Yesterday the conversation came around to childhood pets as James was cooking, and I was wandering around trying to look useful. We were discussing the various traumas of pets that met their makers, and I said, in all innocence, "When I was really young, I had a cat named Stacy, but she ran away."
James choked over his cooking, nearly killed himself with the butcher knife, put it down, guffawed, tried to stop himself, and finally choked out, "Dear...the cat didn't run away."
There was a lengthy silence while I reviewed the available data and said, with dawning horror "Hey! They never put up flyers or looked for her or anything! And they just came in and said "The cat ran away" not "Hey, has anybody seen the cat? Keep an eye out...she'll turn up. Oh my god!"
Now, I don't believe in weenie childhood traumas or getting all het up about things that happened twenty years ago, and I wasn't terribly upset about the fate of the cat--it was an unpredictable, aggressive beast, and even had it been a paragon of felinity, the cat has long passed this mortal coil no matter what. However, the realization that I had never once questioned this improbable tale floored me. I called me mother, who guiltily confirmed that the cat had, in fact, first run up the drapes and then slid down then, shredding 'em, and then bitten my grandmother, which proved the final straw. Grandma, being a tough lady, took the cat somewhere. Where is not entirely clear, but we can assume Grandma took her to the pound.
I'm not upset. Before all our animal lovers get up in arms, or god forbid, start offering me sympathy, please don't--it was a long time ago, all the participants except my mother and myself are long dead, and the cat had serious, unreformable behavioral issues of the type that would probably lead me as an adult, now, to consider the animal intractable. In practical terms, a cat that attacks people every time it gets a chance is probably not terribly happy with its life anyway. Having a pet is like having a relationship--both participants gotta get something out of it, and guilt doesn't count as "something"--if you've made a good faith effort and the animal's behavioral problems are madly out of control, give it up. So that didn't bug me at all, I am wallowing in no guilt or unearned pathos. Let us be pragmatic. (And c'mon, it was twenty years ago.)
No, what drove me to that horrified laughter of hysterical realization (you know the kind) is that in all these years of bein' a skeptic, I never questioned my grandmother's story. My mother commiserated--her dog "went to live on the farm" at one point when she was a child (Grandma passed on before we thought to inquire, but Mom thought the dog had probably died of something or other.) Grandma was just that sort of person. The whole thing left me bemused--I mean, it was like a set up in a sit-com or something. I feel like such a doof. I know, you get told these things as a kid and you believe 'em, and there's no reason to ever question them, but it's the principle!
I'm just not gonna ask what became of my goldfish.