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.
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.
It still hurts to look back.
It was all too much. And it wasn’t solely because of Maggie.
Years and years of internal conflict had brought me to a place where I couldn’t stand the weight of my existence. My depression was at its worst. I hated myself. I hated that this was happening. And 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 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 woman whose words stung more than the power she packed in those hands of hers. Yeah, my father.
I poured my eyes out into his arm crevice as he 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. I had just finally broke.
My bestfriend of 12 years couldn’t actually be dying on me. No way. The product of my denial and my inability to handle genetically unstable brain chemistry was something much too overwhelming to process.
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 in a 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 and I still haven’t forgiven myself for that.
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.
And I will never forgive her for that.
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 that day, but I didn’t cry under the grief. I didn’t have it in me then. I refused to grieve.
And 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 to commemorate her, to honor her life and the stability that she gave me in the midst of my developing borderline personality and bipolar disorders, in the midst of a chaos that seemed to follow me day in and day out.
More than once my tattoo artist will ask me what it means, but if I would have tried to tell him the truth I would’ve wept. 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 didn’t invite him into that story.
Instead, I remained silently still, with my friend Drew next to me, and I realized that the ink was much more symbolic of my choice to live than it was of my love for Maggie.
Today, I fight for stillness 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.