This is Day 19 of a 21-day effort to see the good in what might, at first, look like an irredeemable drag. Its name comes from a classic bit of dialogue uttered by actor Kevin Bacon in a classic film of my generation, Animal House.
I did not discover I was a dog person until last week, but I have always loved cats. Yes, they’re aloof, but they’re also independent and delightful in their own way, a very different way than dogs.
And I grew up with cats, starting with Crystal, when I was about six years old (sharp-eyed readers will note that this makes my p0rn name either “Crystal Delaware” or “Crystal LSD”, depending on whether you call first street, period, or the first street I remember).
Turns out Crystal was allergic to city living and Mom was allergic to Crystal, so Mom stayed in town and Crystal moved to a farm to chase birds. This rendered me catless for a few years, when Newly-Divorced Dad let us get Monique (my parents divorced when I was young, what can I say?)
Once Dad moved away with his new family (to be fair, they would probably have preferred to stay right there in Chicago), I was essentially petless for almost 15 years. When I was in high school, Mom had another baby, so I had a kind of human pet, but that was it for years and years. College is too transient a time for pets, and when I was living in New York City, I could barely afford to feed myself.
Things started looking up money-wise when I moved back to Chicago, but my life was in rather great disarray, plus I was in renter’s mode. A pet is not a great thing to get when you’re not sure whether you’ll last out the year in your adoptive city.
But once I’d sorted things out with my shrink-slash-astrologer and decided to stay, it made sense to really put down roots. A terrific condo dropped in my lap, and in short order, Sam followed.
Sam. Sam I am. Samela. Sam had a sad history when he came to me as a three-year-old. Much beloved by his first master, Sam came with a gallon-sized baggie of frozen cooked, chopped roast beef in individual serving sizes, and a stack of red plates he liked to eat it on, Sam was not, alas, beloved by the man’s fiancÃ©e. Reluctantly, he chose the girl and I got Sam. There was some judging on my part about this (which I came to regret later, as you’ll see) but I was happy to have Sam under my care.
Sam liked to sit around, a LOT, and then suddenly, arbitrarily, get up and do five minutes of wind sprints across the wood floors of my condo, time of day be damned. He had a tiny, tiny head and a big, not fat, but big, body. He enjoyed playing with invisible pieces of paper, freaking out for no reason and sleeping on my head. Not beside my head: on top of it. (My head-to-frame size was inversely proportional to Sam’s own, so I shed a lot of heat out of that sucker, and Chicago gets fiercely cold of a winter’s night.)
Mainly, as you might expect, Sam dramatically improved my disposition. He was someone to love, and to love completely. That should have been enough.
Alas, I was greedy and foolish. I wanted human love, too, and the type that appeared on my doorstep did not like cats. In fact, he hated them.
In fact, he wrote a poem about his feelings for them, which started like this:
Kitty in the microwave
Asking me your life to save
It’s hard to hear your muffled cries
Above my sizzling cottage fries
Okay, all you SPCA types, he was a stand-up comic and it was a joke. And a funny one, the way he delivered it. I laughed, every time. Me, lover of Sam. And felt only the smallest twinge of guilt in doing it. (My motto: the Joke is King; all Hail the Joke.)
The three of us living together was not so funny, however. The Chief Atheist didn’t ever, ever physically mistreat Sam; I wouldn’t have stood for that. But he was overt in his hatred, and I know Sam felt terrorized. So it was not hard to make the deal that when and if we moved to Los Angeles, Sam would not move with us. We’d all be better off. Well, Sam would.
Sam had a dry run or two with my friend, Deb, before the actual move. Having grown up in a house with a mother who made you put snacks in a dish before eating and who moved the piano to vacuum behind it every single day, pets had never been a part of her mental (or physical) landscape. (It was a very tidy and pleasant house, though, I must say, way nicer than any I’ve ever lived in.)
So she took on the task with some trepidation. And, again, I must confess that I pushed a bit: I knew that if Sam lived with Deb, there’d be a good chance I’d get to see him a lot on visits, (although I didn’t realize how much that would ultimately turn out to be.) But of course, the same miracle happened with Sam and Deb that happened with Arnie and me: she fell in love. Sam brought out something in her she’d never known was there, could be there, and she took sterling care of her new baby until his death years later.
I have always looked on my loss of Sam, or my abandonment of him as I caved under pressure, with a strange mix of sorrow and thanks. Sorrow for the obvious reasons: I was weak. I lost Sam. As a grown woman of 31, I still didn’t believe in my own self well enough to stand up for what I truly wanted.
Thankful, too, though, for some equally compelling reasons. Like having to face up to some less than delightful weaknesses I needed to work on. Like introducing a friend to the wonders of unconditional love on the donor end.
And mainly, for giving Sam the Wandering Kitty the best of homes to live out the rest of his years.
Happy holidays, little guy. May they be filled with lots of tasty roast beef served on brick-red plates, and big, warm heads to nap on.