*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.
My first apartment was a cockroach-infested studio on the ground floor of a three-story building. I lived across the hall from a couple with a large dog that defecated voluminously in the hallway and a plump orange cat named Sampson.
The couple across the hall didn’t seem happy based on the volume and frequency of their shouting matches. My husband and I weren’t happy, either. So I could relate.
There was one part of their miserable lives I did envy, and that was Sampson. What an amazing cat he was. When he wanted to go potty, one of them would open their living room window and Sampson would slink out onto the ledge before leaping gracefully into the bushes.
When he was through with his outdoor excursion, Sampson would jump back onto the ledge and paw at the window until one of his owners let him back inside. He was beautiful poetry in motion; he moved like a cat.
The shouting from across the hall intensified over time before ceasing entirely. The woman in the equation packed her bags and moved out. The man was left alone. Silence reigned supreme.
Sampson went outside to potty and stayed there. The single man in the apartment didn’t open the window to let him back inside. Sampson grew skinny and haggard. He came to my window.
I let him in.
Sampson was dirty and infested with fleas. So I bought him special shampoo and washed him until he was fluffy and shiny again. He was hungry. So I fed him. I fattened him up to his former glory.
While I lay and watched television, Sampson rested on the top of the sofa and let his paws dangle onto my face. He purred. He snuggled. He slept atop my kitchen table and ruined my jigsaw puzzle and knocked over my napkin holder. Then he shredded the errant napkins while I was at work, making confetti that filled the entirety of the small living space.
That cat was my spirit animal.
If Sampson needed to go potty, he jumped onto the back of the sofa and stared out the window until I let him out. When he was ready to come back inside, he stared at me through the glass until I let him back in.
Whenever I saw his true owner, the man from across the hall, I froze. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t make eye contact.
Then one day, I made eye contact. “I know you have my cat,” he said. “I want you to know I don’t care. You can have him if you want.”
I nodded, grateful. “Yes,” I said. “He’s a great cat.”
Sampson thrived on gourmet cat food and unconditional love until one day, I heard a familiar screeching from across the hall. The woman had returned.
I pressed my ear against the door of my apartment to listen. She wanted her cat — my cat. The knock against the door made me jump. I peeped through the peephole. It was her.
As quickly as I could, I scooped Sampson off my kitchen table and unceremoniously locked him in the bathroom before opening the door. “Yes?” I asked.
“Have you seen my cat?”
I shook my head. “Nope. I haven’t seen your cat.” As far as I’m concerned, you don’t have a cat. “I’ll keep my eyes open,” I said. I shut the door gently so she wouldn’t suspect anything.
I watched through the window as she left, defeated and catless. If she loved Sampson so much, why had she waited until he found a new home before she tried to retrieve him? She didn’t care when he was hungry and flea-ridden. So she didn’t deserve him now that he was fat and happy. Go away, Lady. There’s no cat for you here.
After that close call, I was hypervigilant about letting Sampson in as soon as possible after letting him out. I sat in the window like a nervous parent on the first day of school. Several times, I saw her sitting in the parking lot, waiting to swoop down like a hawk.
I loved that cat.
Although I always looked both ways before letting Sampson climb out the window to do his business, I lost. He was outside one day when I glanced out the window just in time to see his former owner park her car, open the door, and scoop him up like a cat hunting a goldfish in a bowl. I never saw Sampson again.
I cried for days.