It's been a while since seeing her name in the cell phone window gave me a feeling of dread, but when X called at an unusual time Tuesday night, my stomach immediately kinked. "The cat died," she said, through tears. AJ's cat Shadow.
AJ was already asleep in his bedroom. Thankfully. He wasn't at X's to see his cat attacked by a pit bull.
We decided not to wake him and tell him, which meant I had to carry the news for a day, until we could all get together.
His face crumbled as soon as X started to explain what had happened. He cried, tears of anger, which was slight relief. Better than inconsolable sorrow, I thought, though I knew that was destined to come, as well.
"But I only had him 8 months!" he screamed. The unfairness of it all, the injustice. Noting for us to do but hold him, smooth his hair, tell him we were sorry, too. I'd spent the day researching how to handle the affair. Encourage him to talk about what he's feeling, that his reactions are natural and okay. But that's not the way The Boy works, not when all eyes are on him. He'll tell us, certainly, but randomly, in his time. We have to be alert to listen.
Later, he blamed himself. Also natural. And he's my son. He learned that from me, the urge to take responsibility. You gain a measure of control, an illusion of it anyway, by unnecessarily picking up burdens, convinced we can carry them, to prove our strength and worthiness. I turned Robin Williams on him. "It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault."
"But he's MY cat!" he screamed.
We buried Shadow. AJ said goodbye. "You were the best cat ever," he said, and the tears were sorrowful then, the helplessness we all felt. I wanted to tell him the feeling would go away with time, but nobody wants to hear that, least of all a 7-year-old, even if he's going on 12. I simply said that he should remember how much fun he and Shadow had and that those memories will make him smile. Someday. Soon, I hope.