I don’t really know what to say to people who, when confronted with the news that someone’s pet has died, dismissively say ‘well, it’s just a pet, they can always get another one,’ as though animals are some kind of renewable commodity that can be replaced like a broken lightbulb. Losing a pet is more like being the lightbulb, as you feel the light go out of you with a snap and the tinkling of a filament and you realise that here is a part of yourself that will never light up again — you’re used up, burned out, finished in a flare of light and a POP. Even if we turn on a flashlight to shine a light into that dark corner of ourselves, it will never be quite the same again.
Some people might find it strange that here, five years after I lost Mr Shadow, I still remember him, but it’s about more than a simple memorial. One of my characters recently said that: “At first waking up every morning was awful, because for a minute everything would feel normal and then you’d remember. Then for a while you just woke up and remembered, and that was awful too. Over time, though, you don’t forget, exactly, you just remember in a different way? I think about them every day but they’re more like people I used to know,” speaking about loss.
People I used to know.
I dream about him sometimes. Usually ordinary dreams — seeing him around the house, even though he never actually lived here, in this house, dying just days before I moved. Sometimes I dream that we are sitting together reading on the couch with a book he never saw, or watching a television series he never heard of because it didn’t exist while he was alive, and it’s like nothing has changed. Sometimes I dream that he’s out in the meadow, that I see him receding into the woods, and those are perhaps the most painful dreams of all, because a part of my brain rings an alarm bell, reminding me that this is not reality, but symbolism, and I wake up jarred by it.
Rarely now, thankfully, I dream of him dying, the thousand and one miseries and indignities that cancer brings you as it slowly eats away at your body. I wake up from those dreams sweating, convinced that I should have done something else, could have done something else, shouldn’t have been so distracted and selfish that summer, should have paid closer attention to him, should have seen the change from photograph to photograph, the dulling of his coat, the hollowing of his eyes, the look of discomfort and then pain that began to creep across his body.
Self hatred can become vicious, consuming every part of you, when you are confronting you-that-was. You-that-was isn’t a particularly great person in hindsight.
But he was just a cat, after all. I should have gotten another one.