“All children, except one, grow up.”
Reader, do you remember when you stopped being a child and stepped into adulthood? Did you realize what was happening at the time? I hope for you becoming an adult was something marvelously empowering and exhilarating. Maybe it was when you were the only person to write and edit your A+ essay. Maybe you became an adult when you drove by yourself for the first time. Or maybe you grew up slowly, over time, and didn’t realize you had grown up until one day you looked in the mirror and thought ‘Oh my! I am an individual responsible for myself!’
Since the age of five, due to various and fairly horrific life experiences which I will not go into here, I had been on the precipice of adulthood. But even as I stood on the knife’s edge of what seemed an abyss, I knew I would not fall in. I had a guardian who protected me from the harsher forces in my life that might push me into the dark. His name was Raindrop.
To the common observer, Raindrop would be no more than your run-of-the-mill, sociable fat orange cat. But to me, Raindrop was magic incarnate. When I was feeling overwhelmed by the enormity or terrifying nature of events, I would bury my face deep in his fur, finding solace in his special smell of dust and sunshine. Raindrop never allowed me to feel alone or insignificant. When there was no one to play with, and loneliness would start to creep in, Raindrop would cozy up to me, purring me into a cocoon of love, and I would relax into the untroubled happiness of childhood. Magic is the only explanation for how much love and comfort can be conveyed from such a small being. Thus, Raindrop was my White Knight—the Protector of my childhood—my best friend—and, in the innocence of youth, I thought he would remain so forever.
But as we know, “all children, except one, grow up.”
I grew up the morning of March 12th, 2008, seventeen years of age. At around 2am, the dark emptiness of our house was rent by a growling yowl from the depths of unfathomable pain. No no no no no no no. I squinched my eyes shut because I knew. I knew deep in my soul that to open my eyes, to leave my bed and go downstairs, to face that sound, would be the beginning of goodbye. And I wasn’t ready for goodbye.
It’s not real. It’s ok. It’s ok it’s ok it’s ok.
Raindrop was my White Knight—the Protector of my childhood—my best friend—and, in the innocence of youth, I thought he would remain so forever.
But then my Dad turned on the main house light, piercing my eyes and forcing me awake; I could hear him conferring with Mom, “I will take him, let Catherine sleep. She doesn’t need to see this.”
- NO. The pounding of my heart raced me to the top of the stairs.
“NO!” I gasped out. “He is my cat. I’ll come with you.”
Through the unending tear-blurred drive to the vet’s, I spoke in a voice I did not recognize: deep, stable, and soothing, “It’s ok, baby. It’s ok. It’s ok Raindrop. You will be ok.”
Words I did not believe myself but wanted—needed—more than anything, to be true.
Arriving at the vet’s, I carried Raindrop, alone, into the harsh white light of an examination room and laid him on the sterile, silver table. My parents stayed in the waiting room, respecting our moment. The vet came in and stroked my cat, speaking words I did not comprehend. But I trusted her and I sat with him as they ran tests, doing my best to still the shaking in my body, attempting to give him all the comfort and love he had ever given me.
I kept using that voice I didn’t recognize, “It’s ok, Raindrop. You’re going to be ok.”
The vet came back in; this time I understood her words but they made no sense: “He has a rare heart condition. We can’t save him. It’s his time to go.”
What? That’s impossible. His heart can’t fail. That is physically impossible. You silly woman.
“We will give him an injection to stop his heart. It will be completely painless, like falling asleep.”
Again I understood her words, but again they didn’t make sense.
How can you stop his heart? Nothing can stop his heart. It won’t work; she’ll see.
I continued to stroke his velvet soft fur as his green diamond eyes, so full of light and love and life, grew cloudy and droopy and his cuddly warm body became heavy and still, murmuring in my new grown up voice, “It’s ok Raindrop. You are safe. I love you, Raindrop. You are such a brave kitty. You are ok.”
I don’t remember the drive home. In the blinding light of my bathroom curled on the linoleum floor, overwhelmed and terrified and so, so sad, I put aside my new grown up voice and allowed myself to cry unrestrainedly and childishly. As my seemingly never-ending well of tears began to dry up, I calmed enough to discover a new feeling. Reader, there is a reason we call emotions feelings; when they are strong enough, we FEEL them, physically, in our bodies. And in that moment of quietude I felt a spot an inch in diameter in the middle right part of my heart that FELT like Raindrop. I felt his presence strong as the sun, consuming my grief and fear and wrapping me in a protective cocoon of warmth and love and care.
I was right: no one can stop his heart. I have his heart in mine.
And a voice I had never heard before rolled as thunder across the expanse of my mind: You are ok. You are not alone. I am with you.
Raindrop’s last act of magic was to pass his love and strength on to me, enabling me to confront his death, to take care of myself and my feelings. When my tears had stopped entirely, I took a deep breath and stood up. Now I was my White Knight, my Protector, my best friend; I was an adult.
In the almost thirteen years since Raindrop’s death, I have done many grownup things such as driving a car and writing and editing an A+ paper all by myself. I have said goodbye to three more cats, gone off to college and graduate school, traveled abroad, DATED, and weathered a few more harrowing events. But Reader! Do you know what I have discovered in all that time? I have discovered that, no matter my age, no matter what I’ve done, and no matter how mature I might act, there is a little space in the middle right side of my heart, about an inch in diameter, that hasn’t grown up AT ALL—my inner child. It is this little part of me that helps me love passionately, that encourages me to explore the world with wide-eyed curiosity, and that makes me believe that magic still exists.
As you continue to grow up, Reader, I hope that you, too, have a special place for your own inner child.