My family has a long history of naming cats “Cat.” We are mostly dog people, although when I was little, I was desperate for a kitten. So, when I got a puppy, I called her “Puss In Boots,” which morphed into “Bootsie.”
Perhaps the feline phobia was because stray cats seemed to find our family, and we didn’t want to get too attached. My father especially. He was the only card-carrying, anti-cat Buchanan, but when a tiger-striped stray started hanging out at my parents’ house in Darien, CT, he relented and let her in. My dad was her absolute favorite (we always love the ones who don’t love us), and she would snuggle and toss toys to amuse him. Finally, Cat won him over, and he was the first one in tears over her terminal Feline Leukemia diagnosis.
My parents had a summer beach house in Sagaponack on Potato Road which was our absolute joy. My father made the purchase in the 1950s, before he met my mom, and argued over the $25,000 purchase price. A slew of family dogs enjoyed the beach house even more than the rest of us, and we as a family deeply mourned their losses over the decades. But as most of us were moving back and forth between different places, it didn’t make sense to have a pet anymore, so that was that.
That is, until I saw a black cat with a distinctive white mark hanging around in the dunes. He wouldn’t let me get too close to him but when I saw a poster in the Sagaponack General Store of a lost cat, I knew it was him. I slowly wooed Cat with line-caught free-trade albacore tuna until he started to trust me. Like a man’s primal response to the sound of a Budweiser can being opened, I could just crack the tuna can and Cat would appear.
I called the number on the lost Cat poster and the woman came over. I was thrilled for this reunion and already thinking of asking the Japanese prime minister to nominate me for the Nobel Peace Prize when the cat appeared and stared at the owner. “That’s not my cat,” she said and turned on her kitten heels back to her Mercedes.
Well, now Cat and I were stuck with each other. He would appear when I meowed and let me pet his ear, which seemed to have been on the bad end of some sort of fight. He would come and go, and one day when I walked in downstairs the braided rug was fluffed up and there was a dead mouse. “Arghhh,” I said and picked up a one iron to toss the offending carcass (because god knows you never use your one iron for anything else). Over the next few days, there was not one, but two, dead mice. Again, I chipped them over the fence.
Then, this gift-giving morphed into a dead baby rabbit. “That’s it!” I said. I saw Cat looking at me as this gift was also tossed and I exclaimed, “If this relationship is going to work, you are going to have to figure out 1-800-Flowers.”
I surmised, as most women do, that all this courting only meant one thing. He wanted in my bed. That was my mistake. One night of sweet cuddling quickly led to obsession. When I was gone, he would sit outside my window and meow up a storm. My sister, annoyed, would call out from her room, “She’s not here!”
Cat to me felt otherworldly. Not human. Not feline. A powerful spirit trapped in a small furry body. We were connected. And this is long before the term of affection, “You are my spirit animal,” started trending on Instagram.
But as many great things come to an end, the beach house was sold, and the last day we cleaned it out, Cat was nowhere to be seen. I kept looking even as some lovely volunteer firemen carried my dad down the stairs in his wheelchair for the last time. I had thought about getting a cage and trying to trap Cat and tame him to stay with me. But he was wild at heart. Not meant to be domestic.
So, you can imagine me sitting right now in my little Victorian house in Sag Harbor. I have a visitor. A black cat with distinctive markings. This one doesn’t seem to trust me yet, but we do sit and stare at each other intensely. I left one cushion on the outside chair so he has a comfortable place to sleep when he visits. I have only once given him some overpriced organic tuna just to get close enough to see if he looked okay. He does.
I have decided to call him Sam.