(by Randy E. Halprin)
When my brother Wesley and I were first adopted we lived in a small house in Arlington, Texas. It was a penthouse compared to what we were used to. For the first time ever, we had our own rooms and our own toys. There was a swimming pool in the back yard and even a swing set. We pestered mom and dad for a pet, but my dad was adamant that there would be no dogs and cats in our house. Besides, Wesley had asthma and allergies and we couldn’t take that risk.
Not long had passed and we were fully accustomed to our new life. I was going to Hebrew school and piano lessons during the school nights. I remember me and my dad pulling into the driveway from one of our sessions. We got out of the car and heard a tiny meowing sound coming from one of the bushes that lined the front of our home. Dad paid it no attention, but I said,
“Dad! It sounds like a cat!”
I looked around trying to find out where the little cry was coming from and dad opened the garage door. I was disappointed when the crying stopped and whatever was there seemed to have disappeared. We went inside and called it a day.
A few days passed and Wesley came running inside,
“Randy! Mom! Dad! There’s a kitty outside on the front porch!”
I got excited and dropped everything I was doing and went outside. Mom and dad followed.
“Here, kitty kitty kitty!” I yelled.
We opened the front door and there sitting on the porch was a tiny white, black and grey spotted cat. It looked up at us and meowed.
“Is it our cat?” Wesley asked.
“Absolutely not,” Dad said.
“But come on dad!” me and Wes cried at the same time.
“Well…how about we get the little guy some milk?” Mom offered.
We ran back inside excitedly and grabbed a small ceramic bowl and I grabbed the milk from the refrigerator. We ran back outside.
“Let us keep it!” We cried again.
Dad crouched down and stuck his hand out to the cat and said,
“Tell you what; if he doesn’t leave tonight we’ll see. I’m not making any promises, but I’ll talk to your mother and we’ll take it from there.”
Something in my mind told me that if you gave a cat some milk he wasn’t going anywhere and so I yelled,
“Wahoo!” and did a little dance.
Mom and dad looked at me and shook their heads as Wesley tried to grab the little kitten, which was proving to be unsuccessful. We watched it drink the milk and dad placed his hand on my head and turned me around to go back inside.
I was right. Give a cat some milk and it’s not going anywhere. Now the family had to decide what we were going to do with this little critter who seemed to pick us, not the other way around. Dad was stern in his belief that the cat should be an outside cat. Wesley’s allergies and asthma hadn’t been acting up around the kitten, so we were fairly sure he’d be alright.
“What do we call him?” mom asked.
“Tiger!” Wesley yelled.
“Tiger? Every cat in the world is named Tiger.” I said. “Let’s name him Chewbacca!”
Wesley got mad and started yelling at me. I’m not sure how we ended up settling the argument, but my brother won and “Tiger” it was. We spent a couple of more years in that house, but as my dad’s business grew they decided to build a home on the other side of the area. Tiger grew to be a pretty big cat. Fat and fluffy. That cat shed more hair than an ox!
Tiger was a pretty friendly cat. He was rarely standoffish and often would stop at my feet, look up at me and roll on his back so that I could rub his belly. When he’d have enough he’d make a hiss sound, roll over and walk off. Those times as a kid made me wonder about the soul. One day coming back from piano lessons I asked my father,
“Dad? Do you think animals have souls?”
He didn’t hesitate to answer,
“No, I don’t."
Why?” I asked.
“Because that’s what makes us unique. Your soul is what makes you like music and me like electronics. It’s what makes us who we are.”
I scrunched up my face and thought about that for a second. No…I disagree. I thought to myself…Tiger is different.
I think I was ten or eleven when we moved to our big house. It was less than a mile from our old home and so nothing really changed. I went to the same school and had the same friends. I was just fortunate to have a bigger room and a bigger back yard. Once the move was officially down, we brought Tiger to our new home.
There were a few constants about Tiger. He would always come running if you called his name and he always came if you went to the back patio and shook a box of dry cat food. So, when we first moved I went outside to put food in his bowl. I called out,
“Tiiiiiger!” I called again.
No cat in sight. I held the box of cat food tight and began to shake the box with gusto. Now I was worried. Tiger never ignored food. You could float a bowl of cat food in the middle of the swimming pool and that cat was going to swim out there, water be darned. I scanned the yard one more time, concerned, and then went back inside.
Dad was making breakfast and asked, “How’s the cat doing?”
“Dad, I think something happened to Tiger,” I said worried.
“He didn’t come to the food?” Dad said.
“Nuh uh,” I replied.
“Well, I’ll keep an eye out for him while you guys are at school. That’s one of the great things about having your office at home. I can do business in my underwear and keep an eye on things!” he said proudly.
Wesley and I looked at each other like, “Ewwww gross!”
When we got back home from school I asked dad if he’d seen him. He said no, but we’d wait on mom to get home from work to see what they’d do. When mom came home she asked,
“Has anyone thought that Tiger might have gone back to our old home?”
