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Jun 25

The Day I Killed Our Cat

In Brief— A reflection on the author’s youth, a pet’s death, the damage and the lessons learned from a turbulent time in his life. [Written in March 2017.]


Nine Lives Versus The Car—

She was a three-legged cat. The vet who amputated her badly infected front leg said it was a scorpion sting. Plenty of those devils around where we lived in Albuquerque. In the months that followed, three legs were no hindrance to her going over our five-foot outer wall as easily as if she were hopping up on the sofa.

It was the beginning of my sophomore year at the University of New Mexico. As too often happened, I had butted heads with my mother and was angry. I stalked out of the house, through the back yard and jumped into my car, not even bothering to close the gate in the outer wall.

Angry and in a hurry, I didn’t notice our cat dozing in the shade beneath the car. I felt the bump and saw her shoot from under the car and head for the house. I quickly leaped from the car and stopped at the open door in time to see her breathe her last at my mother’s feet. Since then, I’ve occasionally wondered if Mother realized how much that cat loved her. Sick at heart from what my anger had wrought, I fled, jumped into my car and, with tears blurring my vision, was gone.

The Car—

Shortly after buying the used powder-blue Ford coupe, a friend and I modified it with straight-through exhaust pipes giving it a deep throaty roar to go with the increased power, added lowering blocks so it looked ready to take off and fender skirts to enhance “the look.” Never having been a car buff, I assisted while he did most of the work. At the time trials, it did passably well and looked great.

The Chase—

All I remember now is that I needed to drive. I headed east into Tijeras Canyon where Highway 66 skirted the southern edge of the Sandia Mountains. I finally stopped and sat reflecting on what I had done. I had accidentally killed our family cat. I turned around and headed back toward town…too fast. Still churning inside as I rocketed past the huge boulder where the police often waited, I didn’t register the highway patrolman.

On the long, shallow slope of the highway, I saw the cop’s blue lights flickering in the distance behind me. I found myself assessing my car’s speed against the aging Chevy driven by the cop. My foot hit the accelerator and saw the Chevy falling back. My Ford was no match for an old Chevy.

As I entered the outskirts of town, traffic thickened. It crossed my mind that those dirt roads to the right would leave an easy to follow trail even in an old Chevy, so I passed the slower traffic on the shoulder. Now I could see the Chevy closing in and heard the siren. Cars fell out of his way. As the New Mexico State Police building loomed ahead, rationality returned and I pulled in and parked beside the building. The old Chevy with the star on its door parked next to me. The chase was over.

As chance would have it, I knew the patrolman’s cousin, had gone to school with her. When we entered the old judge’s small court across the highway from the state police building, the cop talked with the judge behind his closed door.

The gray-haired judge was a kindly type, probably near retirement. He listened to my story, sympathized and acknowledged that a young college student deserved leniency for a trivial offense and pronounced a fine. I thanked him, paid the fine and drove away. I’d been lucky. What if I’d been black or Hispanic?

Not long after that, I volunteered for the draft. Surely the army would blunt the sharp edges of my anger and erase the guilt. It didn’t.

Years have raced by. Guilt still blankets my heart. So many layers now. I have a T-shirt that says, “To be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid.” I’m older now. Still waiting.

The Weekly Sampler—

As a reminder, go to the Archives on the right side of the page and click on the month and year of that week’s featured Sampler. If you wish, go to the January 15, 2017, blog (“A Simple Reading Assignment”) for more thorough instructions.

If you want to read the entire piece, simply click on the box titled “Continue Reading.” When you want to read the next piece, simply swipe your cursor across the one you have been reading and you will find the next one. Do this every time you want to read the next piece.

Don’t miss the Comments and my replies. Even though the Sampler pieces are from the past, feel free to comment…or not.

Go to the Archives on the right side. Click on July 2015.

6 comments

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  1. Dave Meyers

    Guilt is a powerful emotion.
    I too killed a cat….my children’s cat. The cat that they begged for in spite of my resistance to allow it. My fear was that once the novelty faded they would do next to nothing to care for it.
    As I pulled into the garage on a very rainy night, windshield wipers struggling to clear away the huge rain drops, the cat apparently crossed the path of the right front tire. He died within seconds……but it took more than a WEEK for my sons to realized that ‘Skittles’ was missing.

