Many eons ago, when I lived in Texas (may my pride forgive me), I found myself awake and restless during the middle of the night. I had work in the morning, yet I couldn't sleep, and this is not something that is new to me, nor was it then. Outside it was rainy, the kind of thin, persistent rain that won't let up enough for you to call it mist. Kenneth was asleep in his room, Gerald and I were sitting around doing...pretty much nothing, if memory serves. The two of us decided to walk down to the nearest mini-mart; a little korean-owned, family-run shop the three of us frequented. We coated up, headed out, and meandered in the general direction of the store with the same hurry as does anyone in their early-twenties getting snacks in the middle of the night. However this particular night, there would be no snacks.
As we crossed through a cross-section, dark and silent as only back roads in small towns in the middle of the night can be, we heard a tiny mewling sound coming from nearby. I don't remember who heard it first, or who saw it first, but both of us went to investigate. We discovered a kitten. It was small enough to fit in my hand, or the palm of Gerald's enormous paw. Neither of us could discern what color the poor little thing was, not in that poor rainy moonlight, or through the mud in which the kitten was practically caked. I cleared the things from the primary compartment of my backpack, and Gerald tucked them inside his coat. As I held my backpack still Gerald, with the infinite care afforded your typical gentle giant such as he was, picked up the kitten and placed him in my bag.
Carrying the bagged kitten back to the house was not as easy as one might even imagine. The kitten never stayed still, constantly trying to scramble from my backpack. We assumed, likely rightly, that it was terrified, but we would also later discover the primary reason for the kitten's frantic, if exhausted, scrambling. Exhausted is the only term with which I can describe anything I ever knew this little kitten to do. His movements were sluggish, somehow frantic but visibly slow, as he dragged one paw after the other, or struggled to lift his tiny head. Yet he never stopped.
When we returned to the house, we brought the kitten into the bathroom and washed the kitten off as best we could. It was then, in the light of the bathroom, that this little kitten embedded itself in my heart and mind until the day I die. The kitten's fur was a dark gray, with black stripes. Its head sported a lump on the top right, it was so thin as to be skeletal, we eventually figured that it had at least one broken rib if not more, and its tail was deformed so as to end in nothing but tail bones. No fur, only enough skin to hold the bones there. That image is seared into my mind. We had no idea what to do.
The little kitten never slept that night, and I mostly stayed with him the whole time. I was there physically, trying to keep him warm and make him feel safe, but my exhaustion took its toll now and again. Since then, I've come to the conclusion that the kitten literally could not sleep. He never stopped trying to escape, not for one moment. I believed then, and believe now, that he was trying to escape his pain as I have seen many other animals do, both before and since. He was in pain, and in some part of his mind he thought that if he went away the pain would stay where once he had been. Holding him in the small, confined area of the bathroom was almost as heartbreaking as his constant mewling.
I'm fairly certain Kenneth woke up at least some point during the night, and was informed of our discovery, though he went back to bed. Gerald went to sleep at some point. Both of them felt bad, felt like they should have stayed, but it was pointless. Even I shouldn't have stayed, it was stupid.
In the morning, all three of us had to go to work. We worked at the same place, which made it easy, but we had this sad burden to deal with. None of us knew what to do, we were not nurturers and had no experience dealing with wounded animals. The only thing we did know to do was take the kitten to an animal shelter and hope they would help. We did, with difficulty, move the little kitten to my backpack, to the car, and into the animal shelter. As soon as we had the kitten on the counter, the two women there descended upon the little creature and took him away before I even had a chance to say goodbye. We were assured they would do everything they could; her tone and expression made it clear that she knew we were the culprits.
I have no idea who left that kitten there, or what he went through before Gerald and I arrived. Never once did I check with the animal shelter about his condition. I know what happened, and I didn't want to hear them say it.