This little furball came to live with my family near the end of the year 2000. I don’t remember now if he first started coming to our apartment in November, or if that’s when he stayed there for good. Either way, at first, we thought he was really old because he was dirty and beat up. I didn’t like his attitude; the way he just waltzed right in and started eating the food we had out for the neighbor’s cat (who was usually thrown out to the yard when her humans left their apartment), and how he would lie around sleeping in our apartment. I said he was an old dirty bastard, so I named him SamSi, after Sam Seed in the Drunken Master movies. I didn’t realize he was just weak from hunger and fatigue. But I guess I just started picking him up, teasing him, or something…maybe it was like a rom-com cliché where the guy and girl hate each other at first. Not that I think SamSi ever hated me, he was probably just indifferent initially.
Believe it or not, the above photo was not staged! One day SamSi went into my room, jumped into my bookshelf (then full of plushies), and sat himself down right in the center. My whole family was awestruck and amused. He had to have known what he was doing, right?! I think we may have sat some of the plushies back up, but since the little Ernie and the flowers are knocked over still, I think my brother mostly just hurried to get the shot before SamSi decided he was done being ridiculously cute. I think this may have been the point at which I just started straight up adoring him and trying to win him over. It worked perhaps better than I could have imagined.
Maybe in the course of my picking him up, he discovered my hair. Maybe the smell of it reminded him of his real mother, or maybe of his previous human. We assumed he had had a human family before because from the start he would react to the sound of cans being opened, and he would wait by the back door to be let out. Anyway, SamSi developed the habit of lying on my back as I did my homework on my bed.
Eventually the neighbor’s cat became our cat, after we had already adopted one of her kittens from her first litter. And before we could neuter her, SamSi knocked her up. Of the resulting litter, we gave away two and kept two. So my family came to have five cats. SamSi was only clingy with me, so he became “my” cat, even though really it had been one of my brothers who let him into the apartment to begin with (though he says that it was the neighbor’s cat–SamSi’s future baby momma Pantera–who invited SamSi over).
I graduated from high school, started college, 9/11 happened, my family moved to our own house…
I seem not to have many pictures of SamSi (nor anyone else for that matter) from the time I was an undergrad. But I remember that when I first started college, I still didn’t have my own desk at home, so I was doing my homework mostly lying down on the floor of my bedroom, and SamSi still had the habit of lying on my back purring with his face in my hair as I did so.
After graduating college I joined the Americorps program City Year. In my second service year, the organization’s cellular sponsor luckily provided members with Nokia phones that had surprisingly good cameras on them (for the time, and maybe only as far as I knew).
I spent the summer of 2008 playing Guitar Hero 2, all the way through the highest difficulty setting. This, coupled with the fact that I had played violin in elementary and high school, made one of my brothers think that a real guitar would be a good birthday present. Alas, anything with more than 4 strings is apparently beyond my comprehension. But SamSi seemed to enjoy sitting in its case whenever I’d take it out. And I was already singing Lenny Kravitz’s “Super Soul Fighter” to him as “Super Soul Tiger.” This isn’t exactly a “supersonic V” but close enough.
After my second service year I went back to college for a quick second Bachelor’s. SamSi was still doing my homework with me, though he had gotten out of the habit of lying on my back.
Then in February of 2009 I broke my ankle like a pro and was bedridden for two weeks before surgery and at least one more afterwards. Before this accident, for the most part SamSi tended to lie down next to my head or my torso, but once I was spending nearly every minute in bed, he would often sit by my leg.
In fall of 2009 I went to live in Japan on the JET Program. My mother tells me that the first few days, SamSi didn’t cry. I’d been away for one-week periods before, after all. But after a few days, he started crying for me. Eventually he learned to console himself by sleeping on my mother’s bed and smelling her hair. When I would Skype with my family, I would always ask them to bring SamSi to the computer if he wasn’t sleeping. The first couple of times I would talk to him, but we noticed that this seemed to agitate him as he couldn’t tell where I was. So later I would just look at him without speaking.
Around 2011 SamSi was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, but luckily one radioiodine treatment took care of it. Other than having bad teeth and needing to have one extracted at nearly each one of his yearly dental cleanings from that year on, he didn’t really have any chronic health problems.
When I came back I was so glad for these kitty cats, and for my mother’s house and the yard she’d started working on more once she retired. My last two years in Japan were mostly bad and I came back, exhausted, to the soft loving paws & bellies of SamSi & company. I spent a lot of time pulling myself together while watching the cats in the yard.
I started working as a freelance translator in late 2014, around the same time I started grad school. Although he had developed a heart murmur, SamSi was still going strong; he still wanted to go outside the fence (I would only let him out into the alley sometimes and follow very closely behind to make sure he didn’t slip into the neighbors’ yards), and in our yard he would sometimes take off running and scramble up the big elm trees. His short but thick coat allowed him to stay outside for about 10 minutes even when temperatures were near freezing. Only temps in the teens and/or torrential downpours would keep him from asking to go outside.
SamSi’s son Danton died of lung cancer in late March of 2015. The only human he was close to was my mother, and his death hit her really hard. So I was glad that SamSi had continued to hang out with her even after my return from Japan.
