Even as I sit down to write this, I hear that resounding question inside my head. Why? And if I think about this question too long, my mind jumps through endless reasons why not.
I can’t remember much from my childhood; it’s as if I have almost no happy memories of when I was young. Though I’m sure I did experience happiness, as most children do (think: children laughing and playing in the street), but for some reason, I struggle to recall moments like these.
Yet, I can recall with great clarity a family holiday to a farm-stay cottage we often visited, walking through knee-deep, dewy grass to the top of the hill to bury our time-capsule (a glass jar filled with sentiments of the time: monopoly money, notes to our future selves and a spent reel of cap-gun bullets). It was a cold early morning and the fog made it difficult to see ahead.
Through the fog, a few metres away from the trail, I saw it. A sheep trapped between the barbed wire fence and the ground. As I walked towards it with my brothers in tow, I noticed its face was bloody and something, some creature (a crow?) had gouged out the sheep’s eye. At least this is what I remember. I can’t be sure if the sheep actually had its eye gouged out. It could have just been bleeding from its orifices because that’s what happens when animals die. Or does this depend on how they die? It usually means they’re bleeding internally, right?
When we came home from a different holiday (this time, a lighthouse down in NSW), we found our cat dead in the garden. At first, Mr Stubbs looked like he was sleeping, but the white and ginger fur around his nose and mouth were stained with blood that, like the sheep’s, had turned black. Mum used an old pool towel to wrap his body and I remember his mouth being slightly open so that you could just see his little teeth, as if he had died mid-meow.
This was one of the first and only times I remember Dad crying. As for Mum, well, she wails and carries on at the best of times and even now, if I mention Mr Stubbs, she’ll burst into tears sobbing. The kind of sobbing where you can never seem to get enough breath, and you gasp trying to calm yourself only to find that the more you try and calm yourself, the louder and more uncontrollable your crying becomes. That’s Mum in a nutshell. Has a real skill of making it all about her. Somehow, she’ll find a way to weave her own problems into a conversation which starts with chemo and ends with her sore back. Her sister has cancer so it’s always interesting (and unbelievably hard) eavesdropping on their conversations.
So, when we found Mr Stubbs dead, Mum and Dad were convinced one of the neighbours had poisoned him. We had this guy, not a direct neighbour, who lived two houses away on a street that ran parallel to ours. He was obsessed with his garden and according to him, a ginger cat kept getting into his yard and pissing and shitting on his lawn. So, Dad being Dad, (and a pest controller with an unlimited supply of Roundup) went over during the night and wrote ‘FUCK YOU’ on his lawn.
Reflecting on this now as a self-proclaimed people hater and animal lover, even if the guy did poison Mr Stubbs, a simple ‘fuck you’ in the lawn means nothing. The type of revenge I see fit for someone who intentionally hurts an animal would be more along the lines of forcing them to drink said poison, carving fuck you into their forehead, chopping off their penis and force-feeding it down their throat so they choke to death on their own cock.
Wow. That got out of hand. Before you get all judgey on me, just know, humans are fucking horrible, and this is what happens when I let my mind wander. I get carried away and the next thing you know, I’m talking about feeding a man his own penis. I’m sorry for dragging you down to my level of questionable sanity, but I refuse to filter these thoughts because then this’d be bland and that’s just not who I am.
Some days I wish I were vanilla. That I could just go with the flow and not be like a finless fish swimming against the current. Even aquariums offend me and don’t get me started on zoos (too late). Sure, I guess they’re good for educational purposes, but so is Animal Planet. Even on our tour of Beijing Zoo, I didn’t want to make a big deal or cause a scene; I just wanted to blend in. I lasted all of 3.5 milliseconds, pretending I was excited and ‘awing’ and ‘ahh-ing’ at the giant pandas like everyone else. But I walked through, kept my head down and sunnies on. I felt more miserable than the pandas looked.
Then there were the stray dogs in Bucharest. I didn’t know at the time that Bucharest had the highest number of strays in the world. Not the best place for someone like me to visit. It was more than unsettling coming across a pack of puppies underneath a highway. Mum and I were walking by to get some snacks for the plane the next day and heard the whimpering. In addition to our blocks of chocolate and bottle of wine, we bought a bunch of Pal or whatever the Aldi equivalent is, to feed the dogs. In hindsight, probably not the greatest idea as:
1) the puppies could have cut their mouths on the foil packaging
2) it probably started a huge fight between the older dogs
3) they hoed into it so fast they would die from bloat
I’ve never really had a shortage of animal deaths in my life. Whether it be my hermit crab that I accidentally left in the sun of my windowsill for a week and came home from school to find he had died from ‘hermit’ heat stroke (who knew there was such a thing?). My Siamese fighting fish that I thought was dying of starvation because he was always sleeping. I kept feeding him before realising all his food had sunk to the bottom of his tank, while he floated to the top. Or my cat, Smokey… I just forgot to get him inside when I was asked.
