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On October 15, 2012 my first childhood pet died. I was eleven years old and just starting the sixth grade. Before this I had never experienced death or loss of any kind so this event drastically shifted my perspective on things. I never would have even thought about something like never seeing someone you love again. I guess that’s just not a part of your world when you’re a kid. When you are born, you come into the world looking like a white sheet, completely immaculate and as bright as the sun, but as you get older the world stains you more and more and by the time you’re all grown up you’re painted black.
His name was Milo. I knew he was mine from the moment I saw the fire in his eyes poking through the basket he and the rest of the litter were in. They were all so close together, it almost made me feel claustrophobic, but in a way it was beautiful, like they were woven into the fibers of the basket itself. In retrospect he was kind of an odd looking kitten, but perfect to me. His ears were so large that they outweighed the rest of his features and he had big green eyes that sparkled when he looked up at you. If you looked deep into them, you saw something wild and magical. He was a brown and black tabby; we joked about him being half tiger because of his stripes and his wild nature. At the time, he was only big enough to fit in my palm, but his personality filled the room.
One day when my mom and I came home from somewhere (I don’t remember where we had gone), I saw him lying at the top of our steps outside our door looking tired in contrast to his usual upbeat manner. I didn’t think much of it when I cheerfully hopped out of the car and skipped all the way through the door. I left it open for my mom who was still gathering her things and I expected Milo to follow me in. When he remained unmoved in his usual spot of waiting for us to return home, I began to sense that something wasn’t right. I went back over to where he was, scooped him up in my arms, and took him into the kitchen where his traditional drugstore cat food and water bowl stood enticing him. Any normal day, he would have sprung out of my grasp and ran as if he had just gotten legs at the sight of his glorious kibble. Instead when I released him on the white-tiled kitchen floor, he plopped down and looked up at me. “What’s wrong?” I asked shakily. My voice cracked as I swallowed my fear of what might happen. He blinked really slowly as if to let me know that he needed my help. His face was so vulnerable and weak that it brought tears to my eyes.
All I could do was panic. It all happened so fast I didn’t have time to think, to breathe. One moment I was just standing there with tears in my eyes and suddenly I was in the living room asking my mom for help. Then we were in the kitchen and next thing I knew, we were in the car driving to the nearest pet hospital. I couldn’t even feel myself moving. It was all like a sequence of pictures that I was living; they all came and went and none of them seemed to last long enough.
I held Milo as you would a newborn baby, probably because he seemed so fragile, I felt like if I touched him he would shatter. The wheels of the car struggled to move fast enough and the engine was exerting itself trying to get us from point A to point B as soon as possible while still managing to stay below the speed limit. It was trying, we were trying; all we could do was try. I, in tears, kept muttering things like “It’ll be okay,” or “You’ll be fine” to Milo as we drove. I knew he couldn’t understand me, but even if at this point in time he knew exactly what I was saying and could answer me back, it wouldn’t matter because I wasn’t really speaking to him. I was telling myself these things in a failed attempt to hold myself together. My eyes were swelled and burning while my mouth lay open with words of consolation pouring out like the tears from my eyes.
The car let out a deep breath as we pulled up to the animal hospital. I did my best to dry my eyes but nothing I could do would hide the fact that I had been crying. I didn’t want the situation where no one thought I was mature enough to handle anything they were to tell me. I had the right to know exactly what was going on and no one was going to deny me of that. So I gathered myself, walked in long strides to the door, and then without looking back, I turned the handle, pulled the door back, and stepped into the waiting room.
I had never felt so small. The room was only as big as a large walk-in closet but it seemed as vast as the ocean. I was drowning. Every step I took I fell deeper and deeper into the water, sinking faster and faster every time. As my mother took Milo to the veterinarian and she took him into an examination room, I sat down. I felt a thud as I hit the bottom of the ocean. I couldn’t hold my breath any longer. I was struggling, pushing, fighting, trying to resurface. Still trying and trying; all I could do was try. I tried not to let myself take in any water but as it filled my lungs, they collapsed. I was drowning from the inside.
The room was blue. Blue is statistically proven to make you feel calm. I pictured a team of workers with their faces shiny from perspiration rolling fresh wet paint in long strokes, breathing life into this empty box. It’s such an ironic thing how you can mask a place like this, how you can give the illusion of life, when the only thing that comes from this room is death. Perhaps they did it on purpose. Maybe this was all some cruel, sick joke. Did they choose this color because they knew someday I’d be sitting there waiting for news that would affect the rest of my life, feeling anything but calm? I suddenly realized how pitiful I was, sitting on a bench crying my eyes out blaming an imaginary crew for painting a room blue. I wanted someone to blame; I wanted a reason to be angry, angry for what happened to Milo, angry for the pain I felt. I had never experienced anything like this, emotions that gave me physical pain that started from the bottom of my stomach and made its way up until I couldn’t breathe or speak or think straight. I wondered if I would feel like this forever, forever wanting to crawl up in a ball in the corner and hide from all of it. Or maybe I could have run; maybe sorrow couldn’t have caught me. I didn’t know what to think. None of this was familiar and none of it made any sense. Sitting in that baby blue waiting room, the world had never felt so still.
I saw my mom finally coming out of the examination room, making her way toward me. The first things I noticed were the tears in her eyes, then the vet who followed her. My mom’s arm went around my shoulder as they proceeded to give me the news as gently as they could. I could tell they were fighting to be as careful as possible, explaining everything and trying to bring a bright side to it all. I was sick and tired of careful. All I wanted was to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I chose not to listen to the nonsense they added in. This is what I heard: “We think he has been hit by a car. His lung has been punctured. There is nothing we can do. We are going to have to put him down. You have a few minutes to say goodbye.” These words wrapped themselves around my neck while I gasped for air, every second getting tighter and tighter until I didn’t think I could handle it anymore. I threw my head down and started sobbing into my hands. I didn’t care what I looked like or what anyone thought. Milo was going to die and this would be the last time I ever saw him. There was nothing I could do. There was nothing the vet could do. There was nothing anyone could do. He was gone and that was that.
My mom grasped my hand tight and I squeezed it tighter as we made our way to the room he was in. I kept my head down, my eyes focused on my shoes until I looked up and saw him in a glass box. There were rows of them stacked up across the whole wall, but the rest of the boxes were empty. They had wrapped his legs in cloth and given him medication. It was nice to see him up on his feet again. For selfish reasons I wanted to take him home but I knew that this was the best thing. No one should have to suffer. I raised my hand to the glass and stuck my finger through the little opening at the bottom and he met it with his paw. We stayed like this for a moment until someone walked in and told us our time was up. I whispered the words, “I love you” and with his big green eyes, he repeated it back to me. At this moment I was reminded that he was mine and I was his and nothing in the world could ever change that. After being hit by a car and getting his lung punctured, he still came back and waited at my doorstep. He was a fighter. He never stopped trying. He tried, I tried; all we could do was try.
In loving memory of Milo
March 17, 2009 – October 15, 2012