catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 10 :: 2004.05.07 — 2004.05.20


Sam the Cat

I was the one who named Sam—the only cat that I had named in the multitudes of stray cats that crossed our paths unexpectedly. Some would show up in the spring, castoffs from unwanted litters, drop-offs from noncommittal humans. However, the seasons knew no distinction when it came to strange felines making their way onto our street.

“The word is out,” my husband would say.

“Among the cat population or the humans?” I asked.

With a furrowed brow and a sideways glance, he replied… “Both.” He was right. I was a cat lady. And he, by default, was the man married to the cat lady. But not blameless, mind you. No, not blameless at all. You see, when it is all said and done, let it be known that it was, after all, my husband who first introduced me to this uncharted world of cat companions.

Inkspot was the first, comparable to a doting, hawk-eyed mother-in-law actually. It took nearly six months until I received the approval of that cat: one paw on my leg, and well, that was that. Next thing I knew, the engagement ring, the invitations, picking out the band all followed in short order.

Indy was the second and an inherited heirloom, a relic of my husband’s beloved grandmother who found the curious looking cat under the porch of her new home. Indy was wild—in appearance and action. The story goes that while on a car trip in Missouri, my husband Jeff and his sister argued over what to call the painted, stowaway cat. His sister petitioned the passengers that Cherokee was the fated name for this cat. Cherokee, to represent the warrior marking, bright diamond of gold centered between her ears on the black, brown and white tortoise shell coat. Cherokee was the perfect name. But my husband had other ideas: Knee High Tonkiay was the only name suitable for this noble pet. Besides, they had just come from the nearby American Indian reservation that spoke of a courageous warrior with the very same name. This cat should and must be named in honor of a fearless leader, a historical legend, a native of the land…Knee High Tonkiay was the only title that could be chosen. Nevertheless, in spite of his convincing appeal, my husband’s unique ability to choose the perfect name was yet undiscovered by the carload of travelers that afternoon and his fervent arguments fell on deaf ears. It was his grandmother who settled the discussion that day, and the tortoiseshell cat of the wild was christened Indy. Indy the Cat.

No feline has since escaped my husband’s creative genius. Mouse came next: a grey tiger that was as round as she was long with a queer motor sound for a purr that revved itself through the halls and around corners and into my arms for a Christmas gift a few years ago. Marigold was found in our flowerbed. Espresso Bean was brought home after a torturous guilt trip by a colleague who discovered him under the porch of a Home Health Care patient. Big Paw was a neighborhood stray with unusually large toes, Mina Bird was found by my sister on the tire of a truck, and last of all Smokey who stalked our neighborhood in an ash-gray coat with a siren call meow. There had been only one that I tried to name early on: Platypus, who received the label because of an ulcer under her top lip that made it extend straight out like the bill of a duck. I thought it was a most fitting name, thought that it rolled off the tongue. However, after the lip healed and we found a good set of humans for Platypus to live with, the new owner?s first response upon meeting the cat was, “Well…..that name has to go…?,” and the chore of providing surnames was once again returned to my husband.

So, Sam was the only one whose name I’d chosen successfully. He was a white cat with a tiger gold color that fit him like a hooded sweatshirt with sleeves that stopped at the elbow; a neck so muscular that it appeared to be nearly bursting out of his natural markings. A large tooth from his bottom jaw had vanished and his ears were tattooed with a variety of colorful keepsakes, undoubtedly left by the unimpressed recipients of his promiscuous advances. His breathing, while apparently acceptable to the veterinarian, was raspy and loud and he sounded as if he should be hooked up to an oxygen tank and saying things like, “Just let me have one more puff. Come on…just one more.”

The most distinguishing feature by far was the size of his head. Sam had the widest face we’d ever seen—like the girth of an oversized grapefruit—which we later learned was caused by the release of hormones in male cats left un-neutered beyond adolescence. The hormones created a callous-like formation that spread under the fur of his neck, up the sides of his jaw that eventually, if left undisturbed, would cover his entire face as a kind of armored protection from attacks and ungrateful one night stands. He was just too masculine for a cute name and he was too dog-like for a cat name. Sam seemed a fitting designation and all parties involved seemed to agree.

Now, bear in mind, that I am a woman with an animal-oriented mind, so the way that I think is not always clear to those of a different frame of thought. But it was, I believe, a gift to Jeff, when Sam showed up. And a blessing in disguise for me. You see, spending all our money on various vet bills, spaying and neutering, having our personal belongings scratched up, torn apart, batted under sofas, peed on, thrown up all over—these were some of the many fringe benefits that came with Jeff’s marriage to a closet cat-rescuer. To my credit, I did not know that this was who I would become when I agreed to marry him. But because I knew what a serious shock it was for my husband to see these developments within me, I did my best to understand his concerns and appreciate his level-headed caution. I also knew that in order to rope Jeff in as an accomplice to any future animal rescue efforts, I was going to need to find the perfect cat that he could not resist. The fate of an entire feline endeavor hung in the balance as I waited for that ideal pet to arrive.

Because it was not the first time I had done it, I am certain that it came as no surprise to my husband when I knocked on the window one summer afternoon as he taught an unsuspecting piano student. Using the young, blossoming pianist as my pawn and scapegoat, I held the orange and white cat up for Jeff to inspect from outside the glass. Yes, I had quickly realized that having a solid barrier between us was one form of protection as I sprung this sort of news on him. But even better was having an innocent child, eager to play the scales, located in the crossfire, which provided the surest way to seal the deal before Jeff could politely protest or violently wring my neck. Sam was the next contestant on our “fix and release” program and into the garage he went.