Dad said, “You know what? He probably did. Come on!”
We all ran to the suburban and drove to our old home. Sure enough, there was Tiger sitting in the driveway. Wesley jumped out the car and ran to pick him up. I was beyond relieved.
Tiger wasn’t the most graceful cat in the litter. He was actually pretty clumsy. It’s strange to project yourself onto an animal, but Tiger was so much like me I’d be in disbelief at times. We had a seven or eight foot tall retaining wall between our property and our neighbors and I’d routinely watch Tiger fall from it. He’d be on the edge like a balancing beam and then just drop out of sight like a sack full of potatoes! I would just start laughing. He would look up at me like, “Jerk” and turn his back and dart off out of sight.
Dad and Tiger had a love hate relationship that stemmed from Tiger's laziness. Instead of going around the house to get to the backyard, Tiger would wait for us to get home, patiently sitting in the driveway. We would pull in and Tiger would walk and stop in front of the garage door. This routine never changed. Dad would get out of the suburban, walk up to Tiger and try to discourage him from cutting across the house to get to the back patio. Tiger would hiss, and not budge an inch. Dad would swear at the cat, punch the code into the garage door and Tiger would jet through the garage and into the house, waiting for us patiently at the back patio door. We did this every night.
I was 14 years old when I left for Kentucky to go to a private school in 1992. One of the things I loved about coming back home - besides being tackled at the door by my little brothers - was going to the backyard and calling out, “Tiiiger!” and waiting for him to come running up to me. I’d sit down on the patio and he’d jump into my lap and just let me scratch his head and ears. Other than having his belly rubbed, he loved the head scratch. Tiger would press his head into my fingers instantly and purr.
Eventually, when I would come home from school I’d have nothing left. All of my friends were in other states and my best friend, Chad, ended up moving off to Alabama with his family. So, that time with Tiger in the backyard was always comforting for me. I’ve always believed that I feel more intensively about things. Little things affect me greatly. I can get emotional or extremely passionate about things that mean little to other people. So, I might have friends to call or things to do, but I had no one to really talk about my life. It’s weird to say this about a cat, but Tiger seemed to care. I could sit there and rattle off my many feelings and talk about my life and he’d just look at me and listen. This cat KNEW me! He was a kindred spirit. I was convinced of that.
When I was seventeen and already experimenting with drugs, I was never more confused in my life. Dad had called me a few days earlier and told me that Tiger was really sick. Something about the flu or pneumonia. I had other things going on and I kind of pushed it out of my mind.
Me and some friends were into huffing Freon at the time. We were siphoning it out of air conditioner units that were along the sides of the school buildings, and filling large garbage bags up. We’d each huff from the bag to get an instant high. I had just taken a huge hit from a bag and was tripping out on the explosion of colors and echoes in my mind when I thought I heard my name in the distance. It must’ve been my imagination and I took another hit from the bag.
“Whooaa…” We all said.
I heard my name again. My friend and roommate Matt said,
“Dude, I think your name is being called on the intercom.”
I asked, “You sure?”
When I clearly heard it again, I took off running to the dorm building. I went to the office and said,
“I got a phone call?”
Mr. Garrett pointed to the phone and I was trying to regain my bearings. I was still high and my head felt like a vacuum. I grabbed the phone,
“Dad! Hey! Why are you calling?”
“I wanted to tell you that Tiger died today. You need to let Wesley know tonight.”
I couldn’t believe it! I shook my head clear to make sure I heard that right.
“Yeah. I went to the vet today and was going to discuss putting him down. The vet told me he was going to be dead in a short while anyways…I got there and we pulled him out of the cage and put him on a table and I just scratched his head like you always do. He watched me the whole time, Randy. He knew he was dying. Remember how we talked about animals having souls? I believe he did. It was like we made peace with each other after all of these years. He closed his eyes and passed away in my hands.”
I started crying, but because there was room full of teenagers, I tried to suck it up and said,
“Okay, dad. I’m gonna go and let Wesley know. Love you, dad. Thanks for telling me.”
I hung up and got permission from Mr. Garrett to go to the middle school dorm. Wesley took it better than I thought he would. I hugged him and went back to my dorm.
I talked to dad later and he said he buried Tiger right in front of the shed in our backyard.
I came home a couple of months later and went to the backyard. I wanted to yell out Tiger’s name like I was so used to and I stared down at the empty dish where I always put his food in. I never felt more alone in my life. I went over to the shed and sat down on the dirt and grass where he was buried.
“Well, little Tiger, guess it’s just me now. I wish I could’ve been there for you like you’ve been here for me and I’m sorry. My life is getting kind of complicated now. I’m really in love with this chick and no one gets it. I don’t know where you are right now, but I’m going to miss you. Thanks little guy…”
I kissed the ground, got up and went inside.