didn’t know it as I started off on my walk through the small pine forest, but
something unforgettable was about to happen. Something I would remember, and
choose to write about more than 30 years later.
I was in my sophomore year of high school. The day was like any other Saturday.
Wake up, eat breakfast, do some chores and plan to sit and watch TV endlessly
until one of my parental units came in and gave me something more constructive
to do with my life. I just wanted to be lazy that day. But there were other plans in store for me.
I remember making my bed that day and thinking how proud it made me feel to make my bed at 14 years old, without being told. Back in high school I used to change around my bedroom furniture about every 2 or 3 months. I got bored easily, I liked
change. I still do. I remember the first feelings of freedom and independence it
gave me to set up and decorate my room the way I wanted and not the way my
parents decided it should be. Thank you to my parents, I was allowed to express
this creative side of myself, and I took full advantage of it. I didn’t understand at that age all the creative outlets I had.
Then “the dreaded knock” came at the bedroom door. My mom was on the other side with some money in her hand asking me to walk to the store to buy a gallon of milk.
But I wanted to be lazy today. I just wanted to lie on my bed and sit with my
earphones on a listen to my Bob Seger Silver Bullet LIVE album. Bob was calling
me in the background. But mom made the rules and if I wanted to rendezvous with
Bob later, I’d better head to the store. So I grabbed the money, probably bartered for a candy bar pay off, and headed out for the store, which was maybe a mile and a half away.
We lived in a suburb about 50 miles northwest of Detroit, Michigan. We lived on a dirt road which after a good rain was always full of potholes that could swallow a small car. I navigated my way around them and headed for the “shortcut” through the woods
filled with pine trees and tranquility. I wanted to get away from the puddles
and small lakes that were now soaking through my tennis shoes. I had taken this
path many times. It cut off a few blocks of walking and it was peaceful, yet at
times (mostly dusk) had a tendency to be slightly scary; especially to an
imaginative 14 year old mind. It always felt as if someone was watching you as
you walked through the rows of pine trees.
It was spring time and the woods smelled so wonderful. The pine aroma was so
welcoming; I remember slowly taking deep breaths in through my nose to fully
absorb the scent. As I got to a small clearing in the middle of the pine forest,
I lifted my head up to let the sunshine warm my face. I remember stopping and
standing there sniffing and smiling, closing my eyes and just taking in the
moment. It is so clear to me. I was truly enjoying a moment I felt I was to
experience that day. I don’t know if I acknowledged my gratitude for that moment
I was enjoying, I hope I did. After a few moments I started to walk again in my
I was about half way through the wooded pines when I heard a very faint little
noise. A small cry, if you will. It stopped me dead in my tracks. Was that a
bird? I listened for a bit more. Silence. I stood there a while in perfect
stillness, except my head turning from side to side, surveying the landscape.
There it was again…a small little screech. Was that a bird I thought again? Oh
my goodness; I thought, that couldn’t be a baby, could it? I heard it again. It
came from the direction to my right, just a little ahead of me in another small
clearing about fifteen feet off the path. I slowly tiptoed over, now high
stepping taller weeds, still hearing a faint little cry. I was hesitant. Maybe
it was a small animal that would crawl up my leg. I hope not! I shuddered
thinking what it could be. I kept my slow pace until I reached the small patch
on the ground where I saw a small tiny grey animal laying there. I could not
tell if it was a bird or perhaps a squirrel? Was it a baby owl, I questioned?
Maybe it was a rat! Oh, please no!
Whatever it was, it was not moving very much. It made another slight cry. I
leaned over it observing it closer and realized it was a small baby kitten! It
could not have been more than 4 weeks old. It was mostly grey with some white
and it had thin black stripes. It was a little fluffy, except for parts of its fur that
looked matted down and wet. I couldn’t tell immediately what it was wet from. I
bent down and leaned over it. I could see it was in very deep distress. It was
barely breathing, struggling for every breath. The wetness I saw I now realized
was a mixture of blood and what appeared to be saliva. It had clumps of dirt
matted in with the blood, as if it had been dragged through a field. It must
have been dragged or carried by some other animal, I remember thinking.
