So as most of you know, this weekend something killed the baby of Scabs, one of the strays I take care of. I only happened to find her by accident, reaching under my stoop to see how wet the "bedding" (shredded phone-book pages) that I'd put under there had gotten in the rain. Instead I felt the fur and heft of cat.
Before pulling her out, my brain screamed: she froze to death and it's all your fault because you gave her the illusion that the space beneath your stairs would keep her safe and warm. Then I thought: poisoning. My brain was scrambling to rationalize it. But when I pulled her out, I found her looking relatively serene but with still wet blood in her ear and on her tail and what seemed to be a puncture-wound in her side. She'd clearly been attacked. I touched her, I stared at her, closely examining her eyes and her body. It was jarring being that close to her since she'd never let me near before.
I felt terrible, thinking about how just a week before, I'd spent so much time debating about whether to release Scabs after her surgery, finally deciding to for the sake of her baby. I remembered letting her outside and her baby running away from under my stoop like she always did. And then I remember the baby very slowly and cautiously returning to scurry back under the stoop. She was SO excited to see her mom again that she risked me being there to be close. I went back inside and then I watched from upstairs as the baby raced and romped around in the dark, clearly joyous at having her mom returned to her. She was a very skittish baby, and she always stuck close to Scabs. I'd never seen her anywhere without her mom.
I remembered how much joy I'd gotten in watching her play her favorite game which was essentially attacking her mom's tail as though it were some crazy wild animal. She'd stalk, she'd leap through the air, she'd wrestle it.
She had gotten big, much bigger than I'd realized. She was heavy. Her eyes were both open but lightless.
I cried. I cried pulling her out from beneath my stoop. I cried as I tried to figure out what to do with her. I cried as I left her in my hallway for a moment as I went upstairs to grab a plastic bag. I cried as I put her in the backyard. I cried when she was gone.
I couldn't bring myself to put her in a garbage bag and leave her at the curb. It seemed so cold and uncaring. So instead, I went to the very back of my yard, moved away the leaves, spread a soft bed of drier leaves down, and laid her out. I then covered her with more leaves and left her there.
My brain just kept flipping through everything that was so upsetting about the situation: images of her from just a week before; memories of her playing with her mom; the thought that I'd been going in and out of my apartment that morning and all the while, she could've been dying under my stoop; the thought that she'd died alone; the thought that I was responsible, having created the shelter for them and given her the false sense of safety; the fact that she'd been scared; the fact that the things that had made her so leery and suspicious had actually proven to be just as scary as she'd thought; the worry about the safety of all the other strays; the question of whether Scabs actually knew (she'd been running around playing with the other strays that very morning on my neighbor's garage roof); what it meant if she DID know and was that playful despite it; what it meant if she didn't.
All of it was very upsetting.
The next day I decided, with a clearer head, that I should bury her. I went back behind the tree where I'd laid her out and began to rummage through the leaves to find her. Nothing. Nothing nothing nothing. I scanned the backyard. Nothing. I rummaged more. Nothing. I scanned once more and then I saw her: splayed out by our old compost heap, completely disemboweled, her mouth bared back in a wretched and horrible snarl. My heart leapt and I thought: she wasn't dead! You laid her out and she wasn't dead and a wild animal ripped her apart and she wasn't dead! I reassured myself that this couldn't possibly have been the case. Her eyes had been open, and she'd not been breathing. I would've noticed. I'd sat with her briefly, stared at her when I'd pulled her out, looked at her lifeless eyes, I would've noticed any breathing. The snarl was surely just a product of death and rigor mortis, the flesh tightening and pulling her mouth back into the snarl. I touched her mouth, pulled back her lip just a little to bare her tiny teeth as though to reassure myself of the process.
Her eyes were strangely white instead of the dull black from the day before.
I dug a shallow grave beneath the wet leaves. One of the kittens that was romping around in the backyard with me suddenly saw her and snuck up suspiciously until I shooed her away. Strangely calmer than the day before, I gently picked her up with a plastic bag, trying not to sink my fingers into the pink muscle of her empty insides. I laid her in the grave face down, thought to flip her over but realized I couldn't without sticking my hands into her gutted stomach. Instead I brushed the leaves and dirt from the back of her face and then covered her with dirt.
I gently pressed the dirt down with my feet and covered the new grave with wet leaves. When I turned to leave, both the kittens were watching and Scabs was sitting on the back porch, having seen everything.
I stuck a gnarled stick in the ground as a marker, dragged a couple flower pots over and left them on top to dissuade any animals from further digging her up.
I was calm. I lavished Scabs with love, feeling bad that she'd seen the whole thing and that she'd lost her only remaining baby.
I went through the rest of my day. I went through the rest of my next day. The thought of the baby was always lurking in the background.
Last night, in the midst of a movie about death and fear, as it poured rain outside, the thought lurched up inside me: You buried her face down. It was so heavy and oppressive, my horror at this fact, that I seriously contemplated getting up and going out in the rain and digging her up so that I could rebury her face up. I could barely control myself from doing so. I had to text more than one person to get sufficient reassurance that she would be ok the way she was.
All of which made me think about how horrible it all is.
This past month or two, I've been thinking a lot about death, even though I try not to. It rises up inside me like bile, the thought, and once I start to think it, I can't stop.
And here's the thing: I am not ok with it.
I feel a sense of paralysis wash over me every time it pops into my head.
I cannot make sense of it.
What is the point of all this if at some point I will no longer be here?
The world exists only as long as I exist.
I am not okay with that.
I am not okay with the fact that people, animals, can be dying just feet away while others move through their daily motions, unaware or unconcerned. I am not okay with the fact that we are all that fragile and fleeting.
I am not ok with the fact that at some point, I won't feel quite so upset about her anymore.
I am not reassured by the fact that I can leave a mark on the world if I so choose. I cannot convince myself that leaving a mark on the world will make a goddamn bit of difference.
As my mind starts to sink into all this, I start to lose any sense of why I shouldn't just plow through this life, tearing things up, doing whatever I want as long as it brings me pleasure, no matter who or what it hurts, killing, destroying, any of it. What does it matter?
My compassion of course begins to kick in when I start to think this way, but the pure bare-boned logic in me says: Fuck that. Break an animal's neck with your bare hands, cheat on your partner, beat them in anger, rip apart the flesh of an animal with your teeth, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE BECAUSE WE WILL ALL DIE SOME DAY AND ALL OF IT WILL BE RENDERED NULL AND VOID. No matter what we suffer, endure, no matter what we rise to, no matter what we achieve, in the face of death it means nothing. It is all the same. We will not be there to know, to care, to see.
I cannot wrap my mind around this, don't think I ever will be able.
I hope some day I can, but I almost don't want to acquiesce to death in that way, to say: hey, I'm ok that you do what you do.
I am not ok with it.
I am not afraid of dying, I just don't want to one day no longer exist.
It's not that I think it unfair, it just doesn't make sense to me. All philosophizing aside. Stripped down to my gut reaction, IT IS TERRIBLE AND IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE.
I love this world, ultimately. Every fucking tiny little thing, even the bad things. They are all amazing and beautiful and I don't want the day to come when I am no longer able to experience these things or to have this thought.
Sitting here, thinking all this, I just want to pull everything that is dear to me close and clutch it, hard and warm, lock my door, and never let go.