    But that isn’t the source of my guilt. That comes from a completely different and earlier event…AND…you Mister Bay, were a witness to the event!
    You and I were going into my garage shop at the little Hawthorn house I used to rent. My oldest son Seth, who was about 5 years old at the time, was following us. He was misbehaving in some way that escapes me now, but which makes my actions all the more guilt producing……
    The cause of my anger at the time really doesn’t matter now, however. What matters is my abuse of my son’s trust in me as I lifted the left pant leg of his little shorts way up high on his thigh and asked him to hold it in place which he obediently did. I then slapped his thigh hard causing him to break into instant tears.
    I don’t know what compelled me to do that to him since I almost never used any sort of physical punishment with my boys. But that’s what I did.
    My deed weighed heavily on my mind for many years. Tricking my son into being complicit with his own punishment was heartless. I used his trust to turn on him. I never forgot that event, and a year ago I could hold it no more and I apologized to Seth, now 40 years old.
    He tried, but could not recall the incident. This took a bit of the load off my mind. He then said…….”you are a great Dad….I must have deserved it”…….which put the load right back on again ( to borrow a phase from an old song). He went on to forgive me even though the event impacted me far more than him, apparently.
    As I look back on my life from my current perspective, I can conjure up any number of things that I now feel guilty about.
    Is this the wisdom of age you speak of?

    1. Don Bay

      Everything I’ve read says that guilt is a wasteful way to hurt yourself. I agree that it is, but it’s there. Although mine are mostly related to pets I’ve mistreated because of loss of patience, one is related to anger at my son. Even though we are adults and should be able to deal with our children in a rational way, we lose control and react irrationally and usually disproportionately. The problem is that we are human…and humans are certainly imperfect.

      The biggies that still eat at me are with pets who (in my case) don’t understand what they have done wrong. They’re dead now and no longer feel anything, but my conscience continues to bother me. That’s it: conscience. While the occasion can be a learning experience that theoretically equips us to avoid repeating the offense in the future, we’re still human. As a friend once said, “The universe is telling us ‘I’m going to show you this one more time.'”

      The best we can do — if the opportunity still exists — is the one you chose…apologizing. Whether it relieves the pressure is something only we can do. Remember: we’re human. Also, carrying the guilt is wasteful energy. Both of us need to remember this.

  2. Jim Newton

    I also killed a cat in the same way as you. She was resting on the rear tire, in the shade of the fender and I didn’t see her. When I backed up she flew through the air, dead. It never occurred to me that she would be on the tire.

    And your speeding story. In those days I discovered that if I was stopped by police if I jumped out of the car and walked to their car very quickly, and said something like “What[s wrong officer?, in a tone of genuine curiosity that they would be lenient and I could avoid a ticket. Imagine jumping out of a car these days and approaching their car. In fact that happened a few years later. It was dark and I did the jump out of the car thing and the cop said in a loud voice, “Get back into your car.” while shining his spotlight in my face. The world was changing, and if I had been black I would likely have been dead.

    My crew often played a game called “ditch em” where one car would try to get away from another car, driving at high speeds through city streets. One of my friends rolled his car in such a chase, one in which I hadn’t participated, and another classmate killed a child in such a chase.

    Were we stupid? No doubt.

    1. Don Bay

      It appears that cats don’t fare well. Great as loved pets, but they choose the wrong places to nap.

      As you point out, it’s downright stupid to jump out of your car to ask a cop what the problem is. Today — particularly for people of color — it’s a way to assure an early death. Racism coupled with fear is the cause.

      I have a T-shirt that says, “To be old and wise you have to first be young and stupid.” That applies to our youth and to jumping out of your car (see above).

  3. Donna Boe

    I’ve waited a whole month to reply to this blog, because I really felt how awful it must have been to accidentally kill your cat – especially feeling the bump as you drove over her. Then, yesterday, I went with a friend to the movie, “A Streetcat named Bob”. It was a wonderful movie, based on a true story, and made me much more of a cat lover. That cat helped a homeless man get out of and better the situation he was in. The movie is based on a book that came out in 2002, so is worth reading, if you get the chance.
    I realize that your blog was really more about your anger, and the actions you took, letting your anger drive you. I’m glad that you survived the experience without getting killed or ending up in jail. I’m glad you are older wiser, and i hope less angry now. (at least you don’t have a souped up car.)

    1. Don Bay

      I’m certainly older and hope I’m wiser…and thanks for the kind words.

      As for the anger, my wife has commented on my anger. It’s still there and it’s a driver of my personality. Today’s blog piece is an example. It drives me to openly express my views instead of simmering inside me. It’s a part of me for good or ill. Good, I hope.

      Your thoughtful comments are always welcome. This comment will attach itself — along with my response — to the original blog piece and can be accessed by scrolling down below the current piece (or readers can always go to the Archives). You’ll find “The Day I Killed Our Cat” four weeks ago. As I recall, it appeared on June 22. But then you probably already knew this. Look at it this way, you gave me an opportunity to explain this for others.

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