I was probably twenty three, maybe twenty four, when Tigger went missing from the flat I lived in. She had been gone three weeks when, one cloudy afternoon, she dragged herself home; back legs limp, stinking of puss and vomit. My boyfriend and I piled her into his car, wrapped carefully in an old towel, and I cried hot tears over her as she feebly purred. We drove to the surgery of a vet who was renowned for his caring, compassionate manner… and staying open until seven pm on a weeknight.
There was nothing this lovely animal doctor could do for Tigger. It looked as though her kidneys were failing, he said, but at only eight years old he was suspicious she may have been baited and poisoned.
“You can stay, if you like,” said the vet, eyes full of compassion for a silly young woman who knows nothing of heartbreak yet, unable to stop sobbing over her cat; “she’s almost comatose, she won’t react to the shot.”
Of course I stayed, patted her head and whispered soft words of reassurance, tears flowing as I apologised to my pet, saying how very sorry I was that I couldn’t fix her, couldn’t save her. I stayed right up until she did react to that shot the vet said she’d barely notice. Her body convulsed and tensed, legs stuck out straight and thin like rods of dowel. She threw her head back and screamed, if cats can scream… a deep guttural yowl that I heard in every silent pause for weeks afterwards.
Her yellow eyes locked on mine and I turned and ran, leaving her to die in the care of my boyfriend.
I couldn’t stop sobbing. “I’m so sorry,” said the vet, and he so genuinely was, “I had no idea that would happen… I was sure she’d go quietly.”
I wanted to explain, to stop my tears for long enough to tell him that it wasn’t him, it wasn’t his fault, he had done his job perfectly… I had not. It was me who had failed here. There had been something vulnerable who loved me, laying on a metal table pleading me with its eyes for help…
And I ran away. A tiny, grown up voice in my mind told me that I only fled because I could– my boyfriend had been there, too. A larger voice trampled out that first one, chanting “Coward, coward, coward…” and replaying that awful, agonizing cat–scream.
It tormented me for years, kicking great chunks out of an already chalky self esteem. It was exasperated when I terminated a pregnancy… and again, of course, when I ran, screaming for help, my daughter in my arms and my husband hanging from his neck in my backyard.
It’s taken me until now, I think, to forgive myself for that. For all of it. Especially the cat. For allowing something that meant so much to me die without me there. Or for being too scared to stand up and say no when I should have.
Or for running for help, when I had a tiny baby in my arms.
Because nineteen months after everything I knew about the world changed and I had to remake all my decisions from scratch… I’m still here. It’s just me, and my kids, and that’s all we need, really… we get along just fine.
And I haven’t run away. I’m still here, every day. Not even because there is no one else do it– if push came to “Lori’s really lost it this time…”, there would just have to be enough relatives around to pick up the slack. If I really lost it, they’d just have to.
Because, as long as there here too, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.