Ritual Confessions

February 27, 2008

My most ardent regret

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 4:33 am

David’s post made me think of my own animal-related grief. My resistance to writing this is so strong that I decided it was what I needed to do.

Boo was the cat of my life. We got her when I was very young: no more than two or three years old. Whenever my mother came in from work, I would ask her, “Did you bring a surprise?” This was because she occasionally brought home a small treat for my brother and me. Usually it was a Hershey bar. But this time it was a young, slim Siamese cat in a carrying case. She was washing her front paw.

This cat and I were inseparable for more than ten years. If you look at my childhood photo albums, Boo is in every other shot. I slept with her every night. She followed me almost everywhere I went. She would always appear when I was crying, as if to console me. I have loved all my cats, especially Mac (probably because he resembles and reminds me so much of her), but I don’t think I’ll ever have a bond of that depth again with any other animal.

When we went on trips, I would pine for her. Sometimes I irritated my mother by counting the days until I would get back home to her. She would say, “This is our vacation; don’t wish the days away.” 

When I turned fourteen, I fell in love for the first time. My boyfriend’s name was Mark. That summer, as always, my family went to the beach for a week, and instead of missing Boo, all I could think about was him. The next-door neighbors were boarding Boo, and when we got home, I gave them a quick call, told them we were back, and asked them to let the cat out so that she could come home. Then I immediately called Mark and probably spent the rest of the evening talking with him. I didn’t give Boo another thought. I certainly wasn’t worried about her. She was an outdoor/indoor cat who knew the neighborhood well and their house was less than twenty feet from ours.

She never came home. She was old and I believe she went away to die, as cats do. I can’t help believing she decided it was time to die because I hadn’t even come next door to get her, as I always had before.

I have done far worse things in my thirty-eight years, but nothing I regret as much as that. If I could go back and do only one thing in my life over again, I would go back and pick her up from the neighbors’ house instead of just calling in our arrival. Of all the mistakes I’ve made, and there are many I can’t consider without shuddering — relationship mistakes, career mistakes, a thousand things I should or shouldn’t have said or done — if I could fix only one of them, that is the one I would choose. Nothing else even comes close.

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7 Comments »

  1. You must forgive yourself. Many things can happen to a cat out in the world, and what ever happened with Boo was not your fault. I know the questions must be difficult to live with, but you can’t fault a child for being a child. I doubt very seriously Boo did.

    Comment by Shawn W — February 27, 2008 @ 9:34 pm

  2. Shawn, thank you so much for your very compassionate response. It was so hard for me to write that story; I’ve never written about it before.

    Comment by elissakaren — February 27, 2008 @ 10:45 pm

  3. I read this right after you posted it, and thought about it for a day, and have come back to say that I understand completely why, of all the mistakes you feel you’ve made, that’s the one you’d undo if you could; I would feel the same way.

    However, I think one of the dangers of being deeply attached to an animal is our tendency to project our own feelings and thought processes onto them. You know that one of the great joys of bonding with a precious friend like Boo is that they aren’t in fact subject to the same kinds of resentments and hurts and grudges that mark human relationships. She wouldn’t have decided to die because you called the neighbor rather than going to get her. She would have come home joyfully to see you. It is a terrible and painful coincidence that she was called away just as you got home. But you didn’t hurt her in any way. I know you didn’t.

    Comment by davidrochester — February 28, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

  4. I agree with David.

    I lost a kitty cat that I’ve not been able to write about. Misty was the last cat I have allowed myself to get close to. The family has had many others since Misty but Misty was mine. I loved my kitty cat. I had her when I was pregnant and she kept me company and would come take care of me when I was sick. Other cats pale next to her. I don’t think I will ever allow myself to love another cat like I loved Misty.

    Comment by Corina — February 28, 2008 @ 3:41 pm

  5. David, what you wrote here made me think of a story I read a very long time ago in one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. The Ingalls family was on their way to a new home and their dog Jack was with them. At one point, they cross a very violent river where there’s a real danger that they’ll be swept away. When they reach the other side, they realize they’ve forgotten Jack. Laura is broken-hearted, imagining him watching them leave without him as if they didn’t care for him at all. Pa walks up and down the riverbank all evening calling for him, to no avail. The family decides he probably tried to follow them and drowned. Some time later, the Ingalls are frightened by a pair of animal eyes staring at them from out of the near-darkness. They think it might be a lynx or a coyote. Pa trains his gun on the animal and nearly fires it before realizing that it’s Jack. So, first they forgot him, then Pa almost shot him. Was Jack mortally wounded by all this? On the contrary, he is as ecstatic to be reunited with them as they are with him. Laura says to him, “You knew we didn’t mean it, didn’t you, Jack?” and she can tell from his reaction that he’s affirming this. On an intellectual level, I know you’re right and what you wrote was incredibly comforting. On an emotional level, of course it’s harder to take that in.

    You know, speaking of intellectual vs. emotional knowledge… you nearly always respond to my entries so promptly, so by last night I was telling myself this story: “David is such a cat lover, and he probably never realized what kind of wretchedness I’m capable of… maybe now he won’t want to talk to me anymore.” On a rational level, I didn’t think that was too likely, but on the irrational level where most of us spend the majority of our time…

    Corina, I know how hard it is to write this kind of thing, but if you ever do decide to write about Misty, I’d love to hear more.

    Comment by elissakaren — February 28, 2008 @ 6:06 pm

  6. Do you remember the illustration of Jack in the river?

    I loved, and still do love, those books. Beautiful pieces of history. And I’m telling you, Laura is my idea of one hellaciously sexy woman.

    Comment by Baron von Rochester — February 28, 2008 @ 9:40 pm

  7. (In the later books, of course. Ahem.)

    Comment by Baron von Rochester — February 28, 2008 @ 9:40 pm


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