It was on Friday, while I was still on the high of revealing to my Dungeons and Dragons players that the adventure’s boss was a lich, that I saw my mother’s text from two hours before.
I did. When she picked up and said my name, I knew something was wrong. My mom’s voice hitched as she told me.
“Maya went to heaven today.”
“How did you find her?” I asked. She was old, and she must have gone in her sleep, laying in the driveway under the wood trailer, or in the garden.
“She was hit by a car.”
I shook my head. “No, no…” I mumbled. Maya was 17, 17 years on our street where people barreled down at 50 miles per hour on a 25 miles per hour limit to get from Wilbur Cross to the Mt. Caramel Connector. She’d outlived dumb squirrels and possums and other neighborhood cats that met their ends under the unforgiving wheels of vehicular carelessness.
This couldn’t have happened to her.
“Who did it?” I choked. “They ran away, didn’t they?” Violent fantasies bubbled to the forefront of my imagination; me tracking down the bastard that did it, who killed my cat, my Maya, my girl, finding the villian that drove away and screaming at them over and over about what they did, the pain they inflicted, the callousness of their crime.
No, my mother said. They stopped. They told my dad about it. They were a family. They had a baby. They lived on our street, and they were very sorry.
That’s when it hit me. My cat was dead. She wouldn’t be there to greet me on the porch when I came home, and no number of people I screamed at or who said they were sorry would bring her back.
“She didn’t suffer long,” mum said. “It was instant.”
At that point, I excused myself out to the hallway and bawled. A sympathetic Student Union employee (thank you, kind and random stranger, if you’re reading this) let me into a locked empty room where I sat on the floor and cried and cried and cried.
Here’s the thing about loss in college: it’s a double-punch.
The first is when you hear about it, and you’re almost never home when it happens. I can remember every place I’ve ever been when I received news that rocked my core. I was in the empty Daily Campus newsroom on a Saturday when I found out my granny died. I was lying in my dorm bed when I found out one of my best friends had been sexually assaulted.
And I was in a Union room thinking about RPG battle strategy when I found out the cat I’d lived with for most of my life had died, and that the last thing she probably felt was terror as the car hit her
The second punch is when you come home.
I’m not going home until the weekend after next. That’s what my schedule will allow. And I know that I’m gonna go through all this again when I see the cat hair on my bed, or when I go to the driveway at night and I don’t hear her meow or when I visit that sad spot in the yard where my parents buried her.
We’re at a time in our lives where death hits us, really hits us. When we were little, maybe we had a goldfish die, or maybe it was one of your older pets that your parents had before you were born, and maybe you were very young and you didn’t really understand it. Your parents got a new dog. Your grandparents were still around. Life was good, and it would be good forever.
Now you’re 21. You’re in college an hour, eight hours, two days from home. Your grandparents are 80 and your childhood pets are all old. You don’t realize the ramifications of that until you get The Phone Call, and it comes at a time when you’re far from the people you need to be with the most.
Death is so jarring to our generation in this country. Fewer people die of sickness. We’re not starving, or in the kind of war where “civilian casualties” become so commonplace that they’re in classified section of the news. We’re a hundred years gone from the days of mothers constantly dying in childbirth, or when most humans were not expected to live beyond infancy.
We shield our kids from it, too. In Disney movies, the hero comes back to life. Your parents replace your goldfish before you notice. They tell you Grammie is just sleeping, or she’s going on a long trip, far away…
I was vaguely aware of what was coming. I knew Maya would die one day, (and soon, considering her age), to the point where I kissed her goodbye every time I left home like it would be my last. I never expected it to feel like this, though, and I never expected her to go this way. It was like a hard slap.
Maya dying wasn’t just about my cat being gone. It’s about part of my home - no, my parents’ home - being gone, and not ever coming back. It’s about realizing, with a genuine rawness, that one day things that seemed eternal as the sun and moon, things like my dogs and my parents and everyone else, would too, one day die, and maybe the sun and moon are terminal as well.
You never think about a future like that. You never think, hey, I’ll get my degree, get married, I’ll have kids by 30, I’ll move to Washington - oh yeah, my dad will probably die by the time I’m 60, I’d better be around my home state for that.
I’ll get over it. I’ll heal. Sure, she was just an animal. But she was an animal who was part of my life since I was five, who chewed on my stuffed toys and liked rotisserie chicken and who would sit around placidly while the dogs barked at her. She was a damn good cat, she was. And now she’s gone.
Sometimes I’ll stop and cry and think, God, please, take this pain away - but the only person who can do that is me. But for now, I’m gonna let the blood drip before I slap a bandage on it.
I have things to do. I have a news section to run. I have tests to study for. But right now, all I want to do is curl up on my bed and pet my cat.
Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.