The neutering went smoothly and before the end of the week, Sam was debugged, deloused, de-mited, and permanently debilitated from any future fruits of his loins showing up in our back yard. By order of the vet, Sam stayed in our hotel for the week following his surgery and it was in those seven days that he stole his way into Jeff’s heart.

Inkspot, the cat whose approval was crucial to the success of my initial attempts at winning Jeff over to my charm and beauty, had been my husband’s closest companion for sixteen years, since he had been in the ninth grade. In that time, a bond was formed between feline and human that most would envy. Not once between man and beast had there been talk of separation or divorce. Not one time did they leave a quarrel overnight. Never did they sleep in separate beds. No, they were a perfect pair. Jeff would whistle The Girl From Impanema and Inkspot would come running without fail. Hours upon hours Inkspot spent sitting upon Jeff’s lap as sixteen years of piano students attempted to play from Alfred’s Guide to Beginning Piano. Sixteen years. Not even I could have sat on his lap for that long. It is not for the faint hearted to daily deal with elementary children plunking away in search of middle C. Inkspot was indeed a dear friend and after a lengthy and agonizing battle with cancer, expeditions for radiation and surgery, we finally let Inkspot head off into that horizon where Jazz is always on the radio, the sun is always warming a spot on the rug, and quarter notes continuously dot the landscape. No cat since had even made a dent in the soft cushion of my husband?s lap. No cat, that is, until Sam.

Imagine if you will, the unreserved love offered by a toddler: the unabashed hugs and cuddles, arms around your neck, hair and nose nuzzled under your chin, the unique rise and fall of a chest that sleeps soundly against your own, the undeserved trust offered. Now subtract the screaming, temper tantrums, trips to the pediatrician, fits thrown in the grocery story or in front of the photographer, the manipulative crying and whining during the terrible two?s. What would you have left? Sam. All the goodness and sweetness of a child in feline form. Jeff had found a companion.

Sam left us after that week. He walked away of his own accord and we allowed him to go. Cats have a prerogative all their own, and while we were not yet fluent in their language, both of us understood that if a cat wanted to stay, it would. If a cat needed to leave, it could always come back. Allowing Sam to walk away was sort of preview of the preparation parents need to watch their children head off into the unknown direction of life. And so, he walked.

As the air chilled last fall, the changing of autumn brings to me a lifetime of memories that swirl and invite me to remember deeply into the recesses of time—in slow-moving currents of the past and quick, cold showers of the present. The wind comes to clear the leaves of the passing year and knock off the dead branches of my thinking and reflection. It is a time that I revel in. It is the time when Sam returned.

There he sat astutely in the driveway, as if waiting for something to entertain him. Jeff anxiously tapped his left foot wishing for the last student to finish the theory and composition fill-in-the-blanks. Before the pencil was even set down, Jeff was up, reminding the student to practice and that he looked forward to seeing him next week. With that, he hurriedly bustled the child out the door and into the waiting vehicle. I watched him as he scanned the nearby yards for his prodigal pet. “Saaaaamm!” he yelled, glancing down both directions of the street, craning his neck to the bushes that lined the neighbor’s house. “Saaaaa…..” The second call could not even reach its end before I heard him say excitedly in my direction, “There he is! There you are! Sam! How are you, friend? How are you, huh? Oh, Sam. We’ve missed you. How’s it been goin’ for you? Oh, Sam…”

A summer gift to my husband and an autumn gift to me. As sure as the colors of a Harvest sunset, Sam returned to our life with the same sigh that Nature breathes out as the first snowflake falls.

It is the therapy of love that lies in the special warmth of each feline friend that we share our home with and in every passing whisker and tail-shake that rubs briefly against our ankles on its way to a new home, a new beginning or the old comfortable way of life by which it came. Love that sometimes comes with deep wounds and painful scars. Acceptance that at times awes me with an upturned trusting belly, a throated purr, a playful swat and other times must be coaxed from the wild within.

Autumn brings the lessons of all life. I poke and prod with earmite medicine and cottonballs, comb and coif with shampoo and a collar and yet still Sam stays. He sits patiently by the door, biding his time until we can turn the knob to let him out. He lies without care on the porch soaking in the fresh air and silently waits for us to hold open the door for him, beckoning his return. As we prepare our garden for winter, Sam sits on the perimeter of our activities and waits for us to call out his name and like an eager young puppy, he bounds after us and runs alongside our feet. He revels in the petting and pulling of fur, coddles and cat talk, unbothered, except for the occasional repositioning between my husband’s lap and my own.

He is indeed a gift of Autumn sent to return like the photographs within my mind as the first leaf spins to the ground. He lays on my chest as dreams begin, his labored breathing in perfect harmony with my own. His paw stretched out onto my shoulder, my palm overlapping the white fur toes, his calloused chin resting peacefully on my fingers. We are layered together, creature and created, human and animal. And in his stillness I feel the wind of seasons. The breeze of That which allows us to leave and return; That which invites us into a circle of conversation that spins us with arms overhead, hair twisting to the sky into a gentle cyclone of air and Spirit. And as my husband and I rest under covers for the night, it is this cat that reminds us that the voice of One calls us each by a perfect name, unmistakable and clear, and we only need to run toward it.

Discussion: Pets

What lessons have you learned from your pets? What is your philosophy about choosing and having pets?

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