A Cat Named Sam

By Anne Pinkerton

When my brother died, he was unmarried and childless (or “childfree,” as he likely would have framed it). David had spent his adult life working long hours as a radiologist in part because he loved science and helping people, but in equal part because the associated paycheck and vacation time afforded him the life he really wanted: that of an elite athlete. He had traveled much of the world competing in mountain biking races, ultra-marathons, and adventure racing quests. He had many girlfriends, but never yearned for a traditional family life, to the disappointment of said girlfriends. When at age 47, David fell from one of the “14ers” in Colorado – a range of 54 spectacular, jagged 14,000-foot mountains – he left behind a sizable bank account, a largely unlived-in house, and a small orange tabby cat named Sam.

Once upon a time, David had had a dog, a black lab called Harley, who was genuinely his best friend and a companion on many journeys. Harley had hung himself on his own leash by jumping out of the bed of my brother’s pick-up truck where David had tethered him while he hiked nearby. After that accident, David never wanted another dog. He probably didn’t even want a cat, but one of those girlfriends had picked up a teensy, flea-covered stray and convinced him to keep it. Despite his resistance to the vulnerabilities of love, he fell hard for Sam.

My six-foot-tall, rugged big brother would cry out girlishly, “Squeaky! Squeaky!” to summon Sam when he got home from work. The nickname came from Sam’s high-pitched voice. David would scoop him up and kiss his head and scruff loudly, unabashed. Because he often left Sam behind for extended periods when he traveled, I’ve always wondered how long it must have taken for Sam to realize he wasn’t coming back that last time.

It took months to figure out what to do with the abandoned kitty, not because he wasn’t wanted, but because both my mother and I wanted him so desperately. She and I are nearly equal crazy cat ladies. We were equally in love with my brother and equally devastated by the loss. But in the end, she won out by convincing me that a plane trip to my house would traumatize Sam more than a car ride to hers.

Last night, eight years later, Sam was barely breathing. “Do you think I’ve paralyzed him?” Mom asked me, desperation in her voice as she described his condition over the phone. She had given him twice as much pain medication as prescribed after he suffered a long bout with lymphoma, willing him to die at home rather than at the vet’s office today.

She got her wish. A text message this morning confirmed the little orange cat had left his body: I’m feeling sad . . .  I am too, saying goodbye to Squeaky, saying the last goodbye to my brother, wondering what shred we will hold on to now.

"flashmemoirannepinkerton"Anne Pinkerton holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Bay Path University and is currently working on a memoir, a chapter of which was published recently in riverSedge Literary Journal. She is contributing writer for the Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, and has a blog called True Scrawl.


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