We all have stories we tell ourselves — thoughts so deep we must mine our lives to discover their source. One of my own thoughts stayed lost until August 2, 2015 when my cat Milo accidentally attacked my face and I looked down to see blood on my hands and arms.
Milo is 8 years old, an indoor cat whose greatest desire is to be out of doors. This summer I’ve allowed it, taking him for “walks” around my parent’s yard with a dog harness and leash, a type of freedom he’s never had in years of apartment living. I wear headphones, dancing to music or listening to audios for the class I’m taking. The leash breeds trouble, leaving me caught in the overgrown bushes between my parent’s yard and the unused cemetery next door. So this time I set him free, laughing as I watch him pounce again and again, chasing crickets and moths.
He crosses the front yard to the neighbor’s next door, eating grass around the weeping willow at the front of her house while I watch from the other side of the trees. We are free.
My mom appears at the door. The neighbor’s called; she’s seen Milo and is worried he’s escaped. And my energy changes. Before, I’d been content to let him wander, knowing eventually we’d reach the house where I could carry him inside. But now I have a thought: one so deep I don’t consciously think it:
“Milo is being a bother. I am being a bother.”
This thought leads to panic, but I’m not completely aware of that either. All I know is that I need to get my cat.
Milo rambles along the front of her yard, weaving between trees. And I follow, no longer in a state of relaxed awareness, now scheming about picking him up. When I do, I am anxious, and he knows it. Feeding off my panic, my cat panics too, launching himself from my arms to the only place he can reach: my face. I feel claws scratching down, skimming my right eye, as he launches himself off the top of my head, landing on the ground just feet away and staying there, waiting.
The pain sears, but the thought remains: “I am a bother.” I am determined to get Milo out of everyone’s way. I pull my hands from my face and reach down, lifting him, this time just to hip level, staining his white fur pink with my blood.
The sight of blood makes me feel faint.
My parents are home and I am overwhelmingly grateful. Safe inside, I drop to the floor, calling,
“Mom! Help! Blood!”
And Milo stays by my side.
As my parents hold wet towels to my face, I have flashbacks: My very first memory, age 3. I’d tripped on the hose while playing at a friend’s house, crashing face first on the sidewalk, my teeth going through my bottom lip. The memory never starts there. It starts with me sitting in the back seat of my friend’s mom’s car. She’s driven me home and run inside to get my parents. I’m holding a towel to my face, feeling guilty for getting blood all over her car.
As I lie shaking on the tiles of my parent’s front hall, not knowing the extent of my injuries or where the blood is coming from, I am suddenly aware of my thought:
“I am a bother.”
And I know that it’s just what I was thinking that day at age 3, the first time blood streamed from my face, beyond my control.
At age 3, that thought caused a feeling so strong I’ve never forgotten it. At 37, I told myself that same story — one repeated so often I wasn’t aware I’d internalized the script. And instead of staying calmly in my arms, my cat picked up on my fear, reacting with fear himself.
My face will heal, but “The Milo Incident” has brought many things to awareness. One is the power of thoughts — to drive feelings that drive our behavior. In this case, even a pet’s behavior.
What are the thoughts that drive you? Are you ready to join me in noticing what’s buried there beneath the surface?