I was three years old the first time I took an innocent life. The kitten was crippled, front legs twisted cruelly by God, barely able to walk. First it was cheated by God. Then it was cheated by me.
The rest of the kittens, his brothers and sisters, were running outside to play in the sunshine. He was staying back, not able to move, laying like a lump on the bed of old towels his mother had made for him. It was sad. It wasn't fair. I chose to move him.
In a three year old's mind, it was simple enough. Put the kitty in a jar. Carry him outside. Lay him in the sunshine. All those things were accomplished. But apparently, I was too forceful in putting "Kitty" in the jar. I crushed him. His skull and fragile rib cage. When I poured him from the mason jar, he didn't move. His eyes were blank and staring. And I knew something was wrong.
Parents are strange. They all try their best to raise healthy happy children. And death is a learning experience that everyone must understand. A year before, my father's dad had passed from cancer. I remember seeing him in the coffin, his waxy face, his wooden looking hands, his eyes closed tightly. Dad had me on his hip so I could look at my dead grandfather, so I could touch him and understand. I asked when he would wake up. Why were we watching him sleep? Why were we closing him in that box, putting him underground? Would you do that to me if I slept for too long?
I didn't reach the appropriate level of understanding with that experience.
Mom sat me on the porch and asked me if I meant to hurt Kitty.
No, was kitty hurt?
Yes, kitty is dead. Dead like grandpa was, is.
My three year old brain could not comprehend. So mother brought out kitty. Placed him on my lap.
"Does a living cat act like this?" I looked at the cat. No, a living kitten would be moving and playing if its eyes were open. And even if it was sleeping, it would be curled in a ball, stomach rising and falling softly, not stretched and caved in and rigid like the fur, flesh, and bone on my lap now. I shook my head.
"Mandy, this is a dead cat. When you shoved it in the jar, you killed it, you smashed it. Living things are delicate, and you can kill them easily, especially if you are too rough with them. Kitty isn't alive anymore. But nothing lives forever. Kitty would have died eventually, just like grandpa did."
Everything clicked in a moment. I was alive. My grandfather had been alive. This cat had been alive. My grandfather was dead. The cat was dead. I still lived. But I could die. And I would die.
I cradled my victim in my hands, looking at my mother for the first time through our exchange. I was thinking, wondering, but too afraid to speak.
Was I going to be the kitten some day soon?