flikr0713 (Photo credit: flikr)

I was awakened by a horrible dream this morning.  (If bad dreams really bother you, don’t read any further.)  In the dream, I am standing on the front lawn of my parents’ house.  Movement to the right makes me turn and I see my cat Gil trotting by, headed toward the road.  Overjoyed to see her once more (she died in July of ’94), I call out.  She ignores me (typical cat) and steps off the curb to lay down on the warm asphalt of the road.  There are cars coming, so I begin to yell for her to get out of the road and I start walking toward her, motioning to the cars to slow down and wait while I pick her up, get her out of the road, hold her once more.  She continues to blissfully roll back and forth.  One car passes over her without damage, then another.  The third car swerves to hit her on purpose.  The tire runs over her neck, crushing her.  She thrashes and I begin to scream, running toward the road with my hands out, trying to stop further oncoming cars.  My family appears behind me, yelling, asking what’s wrong.  In tears, I try to explain, all the while moving toward the road.  A final car comes along and runs over my cat, severing her head, which flies into the air and lands beside me on the lawn.

Any wonder why I woke up screaming?  What a totally shitty way to begin the day.

Where the hell do dreams like this come from?  I have a couple of pictures of Gil around the house, but I no longer think of her every day, no longer pine for her as I once did.  (She really was my “soul cat,” and stood by me through so much, including a divorce.)  I didn’t talk about her yesterday or even consciously notice her picture, so what dredged this horror out of the dark recesses of my brain?

I’d hate to think it was guilt.

I don’t know a single pet-owner (well, perhaps one or two) who doesn’t feel some sort of guilt toward their animals, especially once the pet is gone.  We second-guess ourselves to an atrocious degree (Did I do the right thing/every thing?) and berate ourselves for failings real and imagined (I was too impatient).

Guilt is probably life’s most worthless emotion…but I can’t deny I feel some guilt over Gil. I wasn’t always fair to her, or kind.  I grew impatient and frustrated.  Not with her, but with life in general, but I took that frustration out on her.  I didn’t beat her or abuse her, no, but still…I let her down.

The pinnacle was when hubby and I were married.  We had his three kids living with us, plus Gil and a kitten named Jason, brought East by my eldest step-daughter.  Our honeymoon was going to be a mere four days away.  The kids were slated to stay with my folks, but since my dad had made it clear that he would not go to our house to take care of the cats (a five-minute drive), I asked their neighbor Charlene (not her real name), a woman I had become friends with, to do so and she agreed.

As we were leaving on our honeymoon, I realized that I had not left Charlene the key to the house.  Hubby, smart man that he is, wanted to turn the car around and go back.  I said no, assuming that she would realize she had no key and sensibly go ask my parents for their copy.  It never occurred to me that she would assume (I hate that freaking word) I’d changed my mind without telling her and had found someone else to watch the cats.

So Gil and Jason went without food and water for four days.

Oh, there was water in the toilets if they were smart enough to find it, and there was water in their dishes (and probably some food to start out), but by the time we returned, the cupboard, as they say, was bare.  Gil was frantic when I came through the door.  She flung herself at me, meowing like mad, and it only took a few moments to understand the dry dishes and overflowing litter boxes.

I was furious with Charlene and angry with myself.  Never, ever, ever would I have wanted to treat those cats that way, least of all my perfect Gil.

Months passed.  In June, the kids and Jason returned to Washington State.  Hubby, Gil and I moved into a smaller apartment.  For a few weeks, all seemed well.  Then I noticed Gil distancing herself from me.  And she was losing weight.  I took her to one vet, who did some tests and pronounced her fine.  My gut said “No,” so I took her to another vet so said she could stand to lose a few pounds (she was not a big cat).  Convinced he was an idiot, I found a third vet who kept Gil overnight for testing because (as she told me later), she thought I was starving Gil to death.

Turns out, my darling had renal failure.  She was gone in two weeks.

Much later, I read somewhere that if a cat does not eat or drink several times a day, that their kidneys begin to shut down.  I haven’t confirmed this with my present vet, but I probably should.  That way, I’d know for certain whether or not I contributed (however innocently) to Gil’s death.  It won’t make any difference in the level of responsibility I feel.  I’ve already beaten myself up quite adequately.

If anyone had asked, I’d have said I long-ago came to terms with all of this.  I don’t berate myself.  I learned from the past and have moved into the future with a (slightly) more intelligent view.  It’s been eighteen years, after all.

And now this.

Guess I’m not as guilt-free as I thought.


About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
This entry was posted in Animals, cats, Essays, Guilt, Pets and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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