there's a sad rite of passage that i think is rarely spoken of, but with which we all, in our twenties, are forced to face. b suffered through this in 2004, and now it's my turn. and it's something our parents suffer through too.
at some point, we have to let go of our beloved childhood companions, our pets, who our parents have continued to see through old age in our absence. as kids, we love them with our whole hearts, they are members of our families, perhaps the only one we'll talk to during our teenage angst. back from college, we often greet them with more joy, miss them more, than our parents. and when we leave, the pets and our parents together adapt to a quieter house, the pets looking to the parents for the attention they can't find in our empty rooms.
for me, it was kitty. my brother and i found her the winter of my fourth grade year in the park between our house and the elementary school. thinking she belonged to a neighbor, we took her in - but only into the garage. my dad wanted nothing to do with a cat in the house, no sir. as the snow, and my dad's heart, melted, she became a member of the family. she used to sit on my math books when i tried to do homework, lounged in my suitcases when i tried to pack for vacation, and could sense my sadness immediately. i hung a christmas bell on a ribbon on my door, so that she could ring it when my door was shut if she wanted to come in. and she did. she spent hours sitting between my brother and i as we played mario brothers, ate the food under the table we didn't want, and comforted us when we were sad. she liked to run the length of our midwestern ranch in the middle of the night, and when my bedroom moved to the basement, i'd often wake up to her racing back and forth above me. she ignored me when i would come home from college, but only for a little while. she came with us when we spent a few months in ohio for my dad's job. and when my parents left the house in which my brother and i grew up after we went to college, kitty moved into the new house two weeks before they did. she loved it there. she grew old there. she put up with my parents' grandchildren chasing and pulling on her there. and it was there, over the holidays, when b and my dad were off doing guy things, and my mom, her mom, and her sisters went to see the winter lake, that i tried to say good-bye. kindly, my parents decided to continue suffering through kitty's loss of digestive control so i could say good-bye. but this brain that's been saturated with higher education for a decade could not be wrapped around the fact that this little thing might not live forever.
it happened then on the train after work on monday, when my mom slipped the news into conversation ... that the last vestige of my childhood fell away. i heard my dad jokingly call my mom a murderer, the both of them laughing awkwardly as they commonly do through things with which they can't really stand to face, while i stood there on the metro wishing the tears wouldn't come.