This past Friday June 12th was the anniversary of when Sam came into our lives 7 years ago. It is also the date he left us. I feel the need to share some of his stories here. Even if this isn’t precisely about Witchcraft, Sam certainly was a magical cat. Some would use the world familiar, but I don’t think that adequately describes our relationship. He was a companion and a huge piece of my heart.
In the Beginning
When I got divorced, Mischief (our cat) went to live with my ex, as he needed her more. I never cried about the divorce, but I did mourn that cat. After relocating to Seattle and getting my own place, I figured in time I would get another cat. However, my new love already had two cats, so most evenings were spent at his apartment – because sleeping with cats is always best. The following year when we moved in to a house together, I began to feel the need to add to the household in feline format. That spring we visited the local cat shelters, but we didn’t make a connection.
After Memorial Day weekend, we were heading home from an event in California. It was a bright and early morning, and I was driving our car on I-5 somewhere near Sacramento – there was no traffic. Suddenly I saw a grey and black striped kitten with white spots playing on the side of the road in the center median. In my shock, I said, “NATHAN! I SAW A KITTEN!” and he said, “Pull over!” I got over to the side and backed the car up to where I had seen the kitten. We walked around searching for the kitten, but there was no sign of it anywhere. Nathan had been either napping or looking at his phone when I spotted the kitten, so I was the only one who saw it. I felt a bit crazy and sad, but Nathan assured me that cats in that area tend to be of the wily barn cat variety, good at hiding and keeping safe.
A little under two weeks later, we went back to our favorite cat shelter. In the kitten room I immediately spotted the grey, black, and white kitten. Highly unlikely that this little cat in Seattle was the same one I saw on the highway, but it definitely felt like a sign. I knew he was coming home with us. And the next day he did, one day before my birthday.
No Cat Sleeps Alone
We knew that you need to be careful and slow about integrating new cats into a household. We set up my studio as the kitten den with his food, litterbox, toys, and me. He was a super-charged kitten, and I got no work done that day as we played, he destroyed parts of my studio, and then he napped in my lap. I set him up with a big nest of blankets for the night, and we went to bed across the hallway. He cried for what seemed like much of the night, and I spent some time in there with him. The next day I noted to Nathan that the kitten had never spent a night alone before – he had had siblings. We looked at each other and I collected the kitten from the studio. The other cats hadn’t come to bed yet, so we closed the door, and the kitten settled in on my chest purring loudly. From that night onward, he almost always spent some part of the night sprawled out on my chest. He loved to be on skin, and would stretch his long legs out towards my head and neck. Eventually as he grew, he would cover my entire chest lengthwise and almost down to my knees. He also made a great little spoon.
Sam I Am
We had a hard time finding the right name for him. When he was being fostered, they had named him Albert or Albie, for Albert Einstein because he was the smartest cat in the litter. And while he was indeed an incredibly smart cat, he didn’t seem like an Albert. We kept trying different names for about two weeks or so but nothing stuck. Then I had a dream featuring my friend Samantha, who also had an awesome tabby cat that I loved reading and seeing the antics of. In the dream, she said something like, “it’s so sweet that you named the kitten Sam.” And so he became Sam. (As it so happens, I had another odd dream about Samantha the day before Sam passed, where she was packing up and moving.)
Fearless Flyer, Shitrocket Extraordinaire
We were to discover that Sam was pretty much not afraid of anything, especially as a kitten. He knew what other cats were for: comfort and playing. We suppose that his mother may have been a black cat, because he definitely wanted to snuggle with Eleanor, who eventually, begrudgingly gave in after a couple days. Simon, on the other hand, was initially terrified of this tiny kitten (Simon is not very bright when it comes to anything that isn’t food.) I had to explain to him that Sam was his kitten. About half an hour later, Simon was bringing Sam a toy – he had a little buddy!
There was nowhere Sam couldn’t get to, as if he had wings. I had gotten used to older cats – or less adventurous cats who left most things alone, so there was much to destroy. Sam sent statues on high shelves/altars crashing, saw every window sill as a challenge to sit on, and managed to get on top of 7 foot high doors. One day Nathan walked into the kitchen to find Sam looking unsteady from on top of the door. He had managed to get up there, but the door had moved in such a way he couldn’t get down safely. Nathan reached up to grab him, but Sam arched up his belly making him harder to collect. Sam lost his footing, bounced off of Nathan’s face, launching and landing 6 feet away on a counter-top (not to the table that was immediately below) before careening off upstairs at high speed. Nathan meant to exclaim, “Sam you little shit!” and instead the words came out “Sam you shitrocket!” which I found hilarious. And so he became known as The Shitrocket.
