Friday, August 31, 2012

On Growing Up

"We're putting the cat to sleep tomorrow morning, maybe you shouldn't come so early" my mom said to me as I was helping her shelve books in her classroom. "He's 18, he can't walk and it just seems like he's ready to go". "I know" I told her "he's had a good long life". It worried me how casually I took this conversation at the time, but it later hit me in the car on the way home how upset I was. Crying in traffic, sobbing about how I wanted to go home. I cried all afternoon and into the night in intermittent burst of sobbing. To make myself feel better I ate Knorr butter noodles and watched the Goonies, just as I had done as a kid when I was sick. It hit me, it wasn't just that the cat was going to be put down, but everything that went a long with him.

My mom suggested we get a cat after I finished second grade (1994) after a teacher at her school found kittens under her shed. She had two left, two white and orange brothers who were inseparable so we took both. After that me and the cats were inseparable. We slept together, ate breakfast together, let me dress them up. They snuggled close when I was sad and we would share a bag of lunch meat on the sofa the summer my mom taught summer school and I was too young to drive or go anywhere alone. They were with me when I started college and where there climbing the Christmas tree every winter. When the first cat died it was awful and I was upset for a long time, but I still had Nagie to cuddle with when I came home to do laundry every Saturday. Tomorrow it's back to a life without cats that I can barely remember. Those cats were my childhood; a simpler time when I had nothing to worry about except who would be in my class come the fall and what I wanted for my birthday. This afternoon when I got home I didn't just morn the life of the cat that wasn't even dead, but I mourned what I couldn't get back. I will never be young and innocent again and it upsets me more than I think it should. It didn't help my mom dropped this bomb on me in her elementary school classroom, a place we all remember so well full of fun bulletin boards and teddy bear counters. She told me to go through my books that she used for her students once I got too old for them. I looked through them, seeing my name Sharpied over and replaced with "Property of Blahblah Elementary". The things I loved as a child weren't really mine anymore and my mom was letting me have one last crack at them before she gave them all away; my treasures with my name childishly scrawled in each one.

I remember my friends talking at our Christmas party in sixth grade about how they didn't believe in Santa Claus. I got upset about it. I knew my parents had been pulling the "we're not Santa" card for years, but I always held out hope that things like Christmas could always be as sweet as it was the year before. I got home and cried (I know I'm a weepy) because I realized that I wasn't little anymore; no more toys, no more make believe. I was in a world of puberty, my classmates trying drugs for the first time, and everyone in such a hurry to grow up.  I eventually got into the same mindset, but I always wanted the freedom I had as a kid. Not to say I got to do whatever I wanted, but the freedom from responsibility and social hang-ups that I still think about today. You always had friends, you always had summer vacation, you felt as though people really gave a crap about you.I swam in the ocean without worrying about jellyfish, I ran around the neighborhood in my bathing suit and a big t-shirt all summer, I thought I could do anything. Nowadays I'm in a place where I'm not supposed to be a kid anymore and I hate it. Call it a selfish urge to desperately cling to my youth, but it's so taxing having to worry about all this stuff. The worrying then makes me feel guilty for what I put my parents through in the past with all of what I thought were "problems".

I know I can't be young forever, but it's sad to think that part of my life is gone. Like my cats, I'll never see it again and I'll never get it back. Losing something or someone you love brings on such a profound sadness. In the moment following, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it and nothing anyone else can to make it any better. The only solution is to move one, and that's what most of us do. I don't want to be in a perpetual state of mourning like a Victorian wife, but I don't want the fun and innocence sucked out of life either. I once told myself I'd never have a pet after I lost my cats because they really were the best pets ever. Loyal, cuddly, vocal, they were everything a stereotypical cat wasn't and I may never find another animal like that, but that's for me to find out. There's still time to be "young" and see the world, meet new people, and experience new things that I didn't have the freedom or ability to do when I was a child. This time in your mid-twenties/early thirties is when things start to die and leave you. Because you're an adult it's supposed to be easier, but it isn't, we just have the memories and foresight to know that things change and you can get through anything if you work hard enough. I've lost worlds less than a lot of people in this world have, and I feel very guilty getting as upset about losing things that some find so trivial, but it's human nature. We acquire things, we bond, we make things "ours" and when they leave us it can be the worst feeling in the world. A few weeks from now my parents will replace the old carpet full of cat hair, hairball stains, and claw snags they've had since we brought home those kittens and blanket the house in something new that will up it's value, because that's the next thing to go. When you're a sentimental person it's so hard to let things go, but it makes you that much stronger in the long run. If you can let go of the unreleasable, you can will yourself to do just about anything. Tomorrow I say goodbye to one of my oldest and closest friends and like my youth, he'll look me in the eyes and tell me it's just time to go.

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