The last time I saw my cat, a giant stoic tabby named Kitty, I was 14. I kissed her goodbye and hugged her big fluffy body to me, trying to memorize her dusty smell. I spoke to her secretly in her ear, apologizing for leaving her. I knew I would never see her again but I couldn’t show it. I had packed two bags, hiding my photo album with my baby pictures in the bottom of one of them. I thought I probably wouldn’t have another chance to get it once I’d left.
Barb*, my mom, had become unwound, her cruelty and instability terrified me. No visits to therapists or doctors helped her. There had been some incidents that had alarmed my older siblings who had already left the house. They feared for my safety if I were left alone with her. My older sister was leaving for California and my siblings plotted quietly for me to go with her. My mom couldn’t know, or she’d start her usual legal manipulations, holding me hostage there with her. Everything would get way worse for me if I were forced to stay after she knew that I had tried to abandon her.
Our mom drove me and my sister to the airport. She thought we were visiting my dad for the summer and would be back in a couple of months. It was a silent drive, my sister and I exchanging glances, wondering if we were going to get away with our escape.
Barb walked us to the gate and waited there with us. We were making small talk, trying not to betray our plan. Our flight was called. My sister and I made eye contact. Our mom became emotional and gave us rough hugs. We grabbed our carryon bags and hurried towards the gate’s entrance. We knew that Barb’s high emotions could quickly spiral to embarrassing public hysterics. I closed my eyes as I walked into the tunnel leading to the plane. I prayed for her to not erupt, creating a scene, forcing us back by declaring us runaways.
We found our seats on the plane. We could see Barb in the airport’s windows. I didn’t dare to breathe yet. Her hysterics could start at any minute, I thought. The captain could hold the plane. We could be pulled off for being minors that didn’t have her permission to fly. She could tell the airline employees anything –like she always did –and they would believe her, comforting her through her sobs. The doors finally closed. Our plane taxied on the runway. My sister squeezed my arm as we lifted into the air.
I put my head in the private hollow of the airplane’s window and looked at the land below me. Kitty was down there on earth somewhere without me. I rested my forehead on the window’s cool plastic, closed my eyes and let the tears flow.
*name has been changed