Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

I Couldn’t Kill the Kittens

News since last Thursday… I dropped my guys off to catch a carpool to a weekend soccer tournament out east, then took the kittens to the shelter, all ready to say goodbye to the little darlings and enjoy an extremely rare weekend on my own, free of engagements.

And the shelter vet stood in front of me with one of the kittens dangling from his hand and said, “They’re too small.”

“Too small for what?” I asked.

“Too small to live here,” he said. “We’re inundated with kittens. If you leave them here, I’ll just put them down.” A friendly euphemism for “kill them.” In my mind’s eye I him push the the needles into their paws, saw their heads slump on their pencil necks.

My jaw pumped up and down on its own for a few seconds, as I tried think what to say to this astonishingly cold greeting.

“That’s just my reality,” he said distantly, directing his eyes sort of past my face.

After dithering for about ten minutes, I took them back home.

Sully closeup

My amazing Sully, 1987-2006. Green eyes and a beauty mark.

I’ve put cats to sleep before. In other words, hired vets to kill them, to put them out of their misery. The first cat I ever owned as an adult, the legendary and devoted Sully, came to me at four weeks old when I was 23 and preparing to move to another state for my second newspaper reporting job. She lived 19 years, eventually developing kidney failure, and I had to “put her down.” If you’ve ever held an animal in your arms and watched the plunger descend and felt the animal stop breathing… well, it’s an experience. It’s necessary when the animal is suffering.

But when the animals aren’t suffering…

“There are already too many kittens in this world,” the vet said. Which is true. A common old-fashioned way of getting rid of kittens is simply to drown them. Some nasty bastards used to crush their heads, I guess. As if they were insects. Maybe they still do these things.

“Why not take them to a meeting?” a friend suggested. In that moment, I realized I had choices. I could do due diligence and try to find them a home before considering other more dire options.

It’s worth noting that this same friend told me they could have put the kittens down with no problem. They have very clear boundaries, and in that moment I admired this person. I’m not always so clear.

Clarity seems to be a situation of accepting who one is, and what one can do. How much one can give at a certain time.

Sully napping

Sully napping / watercolor sketch

So I had to practice discipline about knowing who I was this weekend, and about boundaries. My iPod was an effective boundary-setter. Wore my iPod a great deal so I could not hear the kittens crying as I took care of them—feeding them with a bottle, teaching them to use the litter tray. Kittens and babies cry—it’s what they do, it’s how they’re built. My son’s crying used to kill me… I wrote about this in my first book. Couldn’t take it. Something about hearing him cry reduced my heart to shards, and I didn’t even know why at the time. I thought I must be crazy. I didn’t know how the family disease of addiction was operating in me.

I didn’t know who I was then. So I couldn’t know who he was, which was Simply A Crying Baby.

How I’m built is, there’s something in me that responds to crying. My Emotional emergency-medical tech comes out, complete with portable gurney and heated blankets, and I’m there to relieve the person of their burden. There’s a space in me into which other people’s anger and sadness fit (prepared by my mother, who poured her unhappiness and rage into me from an early age). I have to practice discipline to defend that space so that I don’t admit too much of that suffering into my life.

I was raised to believe that my function was to relieve others’ suffering. Not even to believe it, just to do it. What recovery is teaching me is: I deserve to be happy as much as anyone else does, to do the things I want to do…

My guys were gone this weekend, and I could do as I liked. I worked hard. I gardened a great deal, and mowed the grass. I started the process of redesigning my study and archiving my parents’ documents. I had nobody else to report to. No one else’s expectations (fictional or real) hanging over my head. I stayed up late and ate when I wanted, if I wanted.

Being by myself was an enormous relief. But truth be told, I had expected I’d get a lot more done. My attention kept being drawn back to the babies and I felt a big compulsion always to see if they were OK. I found myself thinking that it would have been “perfect” if the kittens weren’t here. But I couldn’t kill them, and here they were.


The kittens, one month old

“One day at a time,” said my AlAnon sponsor, who was getting ready to fly overseas for a month-long work trip. For chrissake, I said, here you are flying off to some dangerous place, and here I am telling you about some measly kittens.

“Don’t compare,” she said. She’s a huge cat-lover and I could hear the smile in her voice. “You did something KIND today.”

I have to accept reality, and reality is that I’m not the kind of person who can pitch life, even a little life, into the incinerator without at least giving a shot at protecting it. Maybe it makes me kind. Maybe it makes me naïve. I don’t know what it makes me.

But over the weekend they were a constant reminder of my need to put my own priorities first—and also to balance my priorities against other needs.

I need to find them a home soon, though, because they’re getting big, it’s getting cold, and I have lots of shit stuff to do.


  1. I am so glad that you didn’t have them euthanized. I am glad that you cared for them. They are adorable.

  2. guinevere

    October 15, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    Finally found a home for them two days ago! a young mom adopted both of them. So they get to stay together. 🙂

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