I still remember that night vividly. I had just returned home from university, and I mean home home. I had finished all of my exams and returned North to my hometown. I would work here all summer to pay for my tuition the following year. That night was a Friday, my first Friday since coming back, and I spent it going through boxes and barrels of various packed items.
I normally hate packing and unpacking, as these are easily the worst part about moving. This was different. I needed to go through our storage room and decide what was worth keeping and what we could sell or throw away. This included three large barrels absolutely filled with my childhood toys. Basically, if I had played with something as a kid, it was in one of those barrels. I spent that night sorting through this and reliving my childhood.
It’s amazing how much memory lives within small chunks of plastic. Many of these items I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade, but I instantly recognized every single one. I had a very active imagination and I often assigned various superpowers to my action figures. All my G.I. Joes, for example, had the various mutant powers from the X-Men, plus other powers that I thought would be cool. Just having these guys shoot at each other wasn’t very fun, so instead of guns I imagine lightning bolts and fireballs. Much better.
The toys fell into three major camps: transformers, ninja turtles and the aforementioned G.I. Joes. The Joes were my early favourite because they had the most movable limbs. Other action figures of this time often had static waists or arms that did not fully bend. This made them very static to play with. For example, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I had dozens of individual figures, but most of them could only move arms and legs in a very small range of motion: I can’t do much with these except smash them into each other. The Joes I could put into any pose I wished, and that gave them a huge advantage.
The transformers were my more mature choice, very popular around the age of eight or nine. You could, of course, transform them from humanoid robot into vehicle or, my absolute favourite, the animals from Beast Wars. My all time favourite toy, the one I easily spent the most time with, was the T-Rex version of Megatron. He looked awesome, all his limbs could move and he was a friggin’ T-Rex. What’s not to like?
Why do I mention all of this? I suppose none of it is very important, but it is all seared into my memory. This was the last time I ever saw my dear cat Smithy. He helped me sort all of this. As I moved around that room and looked through barrels, he was right there with me. If I stuck my head inside a barrel so did he. He found this fascinating, as normally this room was shut and never opened. He spent nearly half an hour sniffing various items and careening through my legs. I cannot forget anything, as it is the last memory I have of him.
And then, as evening fell, he wanted outside.
This was completely normal. Smithy generally went outside around dark and came in again around 11pm, just as I wound down for bed. We slept together most nights, and whenever we didn’t I usually woke up to find him in my arms anyway, my mom or brother letting him in at some point during the night. I thus didn’t think anything of it when I watched Smithy saunter out that evening.
And that was the last time I ever saw him.
He didn’t show up at 11pm. He didn’t show up when I woke up the next day. This was unusual but not completely unprecedented. In the summer Smithy had occasionally left the house for days at a time, showing up for a quick meal and a pat on the head before venturing off again. We lived in the rural Canadian North, so there was lots of trees and property for him to explore, lots of rodents to hunt. It was a perfect place for a cat, really, and he seemed to enjoy it.
I went one full day without seeing my kitty. This had happen before so I wasn’t too worried yet. Besides, I had a lot to do, both in terms of unpacking my school stuff and in setting up my summer job. By the second night, though, I began to think something was wrong.
On the third day I returned home and immediately ran down to my room. If Smithy had returned while I was gone that’s where he would be. I raced downstairs, opened the door and sighed in relief. Ah, there is the furry white ball… but no. It was actually my white platypus, a stuffed animal someone got for me, and from a distance it vaguely looks like Smithy. In fact, we called it Smithy. In the past it was kind of funny to see someone walk into my room and go to pet Smithy … only then realized it was just a stuffed animal. We would always laugh. Today, though, I nearly cried. I didn’t want a stuffed animal. I wanted my furry friend.
The next day, while feeding my other cats, I suddenly burst into tears. I knew. At that moment the realization hit me. Smithy was gone. I would never see him again. I just knew it. I made peace with the universe that day, and I forced myself to stop looking out the window where he usually sat when he wanted to come inside. I didn’t need to torture myself anymore. Well, that’s what I tried to do, but every once in a while I would glance out there anyway, a single tear rolling down my cheek.
We found him two weeks later. Not we, as I never saw him. My step-dad did. He had always liked Smithy, as we all did. One day while he was poking around outside he found what was left of the body. There wasn’t much, so I understand, but it still shook up my step-dad. All that was left was a smattering of white fur. It could have been anything, but he knew what it was. We buried it right there. It wasn’t much, but I guess it was all we could do.
Smithy had frequent fights with the other cats in the area. He fought to protect his territory, and by this time he had largely emerged as the alpha. He fought less and less, but he made up for this by challenging bigger animals. I famously saw him chase a baby bear away. He must’ve challenged something too big. Raccoons have been known to injure and kill cats before, but the damage was simply too great here. This was bigger than a coon, bigger than a weasel, and that really only leaves bears.
I like to think Smithy put up a good fight. It eases my heart, at least a little.
I’ve always loved cats and I likely always will. That said, I have not let a cat into my heart since Smithy left my life. I’ve had other feline friends, some of them quite dear and close, but none slept in my arms or in my heart the way Smithy did. I suppose that’s a protective mechanism. Someday, I tell myself, I’ll get another cat. I’ll rescue one from a shelter and give it all the love it deserves. I’ll forge a new, unique friendship. It will be awesome, and I know it will happen, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m not sure I’m ready. Not yet, but someday. I promise.
And as for my dear Smithy, my SmithyQ, I thank you. You lit up my life, you furry pillow you. You appeared mysteriously at my window one day and you just as mysteriously disappeared. I enjoyed every moment. You are not forgotten, nor will you ever be.
I won’t lie, I teared up quite a bit writing this. It’s been awhile since I relived the memory. At the time I took great solace from reading this, and even reading it today, roughly six years later, still gets me emotional. If you’ve ever lost a pet or know someone who has, reading that can make you feel better … in an emotional, teary-eyed way.
Miss ya, Smithy.