I’m taking a writing class in creative non-fiction this semester and our first assignment was to write a short vignette about anything. The only catch was that we had to mimic the writing style of Sandra Cisneros in “The House on Mango Street,” a novel made up of snapshot-stories. Her writing didn’t contain quotations around dialogue and a lot of the sentences were fragmented.
Four years ago yesterday, I attempted to end my life for the first time. Four years ago today, I spent the night in the hospital. That was the night Maggie passed away. The essay I’m about to share with you is about that experience. The essay below is the mandatory revision of the first assignment we were assigned to do in my creative non-fiction class last week. The timing worked out by fate, I guess.
I know that it will sound like it, but this essay is about so much more than a cat. Don’t get me wrong, losing her was not easy. It still hurts.
But you’ll see.
You Deserve This, Donaven
It didn’t take much to put me in the hospital for a day and a night and another day – just handfuls of Tylenol, a message to a girl, and that girl opening her mouth to tell on me, to refuse to let me go.
My message was intentional. An SOS.
I just needed one person to prove to me that my existence mattered. That I was valuable. That they wouldn’t leave me.
She visited me in the hospital that night.
You’re my bestfriend and I love you, she said over and over and over again, tears pouring out of the holes in her face that allowed her to see something in me I sure didn’t. She looked like an apple someone had dragged their teeth through, streaked and the color of love.
This isn’t about that girl and her heart for me, though.
This is about Maggie and my heart for her.
In my moment of self-destruction, if I loved anything at all, it was that cat. No one understood how painful it was to watch her struggle to stand. Struggle to walk.
Struggle to drink. Struggle to eat.
Struggle to inhale. Struggle to exhale.
Struggle to curl up in my arms as if I was her 4-year-old and she was my teddy-bear. She couldn’t rest on my chest like she used to. Or next to me or at the foot of my bed as I slept.
Her kidneys were not being kind. Watching her body destroy itself was destroying me. I had never lost anything to Death before.
She was one of the few things that kept me moving forward despite my depression, despite the neglect and abuse I experienced from the two people who were supposed to love me with no exceptions. Their love wasn’t love.
Maggie’s love was love. Engaged. Unadulterated. Unconditional.
It reached far beyond my anxious mind.
Don’t you dare tell me that she was just an animal.
She would be leaving my world soon and maybe that’s part of the reason I did it. Downed the pills, that is. Maybe I hoped the magic in them would keep us together.
I struggled to stand. Struggled to walk.
Struggled to drink. Struggled to eat.
Struggled to inhale. Struggled to exhale.
Struggled to curl up next to her paralyzed fur on the floor of our living room. If I joined her on the carpet, I wouldn’t have been able to get up. Getting up meant leaving her alone and that didn’t feel right.
Oh, God, how it hurts to look back.
It was all too much to bear. And it wasn’t solely because of Maggie.
Years and years of misery had brought me to a place where I couldn’t bear the weight of my own life. My depression was at its worst.
I hated myself. I hated that this was happening.
This was the straw that broke me.
I woke up nauseous, empty, and disappointed the morning following the overdose. That morning was the last time I would ever see her. If I had known that I never would’ve gotten on the bus to go to school. I would’ve fought every authority that would’ve tried to tell me otherwise. I would’ve yelled. I would’ve thrashed. I would’ve started a revolution in my house. My house that was far from a home. Maggie was my home.
But instead, I walked to the bus stop and held back tears.
But after that girl opened her mouth and after the school phoned my parents and after my parents phoned my youth pastor and after the hospital ushered me in, the nurse missed my vein. Typical. I could take it though. My parents on my left, him on my right.
He missed it again. I cringed.
I thought, you deserve this, Donaven.
I just do not like your capillary structure, he said.
Fuck you, I screamed inside my racing mind.
From the right he leaned in for a third attempt and to the left I leaned in for my father, the Marine who was a pro at being absent and the man who married my mother, a manipulative, manic woman whose words stung more than the power she packed in that arm of hers. Yeah, my father.
I poured my eyes out into his arm crevice as he lovingly head-locked me and as the corpsman missed two more times. And for the first time in what felt like ever, my mother stood up for me.
This is ridiculous. Send the doctor in to numb the area and have him do it.
My bawling wasn’t a product of my inability to handle the pain of a little prick. No. I could handle that.
It was just that I had finally reached my breaking point.
The product of my denial and my inability to handle genetically unstable brain chemistry was something much too overwhelming to process. My bestfriend of 12 years couldn’t actually be dying on me.
She was my constant through every military induced move and she was my strength and it sounds stupid and maybe it is. As I rested that first day, an IV hanging out of my arm, the worst of my fight had been won, but my home was still fighting at my house, limp and lame and barely breathing. I couldn’t be with her. I couldn’t love her where she was at. She always loved me where I was at. At my best, at my worst, and at all the grey areas in-between, she loved me. I failed her in that way.
She passed away last night, my dad whispered by my bedside the next morning.
Where is she, my numb voice croaked.
Mom had her cremated, his eyes tip-toeing around mine.
She didn’t keep them.
I never got a goodbye. I never got a say in what we did with her. She was my cat. Not theirs. I lived, she died, and “unfair” doesn’t even begin to cut it. My world stopped making sense, but I didn’t cry under the crushing weight of grief. I didn’t have it in me then. I refused to grieve. Maybe that in itself is the first stage of grieving.
Years later I’d cry. Many times. And years later I’d spend a few hours under a needle partly to commemorate her, to honor her life and the stability that she gave me in the midst of my developing borderline personailty and bipolar disorders, in the midst of the chaos that followed me with every move. More than once my tattoo artist will ask me what it all means, but if I were to try to tell him the truth I would’ve cried. And if I had cried underneath his needle, I would’ve been no better than the Donaven who cried under the needle of some incompetent corpsman.
So I won’t invite him into that story.
Instead, I’ll remain silently still and realize that this ink is much more symbolic of my choice to live than it is of my love for Maggie. I’ll remain silently still and encourage myself with:
I am getting better,
I am a work of art in progress,
I am stronger,
I am wiser,
I am the living,
and I am the hopeful.
You deserve this, Donaven.