The summer I turned 16, I walked into a now-defunct store called Docktor Pet in North Riverside Mall and spotted the cutest kitten. He was black-and-white with a little black freckle on the left side of his pink nose, luminous chartreuse eyes, and enormous ears and paws. When they brought him from his cage to a closet-sized room to visit with me, he tore around in circles, causing me to laugh hysterically and, struggling with depression, I didn't laugh much in those days. He was the perfect cat — handsome and fun-loving — and I couldn't bear the thought of him being stuck in a cage.
I told my parents that all I wanted for my birthday was that cat and I'd even split the cost with them, so my mom went back to Docktor Pet with me and paid the $40 deposit. A couple of days later, I got my driver's license and the very first unsupervised drive I made was to North Riverside Mall to pick up the kitty, which I'd decided to name Sidney after Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols.
My best friend, Katie, accompanied me and held Sid in her arms on the drive back. I was so distracted by his adorableness that I accidentally let my foot off the brake at the stoplight at Harlem and Cermak and rolled into the car in front of me. Fortunately, since I'd barely tapped their bumper, the other driver just let it go, but I told Katie and Sid, "My parents can never know about this." It was the first of many secrets that Sidney would keep for me.
He quickly became my closest confidant and my biggest comfort. He also entertained me and my bored teenage friends, "playing" video games with us by leaping at the TV screen to swat at Sonic the Hedgehog. We got him tons of toys, but his favorite things to play with were the pipe cleaners we kept in a desk drawer. Whenever someone was on the computer, he'd come in and attempt to open it with his paw. He was one of the smartest cats I've ever met; you could see it in his eyes.
When I moved to Madison, Wis., after high school, he accompanied me. He loved my first apartment because he could get up on top of the kitchen cabinets and lord over us. His other favorite thing about Madison were the blueberry scones I brought home from the vegan coffee shop. Yes, he loved cheese, steak and seafood (and went through a fat Elvis phase because my ex-boyfriend fed him far too much), but he had a real affinity for baked goods. At my mom's house, he teamed up with her dog, Domino. Sid would get on top of the fridge and knock the bread or a pie down, Domino ripped the packaging up, and together they feasted.
Sid and I grew up together. We moved into our house in Forest Park, took in his brothers, Kaspar and Lars — both rescue animals as I'd learned pet stores were bad. I bonded with people at the Beacon by exchanging cat stories.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a couple of my customers noticed that I wasn't acting like myself.
"My 17-year-old cat, Sid, has been sick. He stopped eating on Wednesday," I confessed. They offered their condolences and we took shots in his honor.
The next night, around 9:30 p.m., Sidney died at home in my arms. As far as goodbyes go, it was a sweet one, but I can't even tell you how much he will be missed.