When I was about 8 years old, we lived next to a family with two younger boys and a black-and-white cat. I didn’t play much with any of the three – I preferred to be alone anyway. Until one particular day, which I remember well.
That summer day, their unfortunate cat was attacked by a bull terrier living a few blocks away.
The poor thing was pretty much torn apart, despite trying to hide under the neighbor’s car that was parked in front of our house.
My father helped the neighbors call animal rescue. I’m pretty sure he had already noticed it was too late for the kitty, but they tried anyway.
I was playing at the back of the house and hadn’t seen anything, when my dad came up to me and asked me very seriously if I could please play with the oldest of the two kids to distract him. The boy was obviously curious and dad didn’t want to confront him with the mess that was going on at his front porch.
So I went up to him and asked him if he wanted to play ball. He didn’t really feel like it, and I could sense the surprise: why the sudden interest from the solitary girl next door?
But I insisted. I absolutely had to prevent him from seeing his cat die!
I suggested a couple of more games, smiling the brightest smile I could produce under the circumstances. Finally, we settled for playing frisbee.
We must have played for half an hour while the boy kept looking over his shoulder towards his home, wondering why it seemed his mom was crying, and I kept him from going inside with I don’t know how many tales and white lies and stupid arguments why he just had to continue playing frisbee with me.
In the end, he didn’t believe me anymore. He was bored and fed up and I couldn’t pretend that I really wanted to play anymore. He went to his parents.
I could only hope I had kept him busy long enough.
I never found out whether I did.
I just remember how shaky I was, and it strikes me that I can still recall this episode from over 20 years ago.
It got me thinking: is this where my sense of responsibility originated?
Did the seriousness of the event take the fun out of playing for me?
Is this where I started to want to make my parents proud?
Or to shield the innocent from seeing horror?
I just can’t help but wonder why I have clung to this childhood memory above so many others.
What childhood memory has stuck with you forever? How has it shaped your identity?