This another one of those posts that I don’t really want to write. I’ve been postponing it, not only because I’m a world class procrastinator, but also because it’s painful. It seems like most of my writing has been painful lately, but I suppose it’s necessary for me to heal. Okay, here goes…
18 years ago, in 1996, I was 4 years old and my life (and the world) was much different from what it is today. I was a confused little boy living on a farm just outside Harrismith in the Free State. Our family had recently had a major financial setback and most of the time it was just my mom and I on that godforsaken little farm, trying to make the most of life. But we weren’t alone. We had our pets.
Something that I haven’t written about before is my love for animals, particularly cats. I am absolutely obsessed with these majestic creatures and at other people’s houses you’ll often find me connecting with their pets instead of actually talking to other people. Not that I really go to other people’s houses.
Our only cat at the time, Yoko (yes, Yoko Ono) died suddenly after she was trampled by the dogs. I don’t remember much, because it was long ago, but I do remember that I was very sad. It was my first real encounter with death that I can recall, and I don’t think that I fully understood it.
It happened quite unexpectedly, if my foggy memory serves me correctly, that we got two new kittens. My parents owned a hardware shop in Harrismith at the time, and someone came into the shop asking if he wanted the cats. Long story short, he took them. At the time, my mom had just read me the story of Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat, and I loved it. It was the story of Gobbolino, a little black kitten and his sister, Sootica, born into the ownership of an evil witch. While Sootica was somewhat of a bad girl who was happy to assist the witch in her dark deeds, Gobbolino was a good kitten who simply wanted to live a normal life and be a housecat. I don’t recall how the story ended, but I know that I loved it and it was only natural that I ended up calling my kittens Gobbolino and Pikgittina (the Afrikaans version of Sootica). My Gobbolino wasn’t black, but rather grey with dark stripes. Pikgittina was, however, pitch black with striking green eyes and a very short tail.
I don’t remember Gobbolino very well, because he didn’t live for very long. He had some kind of illness and had to be put down. I was told, of course, that he simply fell asleep and went to Heaven, and that was enough for me.
Pikgittina, on the other hand, was not sick at all. She was a healthy, lively kitten, and we started doing everything together. If I sat down, she was on my lap. When I got into the bathtub, she would sit by the faucets. When I got into bed, she would get right in there with me. Each morning my hair would be pointing in all kinds of directions, because she would take it upon herself to wash it while I was sleeping. If it was possible for me to take her to school I probably would’ve, because we were practically joined at the hip.
As the years went by, a lot changed. I had other pets as well, but they came and went. Pikgittina (later Blackie, because people couldn’t understand her name) was always there, almost as far back as I can remember. In 2012 I started college and I had to leave my hometown. This also meant that I had to leave my 16 year old cat. I still remember the morning I left. My parents had already gone to the car, but I lingered behind to say goodbye to her. I was heartbroken because I knew then, as I have known for a long time, that I will never have another pet like her. Each animal is unique in their own way, and I know that she was sent to me in a time when I didn’t really have friends. But that time was beginning to run out.
Each time I came back from college, it would be so great to see her again. No matter how long I had been gone, I could still walk in, pick her up, and she would start purring like a tractor engine.
This year Blackie turned 18, and I began to see a change in her. She used to purr so loud, but as time went by, her purring became softer and later subsided. Her eyesight and hearing began to fail and after a while she became completely blind and deaf. I knew that the end was nearing. I knew that she probably wouldn’t see the age of 19, and the thought ate away at me.
I’ve never been known as someone who was able to let things go, but I was able to let go of her. In early November I came to visit my mom for a while.Blackie had changed completely. She started to scream, I can’t really call it meowing, whenever she got lost in the house. Everything became a struggle, from getting her to eat to getting her to sleep. The problem was that my grandmother had become attached to her in the meantime, and so it made everything that much more difficult. I went back to Pretoria on the 18th, and as I was driving, I decided that when I returned to Harrismith for the December holidays I would take her to the vet by myself.
That night, a friend and I went to go watch War Horse at Monte Casino, and as the show started, I could feel my heart breaking. This story about a young man and his bond with his horse touched me in a way that few people would understand. After she had become sick, I found it harder and harder to try and remember her the way she used to be. Those good memories started to be overshadowed by her illness. But as I sat there, for a moment I could see her again, the way she used to be. All the times we played. How she would jump onto my lap when I sat down. Cold nights when she would snuggle in under the blanket. I remembered her, and I began to cry, not so much out of sorrow, but out of a deep sadness, because I knew that like everything else in life, our time had ended. By the end of the show I was sobbing so uncontrollably, that it became embarrassing. Even my friend looked a little bit uncomfortable.
The next day my mom called me. At first I didn’t think anything strange about her calling in the middle of the day, but then she told me that she had bad news. Suddenly it became clear. By the time we started watching the show, she was already gone. It was as if she had come to visit me one last time. When my mom came home from work that day, Blackie had collapsed and she was no longer able to walk. My mom decided to wait until the next day to tell me that she had been put to sleep, because she knew it would upset me.
As we spoke, a single tear ran down my face. I ended the call and just sat there. I was sad, but I was also relieved. Relieved, because I knew that she was no longer suffering. But sad, because I had lost the greatest friend I ever had. An animal’s emotions are pure. If they like you, they show it without holding back, and if they don’t like you they aren’t scared to show you that either. Sometimes I’m not sure if my human friends really care about me. Hell, sometimes I’m not even sure if they even like me. But, no matter what happened, I always knew that she cared about me. I never had to tell her that I was gay or explain why I was depressed, or try to make her understand that I want to be a performer. She accepted it, and she accepted me, without hesitation.
As time goes by, I’m grieving for her slowly, because thinking about it too much at a time is too painful. When those we love, whether they are animals or people, pass away, a part of us dies with them. And so I’m grieving for a part of myself that I have lost and that will not return. But time heals, and in due time, I will heal.