I fell in love with the little kitten right away. Living on a farm out in the woods, I was around animals all of the time, but I had never seen a creature as beautiful as this kitty. Her fur was smoky grey except for the blue-black of her paws and ears. Her eyes were almost purple. I was being raised without my siblings so this kitten was my playmate, my comfort.
We must not have had her long though because she was still only a tiny kitten when she died. When she was killed. It sounds crass but honestly, I can’t help but wonder why Tom would destroy something that he just bought when we were so poor we were hardly eating. I mean, Tom wouldn’t be moved by the violence, but money, he cared about.
But this was bigger than the physical violence. This was part of my “training.” Tom was planning this from the moment he came home with her. From the moment that I showed signs of attachment. This big 30 year old man labeled the kitten “mean” and “aggressive” right away. I would cradle her on my lap and wonder what he was seeing. I hadn’t heard about “gaslighting” yet. Was she a vicious monster and I just couldn’t see it? Tom was so wise. He knew so much more than me. Better to trust him. But watching a kitten scamper around the trailer, jumping from the chair to swat at the strings from a tear in the curtain, I just couldn’t see it.
One day, I came home from school to find Tom with that glassed over look in his eyes. I didn’t smell beer so it wasn’t that. What was going on? Where was my mom? I don’t remember her in this scene at all.
He led me into the living room and told me, “We have to kill the kitten…you have to kill the kitten. She is a horrible, violent creature and we have to kill her before she gets too big. I will show you how and then you need to do it.” He then picked up the tiny animal in just one hand and used his other giant paw to show me how to break her neck. His hands were so huge, you couldn’t even see her tiny face when he wrapped his fingers around her neck. I felt like I couldn’t breath. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach watching this scene.
He handed the cat to me. I was shutting down. I couldn’t do this, but I also couldn’t not do this. “Come on. Put this cat out of her misery. She knows what is coming, you are torturing her! Do it! Kill her! God, you are so weak! Just FUCKING DO IT!” For hours, Tom loomed over me while I cried silently holding the kitten, trying to will myself to do it. At one point I needed to go to the bathroom to vomit. I pretended I just needed to pee so that I wouldn’t let him know how weak I really was.
When I returned, Tom had filled a bucket with water and was still holding the kitten who was crying in his grip. What was the bucket for? “If you are too weak and stupid to kill the kitten the right way, then we will try another way. But you WILL KILL THIS CAT one way or another! Do it this way. Hold the cat under the water until its body stops moving.” Tom was demonstrating how the head needed to be completely submerged. My head was swimming. I couldn’t see clearly. I thought I might faint. He put the tiny cat in my lap. I couldnt move. I couldnt hold it and feel its tiny heart beating beneath my fingers. I couldnt even feel my own heart pounding within my own chest. It felt like I was dying with this cat. We were going to die together. Right here in the trailer. Tom screamed at me to get on with it. I saw the cat clinging with her nails to the curtain. Her body looked so skinny with her fur soaking wet and her eyes popping out of her head in terror. Were we feeding her all this time? Was he killing her from the moment we brought her home?
I do not know how long this lasted. It was hours. I know that, because it was dark when I finally made my way to bed, without eating anything. Without being offered dinner. I didn’t deserve to eat dinner. I was weak and lazy and couldn’t be expected to do anything.
Tom had to snap the neck of the kitten himself. I don’t remember the moment he killed the kitten, only the process. The lesson. That was the point anyway. It wasn’t about the kitten. It was about me. It was about teaching me to fear him. About breaking a connection that I had to another living creature. About domination and control.
Tom had spent time in juvenile detention and was later incarcerated in the prison system. I always wondered where he learned his cruelty and violence. Maybe it was every step of the way. He was also deaf and had been bullied for that his whole life. His parents had died when he was small. His mom of illness and his father had apparently walked in front of a semi truck in broad daylight. I don’t know how old Tom was when this happened, but he and his siblings were scattered into the foster care system. None of this adds up to an excuse for his abuse. None of this excuses the ways he tortured my mom and I. And it doesn’t make me feel love for him….but it does allow me to feel compassion for him. I know how trauma can cause us to do things that we would never otherwise imagine ourselves doing. Sure, I didn’t grow up to be an animal killer child abuser, but I also had gifts that he didn’t…. like most of my childhood with a loving mother. An abusive, loving mother, but still.
That night, I curled into my bed in the darkness. I wished I had a nightlight. Or a sibling or anyone who could see me and make me feel more human. I was grateful it was over. I was grateful the cat was gone. I was sorry that I couldn’t do it myself. I was disgusted that I made it suffer so long. Why couldn’t I just kill that kitten right away so that it didn’t have to endure this torture?
This was not the only cat that Tom killed. There were two more. Snowball and Tiger. He took care of the other two himself. He knew he couldn’t count on me. I was never going to be tough enough.
The next morning, I woke up, walked myself up the dirt road to the bus stop and went to school. I was in second grade. Looking back, I wish that I had drawn a picture in crayon of this event or maybe let it slip during show and tell. But I never did. I protected Tom. After all, he was trying to toughen me up so that I could survive this world. I was a girl and needed to have my weakness trained out of me.
In some completely twisted and mentally unstable way, I believe that Tom genuinely thought that he was doing this for me. He was only preparing me for life the ways he himself had been prepared. As horrific as it truly is and was, I still believe Tom was trying to parent me. He was trying to love me. and at the time, I didn’t know a better love. at the time, I loved him back. This is one of the aspects of domestic violence that I want the world to understand. Sometimes we love our abusers. Sometimes we don’t leave because we are scared, but sometimes its also because we love them. My mom for example, chose to be buried with Tom. Even in death she chose to stay.