Content warning: euthanasia
The August 2017 calendar was painful to look at. As it happened, it went too quickly and seemingly without warning. It was incomprehensible, unbelievable, to see his normal appointments written there, then the sudden visit to the regular vet and eventual hospitalization.
August 11th: Routine dental cleaning
August 17th: Oral recheck
August 26th: SamSi to Patterson (regular vet got us in)
August 28th: SamSi to Patterson & Blue Pearl (emergency hospital)
SamSi had been with me for so long that even though I knew it was impossible for him to live as long as I might, part of me believed he really would be here with me for the rest of my life. He had already been here for half of it. Even though he had been in bad shape when he was admitted to the hospital on the 28th, I guess I was assuming that if he lived through the night, he would get better. But when my brother and I went to see him on the morning of the 29th, he was worse. They had gotten his blood sugar back up, but they had been unable to secure blood for him for a much-needed transfusion (they said 95% of cats are Type A, but SamSi was Type B), and he had started having trouble breathing and was placed in an oxygen chamber. When I saw him in there, I just reacted. I started crying without thinking.
The hospital vet said he had very little chance of surviving even with the blood transfusion, as he appeared to be in septic shock. I didn’t really know exactly what that was even after they explained it to me. All I could hear was people saying my tiger was going to die, I was seeing him unresponsive, and somehow I couldn’t think, “Maybe he’ll make it!” I just called my mother to tell her what the vet said, and ask her if she wanted to be there. So I sat in a room crying and waiting while my brother drove back to Detroit to get my mother.
Shortly before they got there, I asked if I could see SamSi again. They set him up in a consultation room with a portable oxygen maker. He had catheters in all of his legs and something strapped to his back but I asked if I could hold him. I was hoping that he would be more responsive. If he reacted, I would say no to euthanasia. But he didn’t. So I signed the papers. But then, right as the doctor was about to inject him, SamSi sat up, on his own, for the first time in two days. Not completely, but he lifted his head and shoulders. The doctor said “You wanna sit up, boy? There you go, good boy” and this confused me. I guess I thought he would see SamSi being responsive and stop the procedure. But he didn’t. And it was over just like that, with the words “What have I done?!” stuck in my throat while all I could do was cry.
I was barely functional the rest of the day and Wednesday. Then I started looking for answers. Maybe it was the denial phase of mourning? I just went through all the what-if’s and maybe’s, everything that had happened in the past month. Had there been signs? Was it the Biomox from after the cleaning? Was it the allergic reaction he’d had a month prior, apparently to my visiting cousin? Was it the medicine he got for that reaction? I considered so many possibilities. I remembered how my mother had regretted not euthanizing Danton, because he had died a slow and painful death, and she heard all his cries as he died. But I regretted euthanizing SamSi. All I could think of was how he’d sat up at the very end, how his eyes had remained open even after the first injection that was supposed to make him “sleepy,” and how I had given up on him after only 16 hours of hospitalization. I cried and fretted and thought and thought and thought. My brother made his coffin. Tuesday night I helped a little to dig his grave, next to Danton’s in the yard. We buried him Wednesday the 30th.
I Googled “Regret euthanizing my cat.” I came across a site that recommended, among other things, writing a letter to one’s cat explaining why the choice to euthanize was made. I wrote it. I wouldn’t say it made me feel better, but it made me accept that this is what happened, and that I will never know what—if anything—would’ve produced a different outcome, and all I can do is not know and hope SamSi, if he exists in any form now, will know that I did the best I could with what I knew and what I was told and that I wish he were still here.
It’s helped me to go through all the photos of him. I probably have a thousand of them. Even though I didn’t have my own camera until 2009, or 2007 counting the one on my cell phone, after so many years, and so many precious moments, the photos pile up. This November would have been his 17th homecoming. That’s what we would celebrate since we didn’t know his birthday. His regular vet put his birthday as July 20, 1998. That day might have been the first time we’d taken him to the vet, and the year…I think it was changed from 1999 to 1998 after the hyperthyroidism was diagnosed, because it’s rare for cats younger than 13 to get that, so the vet recalculated his age. It’s a little easier for me to accept his death if I think of him as having been 19 because that would make him over 90 in cat years, but at the same time…seeing the first photos of him again, now, it’s hard for me to believe he was already 2 years old when he came to live with us. Even though we thought he was old at first, now he looks like a baby to me in those photos.
This August marked 4 years since I came back from Japan. In other words, I’ve been back as long as I was gone. I wondered if SamSi made sure to hang on so we could make up for that time I wasn’t here. Still I wish I could’ve had more time with him. And even though we still have three cats, including SamSi’s daughter, the house feels noticeably emptier without him.
This photo looks hazy because I took it with my iPod Touch, which doesn’t have as good a camera as one would expect for a device from 2011. When I originally took it in July of 2014, it only read as a photo of poor quality. Now, with both SamSi and Danton gone, it feels ghostly.
A friend told me that maybe SamSi sat up because he wanted to look at me. I also started to wonder if maybe he knew what was happening and was too majestic to take it lying down. Of course, I’ll never know, and this will always hurt.
He was my sunshine.