If you asked me what the worst day of my life was, I’d be able to tell you without a second’s thought: January 2nd, 2016.
The funny thing was, I’d been preparing for news of this kind.
One of my cats, Wolfy, is seventeen and creaky. When I said goodbye to my cats before flying out two weeks earlier, I’d given Wolfy a special cuddle.
“Don’t die,” I whispered, as I’d gotten into the habit of doing before we fell asleep. This time, though, I added something extra: “But if you do, it’s okay.”
I told his sister, Baci, to look after him while I was away.
She was four years old and in excellent health. I gave her a special cuddle too, because if I was being honest with myself, I loved Baci a bit extra. Wolfy was our family cat, but Baci was mine.
So when my dad pulled into the McDonalds carpark moments after picking me up from the airport, and my mum turned around with tears in her eyes, I thought I knew what she was going to say.
"Wolfy?" I said.
She shook her head, soundless with grief.
"Baci," she said, and started to cry.
I couldn't move. I was struck by a pain so physical it hurt, like someone had punched me in the stomach and winded me.
I could hear myself crying, but in some part of my brain I still didn't believe it.
It couldn't be possible, because it wouldn't be fair. This wasn't how things were supposed to happen.
This wasn't the friend I was prepared to say goodbye to.
"But she was my friend," I said, over and over again to nobody, as if explaining the mistake to some God I don't believe in.
Maybe the person who ran her over as she crossed the road to her favourite sunny spot didn't understand.
They probably knew they'd hit a cat, but they didn't hit just any cat - they hit my best friend, my trusted confidant, my family member.
That wasn't a pet, I wanted to tell them. That was someone I loved.
Maybe if I just explained it - if they just knew - there was still time to take it back.
I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed in the carpark of the McDonalds near the airport as my mum held my hand.
I know what you're thinking. That's the worst day of my life? I must be pretty damn lucky.
You're right. I am lucky. On the worst day of my life so far, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by family and friends, to come home to my old cat Wolfy and give him a hug so hard it might have hurt a little bit.
But you're wrong, too. Losing a pet hurts as much as losing a human. Sometimes it hurts even more.
Over the next few days, the people I spoke to split themselves immediately into two camps: those who smiled and said "I'm sorry," and those whose voices shook a bit before they could reply.
Those who said, "Do you think you'll get a new cat?" and those who knew she could never be replaced.