I lost my best friend today.
It feels odd and a little grim to be writing this while he’s still lying at my feet under a blanket, but if I didn’t do it before it was time I don’t think I’d be able to do so after. And he deserves some words.
The above photo was taken on May 5, 2007. I’d had Simon for just under four months and we were still figuring each other out. That morning, he had already jumped on the bed to get cozy and for reasons I cannot recall, I got out of bed and grabbed my DSLR from the office and crawled back under the covers. And it’s lucky I did because he got up walked over and stood on my chest, staring at me. I somehow managed to reach over to the nightstand, grab the camera, frame and focus and shoot, all without scaring him off — and he was easy to scare. I got the shot (and submitted it to the 24 Hours Of Flickr group for that day, and it got printed in their book commemorating the event) and it was my phone wallpaper for many, many years and remains one of my happiest memories.
And there were so many memories, I can’t begin to recount them. Simon and I were together for more than 14 years. I had always thought of myself as a dog person — ask me about some of the things I did as a kid to try to convince my parents to get me a dog — but a canine didn’t fit my lifestyle at the time, and having had some very good experiences with friends’ cats (and finding that my allergies had subsided from my youth), I decided to adopt a kitty. It was also a very transitional and lonely time in my life, and some indentured company sounded like a good idea. And so, Simon.
I didn’t change his name from what the Toronto Cat Rescue gave him. He had a brother — Garfunkel — who had been adopted earlier, so he was just a solo artist. I liked the name and considering my track record of naming pets was not great (pour one out for hamsters Hammie and Mousie), it stuck. And it fit. He was a Simon. And he was a great cat. Sure, he was standoffish and actually didn’t let me hold or even pet him for the first year or so that we were together, but he eventually came around and we had many great hours of belly rubs, ear scratches, and chin scritches.
We had our rituals, our games, our routines. He’d watch me spend hours blogging away and when the laptop closed, that’s when he knew it was time for bedtime treats and he’d head to the bedroom to wait for me to serve him. At my old condo, he’d spend hours perched at the sliding door staring at some invisible, fascinating thing on my empty, dirty balcony. He wouldn’t drink from a water bowl if it was too close to his food. He’d climb into the bathroom sink or the bathtub if his water was empty. His giving fuzzy head-butts to ask for food, a trick learned from a catsitter’s own cats. His uncanny ability to know when you’ve left a piece of dark clothing on the bed or floor for him to lie on and shed on in record time.
His favourite food was french fries and if I brought fast food home, he’d be on me like nobody’s business until I gave him one or three. He would watch me play guitar, but only from the hallway, at a minimum safe distance. He was fastidiously clean, never needing a bath and never would have allowed one even if he did, and was somehow the perfect degree of hypo-allergenic for me. He would meow at me in his weird, croaky, Tom Waits-y voice and I would meow back and he’d meow back, and I thought we were having a conversation but he probably just thought I was weird. He wasn’t a loud purrer but if he was happy he let you know. He was the gentlest cat but one time a butterfly somehow got into my apartment — still no idea how — and he was on it before I could react and notched his one and only kill.
I want to talk about him hiding under the curtain in the empty apartment as the last one out when we moved into a house, or him being afraid of the stairs in said house before finally finding the courage to climb them after three or four days of being stuck on the main floor. I want to talk about how patient he was with our dressing him in hats and putting weird things on his head for photos. Or how even though he KNEW dinner time was six o’clock, he’d come to my office at five and meow at me for an hour, hoping to wear me down early (which he frequently did). I want to talk about how he mellowed in his later years, becoming friendlier with visitors and even having favourites that he’d come to see if he heard their voices. I want to talk about how, as my life went from just him and me to include my wife and son, he allowed them to join us with affection. He was a truly sweet, gentle, kind little cat and I’m so lucky to have had him.
He was a very sturdy guy through most of his life — never got sick, never even needed a vet visit until he was seven — but as he advanced and started needing medical attention for dental work, a heart murmur, pancreatitis, I kept a closer eye on him. Any change in habit rang a small alarm in my head, but he kept on trucking and was fine for years. But a few weeks ago things stopped being fine. There was diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, and after a few vet consults including ultrasounds and x-rays, it was clear that he had some congenital issues that were now affecting him, and that the best we could do was try to make him comfortable.
Naively, I thought that the time frame would be days to weeks; instead, while our efforts did get him eating and drinking and even pooping solid a couple times, we were rewarded with a good afternoon or evening and now, four days in, we were getting ready to say goodbye. Any concerns I had about not knowing when he was ready to go were unfounded. He was out of gas and ready to rest, and I couldn’t be selfish and deny him that.
Obviously I wish we’d had more time. At his last checkup, he passed with flying colours and the vet mused that he could be a 20-year cat. But almost all his days were good ones, and with the pandemic I spent pretty much every workday of the past year with him perched on my desk, sprawled across my laptop and turning it off while I was working more than a few times. I like to think that even after our baby arrived and demanded so much of our energy and attention, he never felt neglected. And for that, I’m grateful.
I wish I took more pictures. I mean, I took a ton — for a good while, any new photographic gear I got had to be christened with a picture of him sticking his face in the lens. But proper shots with a camera tailed off in the last few years in favour of cellphone snaps, and then when the baby came, well. But when I did turn the lens to him, he remained as elegant and photogenic as ever. And over the last couple weeks as he got more gaunt and frail, he still gave good face. And for that, I’m grateful.
I wish that my son could have known him better, played with him more when he understood how to be properly gentle with a senior citizen. But I know he loves Simon even if he won’t remember him, and Simon was far more patient with his grabby hands than he needed to be. And for that, I’m grateful.
And that last, good day. It didn’t start well — he was wobbly and confused and yelled at me a lot — but after some electrolytes and urgent care food, he got enough energy back to run through some of his greatest hits. Sunbathing in his cat condo like the day we met at the pet store he was being fostered at (I misinterpreted his sun-drunkenness as friendliness, silly me), warming his butt by the fireplace, wolfing down a dish of wet food, leaping over the playpen fence to get into the living room — actually, that was a new one, he’d never done that before — perching on our couch looking out the window at the street, lying on my desk and turning off my computer, lounging on our bed, throwing up on the rug (it wasn’t all good), and at the end of the night, when I thought for sure he would just find a quiet spot to hide, he navigated his wobbly way up two flights of stairs, pushed his way into the bedroom like he did so many times before, and climbed into a basket of clean laundry to shed and sleep. It was beautiful and for that, I am so, so, so grateful.
My life today is has changed so much from what it was decade and a half ago, but Simon was my constant companion through it all. He has been there through some of the hardest times of my life, allowing a fuzzy hug when I needed one (but not for more than 10 seconds, let’s be reasonable). I knew I would grieve him but now that the time is here, I feel it will be more than I anticipated. I don’t think I fully appreciated how much I would feel his absence in every aspect of my life. This little cat-shaped hole in my heart is infinite.
I’m sure that someday I’ll have another cat. Perhaps I will wait until my son is old enough for it to be his cat. Or maybe I’ll just see another little guy sunbathing while being fostered in the local Pet Valu and just know I have to bring him home (we moved to a house right around the corner from where I adopted him all those years ago; today I brought him back on his way to his appointment and found they were closing and moving in a couple days. There’s some symbolism here that I’m still trying to unpack). I don’t know. But I do know as much as I will surely love those future kitties, Simon can never be replaced. He was my first. My Fatty. Fuzzy Buddy. Little Fuzzy Guy. Fuzz-butt. Si-me. Si-guy. Si-bot. Si-butt. My Si. And I will miss him forever.