Even though I'm an optimist I tend to be very realistic when it comes to death, even fatalistic. Maybe too much so, who knows. To be honest, death makes me uncomfortable and I don't like it. I hate the way it makes people react, I hate the tears, and I hate that sick feeling you get in your gut. But you can't always run away from the stuff that makes you uncomfortable, you know? Life doesn't work like that.
So that's what is going through my head as I race across our front yard to the edge of 143rd Street in my bare feet. It's easy to forget things like shoes when you're scared out of your wits. I look both ways. The concrete is cold.
"Is he dead??" is the first thing I ask the man with the black SUV. Only I'm kind of choked up, so the words don't quite come out right the first time. The man shrugs his shoulders and kneels down in the grass.
"I dunno, I only stopped a second ago. I saw him in the street, I thought he might be alive, but..."
I kneel down too and scoop the warm little bundle of grey fur out of the bike lane. I suddenly realize why they call it a 'dead weight'.
The striped kitten had been a rescue from the veterinarian's office I work at; he had gotten used to me as I worked in the kennel area, and I liked the way he would 'talk' to me as I cleaned. It only took a few weeks to decide that he was coming home with me. 'Acquiring excessive amounts of animals, just one of the many hazards of working at a vet,' or so my co-worker had said with a smile. But the cat turned out to be more than a rescue animal, he ended up being a friend. He would come whenever I called him, even at midnight. He would follow me everywhere, right at my heels with a kind of dog-like devotion. But he'd never been so good at crossing streets...
I pull the body into my lap and stroke the fur. The cars on the street slow down as they pass us, faces staring. Either they have never seen a dead cat before or they're trying to figure out why I'm wearing a tank top in the middle of December. Whatever. I don't care.
As my dad thanks the man for stopping, I lift the cat and stand up. Blood that I hadn't noticed before smears across my arms and shirt. I cross the street. I've carried him like this hundreds of times before, his green eyes staring up at me out of a whiskered face. Only this time the eyes are glassy and the head hangs listlessly from a broken neck.
"I'm okay," I tell my mom as I wash my hands at the kitchen sink a few minutes later. "This stuff happens, and it's okay. I'll be fine." She's crying, but I can't find any tears. I just want to be alone.
What is it about death that bothers us so much? We should all know by now that death happens. It's sudden, it's inevitable, and it can't be stopped. As I drive down the highway that night I can't help but thinking about and remembering the feeling of the motionlesss body where there once had been a kind of life. And I think to myself, "I could be a body on the side of the road too." Just as motionless, just as...gone.
Death is sudden. And death is tricky, and cruel. You think it would at least give us some sort of warning so that we could say goodbye. But it doesn't, and we can't.
Like I said before, death makes me uncomfortable and I don't like being reminded that it exists. But we can't live in little bubbles of self-deception forever.
Death is hard, and it happens. But so does life, you know? Life happens. And isn't that a greater blessing? I think so.