People say that cats tend to chill after 6 months, or 1 year, or likely 2 years. Not Sam. He was totally an adventure cat and a menace. Too smart for our own good we would say. The night we moved into our new home in New England, we heard this big loud crash in the middle of the night. We cautiously went downstairs and couldn’t find anything. Then we noticed the fireplace grate had been knocked over. Sam had wanted to investigate the hearth and launched himself off the gate to get up there. And he still was game for jumping on top of doors. His favorite place the last several months was on top of our new fridge. It was warm up there, and he could survey the house easily.
Not On Sam’s List
There were only two things that Sam didn’t like: loud music of a certain kind and car rides. He had very large ears, and noises that didn’t bug the other cats upset him – particularly zills, cymbals, hipscarves, and banjo. (All things in ample supply in a musician/dancer home). We had thought he’d love being in the car. When we moved cross-country, we set up a cat paradise in the back of the van. We had plan to take about 4-5 days, doing about 8 hours a day. However, after getting everyone in the van, not even two hours outside of Seattle, we noticed Sam was incredibly upset. Even with the anti-stress treatments we had given them. Before we hit Spokane, we had the crazy idea to see if we could drive straight through, to minimize the cat stress. And we did. 54 hours later we pulled up to my parents’ house in NJ. Upon hitting solid (unmoving) ground, Sam revitalized, which was a relief because he wouldn’t eat or drink (I kept dripping water on his paws and face to keep him licking).
He also didn’t like it when we went away for work, which was often. While Simon and Eleanor had grown up used to Nathan working outside of the home and traveling for gigs, Sam grew up with us being home and around those first few months. We found that if we had someone stay with the cats (vs just stopping by to check on them), everyone was better off. (Though that wasn’t always possible.) Sam always sensed when we were leaving long before the other cats did – and even before the telltale signs of luggage appeared. He was incredibly expressive both in voice and body language. Sam had a thing I call “tabby side-eye” which is a certain puffiness to the face that tabbies get when they are displeased or upset with you.
A Song of Sam
Sam narrated his life. People say that Siamese are the most vocal of cats, but Sam was even more vocal than Simon (who is part Siamese or Himalayan). Besides his distinctive gait that you could hear anywhere – a long and lean trot, he told you when he was coming up or down the stairs, jumping on or off the bed, or was mad about something (especially if he was annoyed at one of the other cats for not letting him get his way, he would leave a room talking to himself.)
Nathan wrote a song about Sam. You can listen to it here. I’m not sure if Sam appreciated the song, but we sang it to him often regardless.
Sam usually came when I called for him. But I also found that if I was laying down, I could think about having Sam on my chest, and regardless of the time of day, without me saying a word, he would appear. When we were on the road, having him on me was the thing that I missed the most, so I imagined he was pretty confused when I would think about him there, but I wouldn’t be anywhere he could get to.
He was a wonderful snuggler and escort. I have never had a cat that was so happy to be in my lap, in my arms, on my chest, or just close by. He was also a gentleman. When I taught dance classes out of our home, he would always accompany a new student to the bathroom to make sure they got there safely. He might even keep your lap warm while you did your business.
A Perfect Life
Sam started to not feel well in early Spring. We brought him to the vet who a noted couple things were off, but he seemed to be an extremely healthy, normal cat to her since he wasn’t exhibiting the usual signs of a cat in distress. A antibiotic shot and switching out food seemed to help (along with some Witchcraft) for a while. I noted online that several other friends were losing their beloved cats – several of them tabbies, also about the same young age. There are patterns to things you tend to notice, but sometimes you just hope that maybe, just maybe…not this time.
I snuggled him and told him he wasn’t allowed to leave any time soon. That he needed to become an old bastard of a cat. He looked at me in such a way that said he knew otherwise. I hoped I was wrong about that. But not long after, we found out that what I had feared was indeed true – Sam had cancer in his throat and stomach. He had not responded to the less evasive treatment option, and the odds were not in his favor that the more aggressive treatment would do anything to help him. We held him as he crossed over, 7 years to the day we brought him into our lives.
The next day when my mom called to wish me a happy birthday, I told her about everything that had happened this past week. She said, “you know they say that to be born and die on the same day indicates you’ve lived the perfect life. Even though Sam wasn’t born on that day, it is the day he came into your lives. You all started a new life together.”
We buried him in our backyard. We lined the inside of the grave with fresh mugwort. I had been saving this adorable Japanese maneki fabric for years, and so we wrapped him up in it, along with the first toy he came to us with as a kitten. We sprinkled in catnip, laid down more mugwort and gave him back to the earth. The hydrangea that my dad had given us last spring that I couldn’t figure out where to put it…well, it’ll watch over him now. Or he’ll climb it.
The house is much quieter without Sam, despite there being 3 other cats here. I know in time we’ll have to re-balance the cat structure. I don’t know if Sam plans on coming back to us. I’m not sure why we didn’t get as much time together as one would think we should have. I do know that we did everything we could. And that because of the pandemic, we got far more condensed time with him these past few months than our schedule would have allowed. And that in itself, is a blessing.