His name was Henry. But then, if you had stopped to help him, you would have known that from the tags on his collar.
I don’t know whether it was his fault because he simply spooked and jumped out in front of you leaving no time to stop, or whether you were going too fast. The vet who did the post-mortem said you were…and that you knew you hit him. Is that true? We’re you being reckless? Maybe you were drunk? There are a lot of things I don’t know about his end, because you just left him. Only you and Henry know what happened that tragic night.
What I do know is that an integral member of our family bled out from internal injuries alone in the night, without anyone there to comfort him as he left this world; and that’s a heart-wrenching picture that I will never be able to erase from my mind, and you shouldn’t get to either. I didn’t have the chance to hold him as he left this world and say a final goodbye, because you left him there to die like he was nothing. Like he meant nothing.
But he meant everything.
You see, Henry wasn’t just a run of the mill house cat. He wasn’t just a fixture in the background of our home that came in for feeding and kept to himself. He was an ever-present, loving and very involved member of our family. The night he died, his final act in this world before sneaking past my husband’s feet to get out far too late that evening, was to calm our 4-year-old daughter (who was having a meltdown because she was overtired and didn’t want to go to bed) by laying peacefully beside her until she finally drifted to sleep – as was his way. Every time I had a migraine, he never left my side until the storm had passed, even when I was puking my guts up and writhing in agony. When he came for a cuddle, he didn’t just lie next to you, he insisted on having his paw held. Despite the numerous times they certainly deserved it, he never once raised a claw to either of our girls. The amount of times he would make us laugh on a daily basis is innumerable. He was the physical embodiment of love and patience. He gave us everything he had to give and your actions robbed us of the chance to thank him for choosing to share his life with us before he left this world.
He did choose us you see. Henry didn’t come into our lives because he was bought from a random breeder on some whim. He found me when I was helping bartend at a friend’s pub in Munich, Germany back in 2011. ‘Heinrich’ we sometimes jokingly called him. I’ll never forget the little ginger-faced kitten who only had eyes for me, his paws on the other side of the glass of the full length windows that looked out over the road as he mewed for my attention. I remember being drawn to him instantly, but feeling certain that such a beautiful kitten must have a home nearby and will surely be going back to it soon. But the same happened the next night, and the night after that. It was freezing outside that November and as I locked the pub on that third night of him gazing in longingly from the cold, I found him shivering behind the ashtray and decided enough was enough, I had to take him home.
On the walk back to my flat, I had him wrapped in my jacket for warmth. As I headed home, I expected at any moment, he would jump out of my arms and find his way back to wherever he had come from. But instead, he purred and dozed for the duration of this journey – happy to go wherever I was taking him. When nobody came forward to claim him following to posters we had put up to say we found him, he became ours. But you see, we were already his anyway.
Over the course of his nearly six years on earth, he had managed to pull me from a deep and all-consuming depression that had been raging for years without relief. When our youngest was born, he spent hours by her side. From the moment she could move, he was playing with her. Nearly every photo and video that we have of her, from her birth till now, he is in the shot somewhere; in her doll pram, under her activity mat, opening Christmas presents together, playing fetch (yes, he did this too), or simply sleeping peacefully alongside her. They were supposed to grow up together. Her photos will be somewhat starker from now on.
When we moved back to England, because of UK law, he had to be imported separately, so he made the long and arduous journey up to a friend until we found our house here on Becket Road, the very same road in which his life was so brutally cut short just days ago. After months of separation, most cats would be quite settled in their new surroundings but not him – he wanted nothing more than to be back with us. When we went to visit him at our friends house during this interim settling period, he would howl in the front window as soon as he saw us coming, clambering to get out and back into my arms. We were his people and he wanted to be home with us.
Once, he went missing for a week when we went to a funeral in Manchester and my father-in-law was looking after him. He got lost in the night when it rained, he couldn’t find his way back. After a week of desperately searching, putting up flyers, calling various local shelters and posting online, finally one of our neighbours noticed him in their back garden. When I went to get him, I found him wedged in between a garden shed and wooden fence panel, his back to me. I was told that he was not budging, no matter how many attempts they had made to get him out. But, when I gently whispered ‘Henry,’ his ginger ears twitched and, like the contortionist he was, he finagled himself to face me and, with complete and utter relief in his eyes, hurriedly jumped into the comfort of my arms.
But that night you left him, I couldn’t save him. There was to be no look of relief, no comfort of my familiar arms embracing him as he slipped away into the night. Instead, we woke Saturday morning to find him lying at the side of the road, his open eyes forever frozen in fear – blood flowing from his nose, mouth, eyes and ears… stiff and cold to the touch. You left him there to die. You did that. And in doing that, you robbed him of his dignity and a final comfort that he had more than deserved. You robbed me of my chance to say goodbye. I know you didn’t mean to hit him, but what you did after the fact was cowardly and unforgivable.
I haven’t stopped crying since we found him. Sounds that are not even human have ripped through my vocal chords, from some ethereal pit in my stomach I did not know existed. I haven’t been able to eat or hold anything down. I was not prepared for this all-consuming grief. Neither were our girls. Like me, our 4-year-old is waking at all hours of the night in panic and confusion. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a small child grapple to understand the death of their lifelong companion, but I hope you never have to.
I still expect him to wake me up by cackling at the seagulls outside, or jump through the bathroom window for his dinner like nothing is wrong. I still think I can hear him meowing occasionally or feel him laying in the crook of my knees and when I do, my heart breaks all over again.
He currently sits in cold storage at the vets, wrapped in his favourite blanket awaiting our confirmation of what to do with his remains. We weren’t ready for this.
But then, Henry was all-forgiving, so I will strive to be as well. All I ask is that if you ever find yourself in the same, tragic situation in future, you make a very different decision than the one you did… for Henry.
In Henry’s memory and for all cats just like him, we have started a campaign to improve road safety for felines here in the UK. Please join us if you can… together we are stronger.