I picked it up and gently placed it in my left hand. I can remember how my heart
ached at that very moment. I gave it a few soft strokes with my right index
finger. It was so soft. I brushed away some of the dirt from its fur. I wished I
had a wet washcloth so I could clean it up. I didn’t even know if it was a boy
or a girl. Turning it over to look was so unimportant, and besides, its head was
extremely wobbly. Oh goodness, I suddenly realized its neck must be broke!
Tears started to well up in my eyes. A slight panic started to rise up within. I must
do something. I don’t know what, but I must do something to save this little kitten!
Not knowing a broken neck was as severe as a situation I could imagine, the first
thought that came to my mind was I would give this little kitten mouth-to-mouth.
I do remember saying a small prayer in my head for God to help me save this
kitten. I turned it so its face was facing upward. Its tiny little mouth and
nose also had wet dirt all over, covering the nasal passage. I brushed it off
and continued with what I hoped would be a life-saving act. I don’t recall how
many times I attempted to force small puffs of breath into this tiny being. Time
seemed to stand still in the middle of the pines. All that mattered in the world
at this moment was this kitten, me and God. Please help me God.
I do remember it struggled to slightly open its eyes. It let out one final whimper
and I knew that would be the last little noise this poor sweet little kitten
would ever make. As I sat there in shock over this experience, I could not move.
I just sat there and cried and hugged this kitten. I could not understand why I
was part of what just took place. I felt meek trying to understand why I was
present at the last moments of its life. I needed to at least bury my little friend.
I gently laid the kitten down and searched for something to dig a hole.
Standing up, I found a stick and I scraped away enough dirt that would be this
kitten’s final resting place. I bent down and picked the kitten up one last time, wiped
some dirt away from my mouth, kissed it on the forehead and softly laid it in
the hole. I wished I had a cloth or something to wrap it in. I slowly covered it
up with the dirt, gently patted it down, then gathered and laid some rocks on
top of it. I found a dandelion and laid it across the grave and then I said a
prayer and stood up. A few moments passed and I started on my way, dazed and
humbled, to get on with my initial task. My pace was quite a bit slower than
when I started off earlier that day. It seemed as if the sunshine and pine scent
had both disappeared. My senses seemed to have dulled.
I walked in silence to the store and back home again. I don’t remember if I told
my mom or anyone in my family about this experience. I remember thinking I would
probably be laughed at or teased from my teenage siblings, so I didn’t plan to
share it with anyone.
Once I got to school the following Monday, my Journalism teacher gave us an
assignment to write a story. I knew in one second exactly what I was to write
about. I told about my experience with this kitten, in the woods. Just me, a
kitten and God. I was afraid to turn it in, again for fear of what others would
say. But the story poured out of me and onto the paper like a waterfall in the
As Mr. Hara passed out our homework that Friday, he commented how only one student received an A+ on her paper that week. Surely he could not have been talking
about me! He started to read the story. I knew by the first sentence it was my
story. Yes, it was me he was talking about! I felt a flush across my face as I
slinked down in my chair. He read the story with such a caring soft voice, I
remember thinking to myself he is making it sound so compassionate. He finished
the story, but did not reveal the authors name. I was somewhat relieved. He
passed out the papers one by one, until he stood over my desk, slightly behind
me. He placed his hand on my shoulder and congratulated me on a perfect paper! I
felt such pride, and yet still embarrassed, until the class erupted into
applause. What validation I felt, what humility. A mixture of pride,
embarrassment and love bathed me. I just shared a story, a homework assignment.
That’s all I did. I wrote a simple compassionate story from my heart.
As I left class that day, Mr. Hara called me up to his desk and told me I had a gift.
He told me I should be sure that somewhere in my future; writing is a part of
who I am. I felt like I was going to cry, so I thanked him and exited fast to
get on to my next class. Pride and modesty trailed me down the hall.
Years later, I do acknowledge and appreciate the kitten moment, the class moment and every moment in between. Good, bad, scary, happy, pine-scented or not! Was the breath of life for the kitten, or was it intended to be a breath of life for me? It took me decades to fully comprehend the occurrences and events we go through are all part of life’s purposeful experiences. How we choose to react to those events determines who we become. It is not as important what you want to be when you grow up than who you want to become. I am proud the “who” I turned out to be is someone who would try to do what she could in the last moments of another living beings life, and proud to share her story. I hope my story has inspired you to think about who you are, what your choices are, and to listen when others tell you that your gifts are worth sharing.
Written by Maureen Hayes 2/19/2009