 at the time.
One afternoon when I returned from school, my grandmother called. It was unusual for children to talk on the phone, but my grandmother had called to speak directly to me which was unusual.
Once on the phone, I heard my grandmother crying. She spoke slowly and told me she had to have Midnight ‘put to sleep’. I did not understand the phrase, but I slowly understood as she explained what happened.
Midnight had taken a stroll around the yard as was her normal routine. She loved to climb up the plum tree and observe her surroundings. On this particular day. Larry, the oldest son, had sicced Lassie on Midnight. This seemingly gentle dog, worked up into a fervor and taunted to attack my cat. My grandmother intervened to stop the attack, but it was too late. Midnight had been severely maimed beyond the ability to recover. My grandmother had her put to sleep.
I cried and she cried. She apologized to me and told me over and over and over how sorry she was. I knew she as was heartbroken as I was. I could not for the life of me understand how anyone could be so cruel. I was so angry and at an age when no child should feel those emotions.
Larry was always a little ‘off’. We always thought there was something different about him, but no one ever imagined him capable of such a mean and cruel thing. From that moment on I despised him. Sadly, this would not be my last unpleasant interaction with him in my life, but that is a story for another day.
Unfortunately, this also colored my opinion of Collies. It was a breed I would always steer clear of and have slight distrust in. I know that might not be fair, but childhood trauma changes you.
I learned a lot about life that day. I learned humanity had an evil and cruel side. I learned animals could be killed by a doctor and that it could be a humane act. I learned about mistrust. And I learned about how sorrow can connect people in profound ways. I learned my ‘gut feeling’ about people was a valuable instinct I should not ignore. I learned a lot. Maybe too much for a little girl.
I was only seven years old.