Mum always says he’s the cat that ‘changed me’ and before he was run over, all I ever cared about was myself. Which is probably true. What fifteen-year-old really gives a fuck about anything else in the world but themselves? Even when Mum fell off a chair, fractured two ribs and punctured one of her lungs, I refused to visit her in hospital. Too caught up in my own life and what I thought was ‘true love’ at the time. How I never ended up barefoot and pregnant with that loser is nothing short of a miracle.
We had the worst luck with cats and cars and trucks and crazy neighbours, so we had a rule to always get them in at night. But as you’ve probably guessed, I was too wrapped up in my own world, most likely listening to Good Charlotte, chatting on MSN or creating my ninth Hotmail account. Whatever I was doing, I was clearly too busy to get Smokey inside.
Maybe I thought the horrible screeching noise was my music (if you could even call it that), but as I turned the volume down, I realised the noise was coming from outside. Smokey had dragged himself to the front door but couldn’t quite make it up the steps, so lay there meowing in agony. The vet didn’t think he would survive. One of his back legs was paralysed, and he wasn’t supposed to make it through the night.
But he did, and I guess it’s one of those things where you don’t realise how much you love something until its gone, but luckily, Smokey wasn’t gone (at least not yet). I had a second chance. And so, I fed him by hand, kept him hydrated with an eyedropper and as mum says, ‘nursed him back to life’. Only, like the rest of our pets (living with us seemed to be a curse they couldn’t break), he didn’t last long. A few months later, we had to have him euthanised because the accident had given him kidney problems and he couldn’t pee without writhing in pain.
I’d always preferred cats over dogs. I used to think you were either a cat person or a dog person and you could never be both. Even though, growing up, we had both. I guess I just loved our cats more because they were always allowed inside. I’m not even sure why we had dogs; none of us were really good with dogs, and no one ever walked the poor things. Mum claims she used to walk Sally all the time, but this is coming from the same woman who just decided one day, not to pick Sally up from the pound. Because apparently, she ‘found a better home’. She really did escape a lot though, so maybe she knew about the curse, and was desperate to free herself from its wrath. I like to think she lived a long and happy life with her new, perfectly normal family, and didn’t feel the need to Houdini-style her way out of gaps in the fence one would think impossible for a dog her size to fit through.
I don’t know, I just always thought dogs were dumb and slobbery (it even hurts me to say that now). By the way, you can totally be both a dog and a cat person. But at the time I thought cats were clean and smart and always plotting ways to eliminate the human race and take over the world. I volunteered at a local shelter which was more depressing than I had anticipated. My poor naïve soul thought it would be fine because it was a ‘no-kill’ pound. On my second day, a box of kittens was found that had been dumped alongside a main road. I guess the workers had seen it all before, and by that stage were desensitised to the horrors of humans. I just couldn’t cope. I wanted to go back to my life of blissful ignorance because I felt so helpless. I wanted to rescue every single cat there, young, old and decrepit. But I couldn’t. I already had four cats at home (all rescues), so unless I wanted to open up a full-on cat zoo, there was nothing I could do.
Mo was a feral cat before we rescued him. He was vicious as fuck and climbing the walls of the cage on the ride home. I actually thought at one point, he’d break out, attack me and I’d crash my car and die. It seemed like a fitting end to my cat-rescuing days. After sharing the drive home with this demon-cat, I started rethinking my decision. But it was too late. We locked him in the laundry, in the fear that he would kill and eat our other cats (and us). The next morning, we found he had gotten his head stuck in the security screen in an attempt to escape to the free world. Look, the fact he didn’t strangle himself to death that day made me think, maybe just maybe, this one was immune to the curse.
But as you probably could’ve guessed, there’s no escaping the curse. And it’s not because we’re bad pet owners or bad people (at least this is what I tell myself), but because without death there can be no life. You have to be ready to be kicked in the guts when you’re least expecting it, dodge those curveballs made from concrete aimed straight at your face, and know that no matter who you are, how rich you are, how smart you are, or how kind you are: death doesn’t discriminate.