We arrived at my house for the first time on the very same day, both of us newborns. My parents carried their new daughter over the threshold of her home, and the stray kitten followed. I’m not inclined to personify animals, but it’s nice to think she knew what she was doing. I like to believe, though we couldn’t possibly know, that somehow we both understood we were home. She stayed with us for eighteen years. Six months after she died, I moved out.
We had many pets over the years, most of which were strays, but I never loved any of them the way I loved Pushkin. She was named after the great Russian poet who wrote during The Age of Romanticism. And it was sort of poetically romantic, the way we arrived together, and grew up together, and spent our childhoods loving each other. I knew just how to pet her. She knew the sound of my voice.
But when I think of Pushkin, I don’t think of all of the hours spent with her curled up in my lap, purring madly as I stroked her soft fur. I don’t think of her as a small mewing kitten or as the frail old cat stretched out on our purple couch, breathing shallowly on her finally day, as I kissed her and said goodbye. I only think of the way I wronged her.
There was a day when I trapped her, just for a little while, in the few feet of open space between the couch and the wall. I moved two chairs on either side of her escape routes and stood over the couch watching her. She looked scared. We stared at each other for a few moments. Then I moved the chairs away and she ran out of the room.
And I can’t explain what possessed me to do it, or why such a small thing should matter, but it has stayed with me for years and years. Yes, I was young, but I was old enough to know what I was doing, and I was old enough to understand that it was wrong. Still, I did it anyway.
It was intentional. And it scared me then, as it scares me now, to know that I was capable of wanting to bring fear to another living creature. It shamed me then, as it shames me now, to know that I could intentionally be so mean to someone I loved. It saddened me then, as it saddens me now, to know that love was not enough to keep me kind.
And to say I have never repeated this mistake would be a lie. Because I know that I have hurt others, both unintentionally and purposefully, and I know that sometimes – shamefully – it has somehow brought me satisfaction. That exists in me. It terrifies me.
I am haunted by Pushkin’s eyes. They stay with me as a reminder of the suffering I am capable of inflicting. They are forever a symbol of my guilt. And while I am wise enough to know that these moments don’t define me, they are still a part of me that can’t be overlooked. I have to remember not to be hurtful. I have to make an effort to overcome the part of me that wants to hurt. It is not easy to always be kind, but I have to try. I have to.
Because when I think of Pushkin, I think of guilt and shame, and not of our eighteen years of love. Because when you lose someone – even if it’s just a cat – your memories of them get sifted down to mere moments, and I don’t want to say goodbye before I’ve said I’m sorry. I don’t want to have long lists of things I’m sorry for. I want to be able to say that I was strong enough to be kind. I want you to know the sound of my voice, and hear in it centuries of romantic poetry.