Two blocks and a lifetime away: reflections on the passing of Samba-cat


24 January

Just over a year ago I moved into Geelong West. At the time I wasn’t sure what was next. I just knew I didn’t want to go back to my Footscray flat or Melbourne.

As my friends know, I had reached maximum lockdown capacity by Lockdown 6 (August 2021). After then 250 days of solo lockdowns, separate from Geelong and the coast and family by a ‘Ring of Steel’, it was time to return to my old hometown.

So after three weeks of solid looking, I found a twelve month lease, in a gorgeous unit in a suburb I’d not considered living in, and everything else just seemed to fit, and make sense.

So much has changed in a year. From a really tough winter, struggling to find new work in an unforgiving university sector, by August I was turning down work offers (again) and was house hunting! Not long after this I found my current job, that I love.

This last year I spent many, many hours walking the streets, in and around Geelong West. I was getting to know the community, slowly connecting with people. And I spent many, many hours with dear Samba, my feline companion of 20 years, sitting in the sun, shortening or cancelling my trips away when he was unwell, diligently taking him to the Vet every week at one point for his arthritis and digestive treatments. I will forever associate that lovely sun-filled home with our last year together in this earthly realm.

In the last week I’ve been called back to walk those streets and past that house. I adore my new home, which is beautiful and calm and light. I love the garden and birds and flowers. It’s perfect for me. Some days though it’s like I need to go and collect Samba from the Geelong West home, like he’s wandered off, much like my memories, and I need to go back to collect him and my thoughts. I need to go and collect me.

Towards the end, the last few months, Samba had started wandering off, seemingly aimlessly, but always Northbound, just away. It was not his usual behaviour. I was hoping it wasn’t his cat instinct kicking in, the one that drives cats to head away from their family; I hoped it wasn’t this, but alas it likely was. Some days I’d find myself, almost unthinkingly, wandering after him, picking up his now very light frame. As he got lighter and lighter, he started to fade, as if dissolving into the ether, returning to earth and dust, before actually returning to earth. I can still feel that feeling, of him letting go.

I’ve often contemplated: is life and death a binary? The last few weeks have convinced me they are not.

Bits of us die before ‘we’ do. Bits of us let go. Just as Samba lives on, for now like an odd, disjointed ghost in my mind: his clip clopping claws on floor, his white ‘shadow’ moving behind me, just out of sight, his continuing tap on my leg, him in any white/ginger moving thing I don’t quite see, in my neighbour-cat’s meow, in my tendency to talk to Samba, in my dreams of him each night, and in my compulsion to go collect him from Geelong West, as if he’s just wandered away too far from our new house.

It is only two blocks away: two blocks and a lifetime.

I scroll through photos taken a year ago. I’d just cleaned up my place in St Albans Park. This is when I unknowingly lived opposite the gay gardeners who run the nursery in Highton. They are now the friends who helped me choose the white-gold Gardenia flowering by my bedroom window. They are the gardeners who mum and dad bought a rusty-orange love heart decoration through, to hang above my garden too.

I now look out at a setting new moon, hearing the bird calls of dusk, at the beginning of a new lunar year. My heart is full; my heart is also aching with cavernous missing.

The neighbour cat’s bell rings. He travels through my home to get from one place to another. Stopping by briefly for an unsure but friendly hello. As if he knows my heart is still taken.

I can’t quite believe I am here. I am home, it feels right. I am also without my home, my furry heart-anchor for 20 years. I am with him and without him; he with me, and also a lifetime away.

I am home and unmoored and home again. Lost and found and lost. Aching for the soul I thought I was saving at 10 days old, but who saved me to 50 years and older.

I love you Samba. I always will.



Polly Lisa Bennett (they/them) is a researcher and sociologist, with a passion for social justice. They also write creative non-fiction. Their writing is usually semi-autobiographical or in current affairs. They are published in Overland journal. Polly’s recent research has involved working with LGBTIQA+ people, particularly those who are young or with disability, to improve health, education and community services for themselves and their communities. In 2021 Polly completed a PhD thesis exploring, what is it about roller derby that changes skaters’ lives? Polly lives on unceded Waddawurrung Country (Geelong) and contributes to Pay the Rent.

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