On a recent Thursday night I hung out with a group of friends. It was low-key because I had to get up early the next afternoon. I only had one drink.
During the drive home I was listening to music and thinking about if I should grab a burger snack at the McDonalds near my house (I was leaning against it because I knew it would probably give me gas). I wasn’t on my cell phone, I wasn’t thinking about some girl who did me wrong, and I wasn’t drunk—my mind was clear and unusually free of distraction.
I was driving on a four-lane road. There were two lanes to my left going in the opposite direction, then a small median, then my lane, then the final lane to my right. Suddenly a black cat popped out of some woods from the left. I watched it quickly cross the opposite side of traffic. I only braked softly, assuming it would make it across the road with room to spare, but I badly misjudged its trajectory.
In the split second that a collision appeared imminent, two options popped in my head: braking hard to avoid impact or speeding up to pass it before it got off the median. I ended up slamming on the brakes, and came to a near stop in the middle of the road. I didn’t hear any thump so I slowly put my foot back on the gas. I drove 30 feet away, then looked in my rear view mirror.
I saw a black mass in my lane violently jumping up and down, as if it was possessed by a demon. I stared at the mirror for at least 20 seconds, watching the cat toss its body around. My throat tightened. I took a deep breath then pulled over to the side of the road.
All my friends know I have an unusual fascination with cats (for a heterosexual man, anyway). I’ve been known to read cat blogs, cat comics, and I’m still a sucker for cutesy lolcat images. So when I got out of the car and walked up to the animal, I was not prepared to see that most of its head had been crushed. Blood was splattered all over the road. I instinctively put my hand over my mouth, and just stood there in shock, unable to look at it for more than half a second at a time. Its body was still shaking. After suffering badly for another minute, the cat finally stopped moving. If another man hadn’t pulled over to help, I would have probably burst into tears.
It’s not my fault the cat was slow. It didn’t even have a collar. Stupid feral thing was probably crawling with fleas and parasites. There are billions of cats and maybe I did the thing a favor by putting it out of its misery. This type of thing happens a million times a day, right?
I imagined that’s how other people would rationalize what I had just done. I’m not a PETA member and I don’t think a cat’s life is more important than a human’s, but it’s one thing to feel sorry for cute little animals dying and another thing to have killed one of those cute little animals. I’m the guy who gets a kick out of internet justice when 4channers locate the perpetrator of a cat abuser from a single frame of torture video, and though this was an accident, I inflicted the same harm as those sociopaths. For a few hours it did feel like I killed a human being.
The cat I hit could not predict the accident. It’s not like it could plan for living the most pleasurable cat life possible until some idiot tried to time its movements as if it was a squirrel. Sometimes I wonder about people who plan their lives that way, working on the assumption that not only they’ll live until they’re 75 years old, but be in perfect health right up to their end. Every day I remind myself that nature doesn’t give a shit about my goals and dreams, that it will eventually misjudge my trajectory in a way that I will not agree with. I just hope it doesn’t again give me such a direct role when it needs to annihilate something it created.