Recently I received congratulations from a high school friend who had learned of my forthcoming book, The Clay Remembers. She said she was looking forward to reading it, but that it was very hard for her to read stories that dealt with domestic violence. It’s no wonder. Her beautiful daughter, Melissa, was the worst kind of victim of domestic violence–the kind we hear about on the news. I remember learning that her daughter had been murdered–twenty years ago today, to be exact. It was a sobering moment for me to recognize how fragile our lives and the lives of our children are.
One of Barbara’s coping mechanisms was to finally write a story about Melissa’s cat and how the cat grieved after Melissa’s death. It was, no doubt, easier to write about the cat’s grief than her own. Here is that story, written almost five years after Melissa’s death:
Do Animals Grieve?
Honey came to stay with us quite suddenly in March, 1995. Our daughter and her girlfriend rushed in with Honey, in her carrier, one Saturday morning after the Delaware State Police had helped rescue Honey from an escalating domestic violence situation between our daughter, Melissa, and her husband, Steve.
Melissa had left their home the evening before, following a continuing cycle of abuse and control. She had called to let her father and me know that she would be at her girlfriend’s home for the night. After hearing Steve’s threats, I pleaded with Melissa to get her one-year-old Flame Point Himalayan away from him.
Saturday morning brought more threats and a slashed tire on Melissa’s car. Melissa called to say she was going to her home, with her girlfriend and her husband, to talk with Steve and pack a few clothes. Once again, I pleaded to get Honey away from him. I could see Honey as the perfect target to get back at Melissa. Steve refused all requests and held Melissa in the house against her will. Her friends rushed to call the police. With the policeman’s help and proof of her ownership, Melissa was able to grab the carrier and a few of her clothes, before fleeing with Honey
Honey was an adorable little white kitten with touches of honey color. She had bonded immediately with Melissa. She was so loving and playful, hopping around much like a rabbit, giving her a nickname of “Bunny.” Honey’s life was changing quickly, as was ours and that of our cat, Koko. Koko, our two-year-old Seal Point Himalayan, was none too pleased to welcome a new house-mate. Honey held her own, standing on hind legs to box him.
Two weeks later, Melissa had located an apartment that would accept small pets and was preparing to move. As she left the law office where she worked, Steve pulled into the parking lot. He fired four shots with two hitting Melissa in the back. She died instantly. He then turned the gun on himself.
My husband and I returned home from the hospital, where we had been called following the murder-suicide, to find Honey watching the door. Watching for her “mommy” to return. That, too, was heartbreaking.
Do cats grieve? Oh, yes! Honey’s grieving has taken a long time. At the same time she has been a help to us in our grieving process.
She literally watched the door for six months. We bought new food dishes and a second litter box, but we kept her carrier in our dining room. We left it sitting where Melissa had placed it. That became Honey’s safe place–her retreat. She was no longer the playful kitty she had been.
We did not hear a meow, a purr, or any cat type of sound from her. Honey had nightmares. She would cry much like a baby. We would go to comfort her and once awake she would withdraw from us. You could clearly see the invisible wall she had built around herself. She did not willingly accept affection, but would curl up at my feet in bed when she thought I was asleep for the night. She used the litter box, ate her food, and claimed her space with Koko. It was over a year and a half before we heard a purr and two years before she meowed, other than in her dreams.
Seeking and accepting affection has been a very slow process. Now, after nearly five years, she can be a loving little kitty, but only on her terms. Her purrs can still bring us to tears. We know what it took to get her to this point. Honey will always be Melissa’s kitty.
Before leaving for work on the morning of Melissa’s death, Honey had boxed our Koko into a corner. Melissa, laughingly, picked Honey up and called her “my little angel kitty.” Honey has become our “Angel Kitty,” a little bit of Melissa to hold on to.
Barbara T. Everett
Honey died in January 2011, at nearly seventeen years old. She became an important part of Barbara and her husband’s lives in those years following the death of their daughter; she was a piece of Melissa’s life that they could cling to and share their grief with.
Domestic violence that ends the way that Melissa’s story ended is far too common in today’s society, but for me, and I’m sure for many others, it was shocking in 1995.
I grew up in a house scarred by domestic violence and much of that history is described in Anna’s story in my book. But did I ever believe that one of my parents would actually kill the other? Not really, even though my mother actually unloaded a shotgun at my father once. Fortunately, he was on the other side of the door, so there was no injury. Even so, I never imagined Melissa’s story in my own life and I never imagined Melissa’s story as part of my book, although there is a character who tells about his daughter’s death at her abusive husband’s hands. Maybe her story was there for me all along.
I am honored that Barbara has shared Honey’s story with me as my book is about to be published. I hope that my story somehow honors the memory of women like Melissa.