Before my stepfather killed himself with a drug overdose, he used to teach me many things. One of which was that “your animal is the only true unselfish love you will get. They only want you. They ask for nothing.”
One day my cat got hit by a car when I got home from school. I was 11. Her name was “Max” because I was 6 when I picked her out. I ran inside yelling for help. She was screaming on the side of the road and I didn’t know what to do. He came out, god bless him, he tried. I was in shock and wasn’t even crying. “He could totally fix her,” I thought. “He fixes everything. It’s a good thing he was home”. He picked her up, turned to me, and laid her in my arms like a baby. She quit screaming and started purring.
He explained to me that she was too broken. She was going to die. “She needs you to hold her now. Till she passes. As long as you hold her she won’t hurt. Just talk to her.” He then stepped past me. He noticed I wasn’t saying anything and I was starting to lose it, so he said “let’s get her to the rabbit grounds”, so I instinctively started talking to Max about rabbits. We walked about 3 min before the purring stopped. She had passed.
I paused a step and panicked out a “dad!” He just turned “You got her, boy. That’s all she wants”. So I kept walking till we got to the hunting grounds. I dug while he watched and talked about how “you always hold your friends. Makes them forget the moment and remember yesterday. They don’t panic when you stick with them. That’s what men do, boy”. I laid her down and covered her. He asked, “everything done?” I nodded. “You can cry”.
Many years later, after the families had separated, he contacted us to let us know he wasn’t doing too good. When I was able to get out there, what was once a 250 lb mountain of a man, was now a crumpled 1oo lb piece of paper between words. That night everyone was asleep around 2 am. I walked over to his bed and sat in the chair beside him while he was having one of his hallucinations. I picked up his hand. He couldn’t even open it, so I held his arm while his eyes darted around the room as he whimpered at past sins or failed dreams.
I said, “you remember when we had to lay Max at the rabbit runs?” We didn’t talk about rabbits much. I just held his arm and talked about the old house. What 15 years of growth must look like. How the old shed he built was probably still standing. He stopped shaking when I started talking about the smell of that field in the summer. How mint grew on the west side and would blow into the house when we would Bush hog it. He just closed his eyes and went to sleep. He passed 24 hours later with only a few seizures, but no more whimpering. I like to think he spent his last 24 hours in that field with his 11-year-old son. Watching the cats head out into the brush. Taking a draw on that red and telling me we would head back in a moment.
We stood there for an eternity.
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