You never know what can kill you: a bone in a chicken sandwich, bare electrical wire, or something dear to you. It is the story about how my cat almost killed my whole family. When I was ten, I had a great cat called Thomas after the cartoon character. He was a very capricious animal: the whole street knew he was a force to recon with. The furry beast had long orange fur, big eyes, and sharp claws. His roar infused fear in all other animals on the street. Once he saw a new cat, he provoked a bloody fight. Every time, we tried to catch him and bring Thomas back home, the catcher ended up with his hands and legs covered with bloody wounds. He was also a very loyal animal, he used to run away, but even with months passed, he still returned home: skinny, miserable, but faithful to the family. If you have ever heard a story about an animal who finds his family even when it moves to another town, Thomas was a living proof of that those stories were true. He was a friend with a character, but still a great friend.
It happened one summer. My father was offered a great job as a carpenter in a summer camp. The best thing about this work was that he could take his whole family with him. A whole summer at a lakeside was guaranteed, the only problem was that we could not leave Thomas at home alone. We had to take the cat with us. I remember my mother and father gathering all of our belongings, three months away from home was a challenge. At the same time, I felt calm, a little too calm as I recall, as if I never believed this venture was meant to succeed. I was playing in my room, throwing hand-made darts into a wooden plank with the target drawn on it with a pencil. My brother taught me how to make these out of a needle, cardboard, and a piece of plasticine. I heard through the wall my parents quarrelling over what to take with us to the trip, at the same time, trying to point the dart at the center of the target. I did not see Thomas taking a casual bath on the floor very near to the place I was aiming. Maybe, I was too involved in listening to the quarrel, and, maybe, I was a very bad shot, but the dart bounced off the wall and catered right into my cats back. Thomas shrieked and ran away looking hurt and offended. I felt bad about it, but not too long, there was too much going on around me.
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I remember what happened next, but not everything is clear, most of these memories consist of flashes and phrases dropped in the air. I hear my mother saying I should hurry up. I see all the bags put in the trunk and at the foot of the back seat. The bags are at my foot, so I cannot sit straight, I complain that it is not comfortable to sit knowing that the road is at least three hours long. I see Thomas sitting at the rear window, he is quiet, but I suspect he has a grudge on me. I hear my father begging us to shut up; he is not angry, he looks concerned. We take off.
It is where it all gets very dim and horrible. We drove at least two miles away from home when Thomas started acting strangely. He began meowing nervously and tried to get to the open window at the driver’s side. My brother tried to catch him but ended up with his hand all torn with the claws. The last thing I remember is my father screaming to take the cat of him and Thomas ending up on the steering wheel. Everything from that moment was dark.
One flash of memories from the first day in the hospital is all I have. I remember waking up on the operation table not feeling anything. I was putting fingers in my mouth and taking bloody teeth out of it. That is all.
As my mother told me later, we ran into a tree. She and my brother got some scratches, mostly from cat’s claws and the broken window. My father got a broken knee and a terribly looking abrasion from the safety belt. My jaw was broken, but all the teeth were put back inside. As my mother told me later, we were very lucky to survive because in an accident like this, my father and I were in the "line of death." It is how I got to know that my life could end in any moment. Instead of amazing summer at the lakeside I got a terrible one in a hospital, with my jaws put together by brackets. I could not eat anything except liquid soup and little chocolate candies I was putting between my cheek and teeth. I got to appreciate these kinds of treats very quickly. In my hospital bed I began reading books, something I was not very fond of earlier, preferring TV to reading. I have read two sci-fi books I got for my birthday and was looking for more. I could not speak too much, so I started listening. In the same ward with me there were two older men, who spoke about something unimportant. Something so trivial I cannot even imagine what it was. In my last day in the hospital a boy of my age got to the same ward. He was very loud and emotional, a little bit too emotional for someone about to experience an operation. I did not know what was wrong with him, but after a couple of hours of operation, the doctors returned him to our ward unconscious, with a terribly looking bloody hole in his neck. I was looking forward to getting out, just so I could not see this horrible wound.
I never felt better to get back home. There were no doctors, no patients, no terrible smell, and mostly, no unconscious boys in the bed next to me. That day, I saw TV series based on Stephen King's "Stand," not one episode, but three hours: half of the mini-series. The impression was amazing, so amazing that I really wanted to read some of Mr. King's works. For the next few years, Stephen King became my favorite writer.
During the months to come, I was experiencing the aftermath of the accident. I could not eat anything solid, and the bullion and chocolate candies started to get tiresome. I visited my father in the hospital only once, and if other memories just got lost in time, that visit was something I consciously tried to erase, and mostly succeeded. Only feeling of misery never fully disappeared.
In a couple of weeks, the braces, which served to keep my jaws together, were taken off, and I could start eating normal food. What followed was a very hard year, a time we were short of money because of all the medical treatment, and also because my father was unable to work for months. A large chunk of my childhood was taken away from me by this accident. It was how I got to know that life, and my life in the first place, was a very fragile thing. You never know what, where and how could kill you. It is quite hard to know such things when you are only ten. It surely leaves a mark.
As for my cat Thomas, I never saw him again. For many years, my parents told me that he was living at the junk yard, where the remains of our car were taken after the accident. Only later, I found out it was a lie. Whether he was killed in the accident or just ran away, I did not care. A smart cat like Thomas had his reasons not to return this time, he always knew the way back, but decided not to come. I have always felt some guilt for that dart incident and deep inside, never ignored the possibility that it was the cat's revenge. He was a very capricious animal after all.
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