The Saga of Virtute the Cat

I’m an unapologetic cat person. I love dogs but they’re the last thing that I need in my life right now. In my darkest moments I don’t want something that’ll unconditionally love me no matter how I behave. I want a creature that’ll wallow in my misery, and lazily remind me that I can be better. If the cat can get up and out of the sunbeam after a couple of hours, then so can I.

Cats are like sad music; Cathartic. Cat-hartic.

Nope. Doesn’t work.

A pet cat is a soothing, melancholic reminder that existence can be difficult in spite of complete and total comfort. Just because your life has turned out more idilic than you ever thought you deserved, doesn’t mean the rain can’t catch up with your boat and shatter your sails for a couple of days at a time.

Our cat is seven months old, she’s named Kairi and she’s pictured at the top of this post. I really don’t want this to be one of those blog posts where I fawn over my pet for a thousand words. You know the ones, the ones where people talk about their pets as though they’re actual children. Disgusting.

They’re not children, they’re companions.

The endorphins I get from my cat during bouts of depression aren’t a cure, but they do ease the madness. Having something gently approach and sleep beside you, whilst softly purring, is better than any medication. At least for myself, anyway.

For years I’ve liked a 2003 song by The Weakerthans called Plea From a Cat Named Virtute. I think it showed up on a Spotify discover playlist back in 2013 and it’s one of those “sort your melancholy out mate” songs, for me. The kind of track that can pull you out of a downward spiral of negative thinking, if you can only remember to hit play before the wave crashes.

The song is from the perspective of songwriter John K. Samson’s cat. The cat, named Virtute, notices her owner’s declining mood and unhealthy lifestyle. She begs that he sorts himself out, and the general mood at the end of the song is that Virtute was successful.

For whatever reason, I only ever listened to the rest of the album that this track is from, and never explored the rest of The Weakerthans’ back catalogue.

Until this past week, that is.

It turns out that there are three sequels to this song. One from the following Weakerthans album and then two from one of John K. Samson’s solo albums. I was moved to tears by each and every one of these songs, for entirely different reasons. Particularly after learning the context for each song, and reading more about Samson’s experiences with his mental health.

The second song in the Virtute the Cat saga is titled Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure. The subject is, as you would expect, about Virtute running away from her owner. It chronicles her life on the streets and it’s heavily implied that she’s observing her owner search for her, but chooses not to return to him. This could be because of the way he behaves in the first song, or something else entirely.

Anyone who has ever lost a cat that they’d confided in at the darkest of moments, they’ll understand the tone and mood of this song. Virtute explains that she can’t remember “the sound you found for me”, implying that she holds true to the memories, but has forgotten the name given to her by her human, Virtute.

Then we come to the third piece, 17th Street Treatment Centre, which is from the perspective of Virtute’s owner this time, who we presume is Samson himself by this point.

He’s in recovery at a rehab centre, and makes reference to his behaviours and feelings from the first song. Virtute is only mentioned in one line, “Sang the one about the spring the cat ran away”, which confirms the link between art and artist.

Samson sings of personal breakthroughs and recovery, but also that he is far from being well again.

The final song in the saga is simply titled, Virtute at Rest, and is once again from the perspective of Virtute.

She states that she has found a final resting place within Samson’s mind, a final bed that’s made up of the comfort he has found in his recovery. Virtute states that she is proud of him for finally pulling himself together, and that it won’t be easy, but she’ll always be with him. She forgives him for the way he behaved when she knew him, and then provides closure to the entire saga.

It’s implied that Virtute is long gone, especially if you look at the time between the release of the first and the last song, but in his recovery he has earned her memory.

Now, obviously Virtute could never talk, and these songs are Samson’s way of reckoning with his own life, and subsequently forgiving himself for his actions. All of these feelings are just ladled onto the perspective of an anthropomorphised cat. Which, in doing so, connects to the listener in a way that draws out more empathy than if it was just a conversation with himself.

These songs resonate with me from my experiences with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, that aided with my anxiety and depression. The things you tell yourself, to reprogram your negative thought processes, could almost be the voice of a pet. Something that is removed from yourself, yet alive and without judgement. A voice like that is soothing, and helps to heal.

I’m taking this moment to once again recommend CBT to anyone who feels crippled by their mental health. It’s not BS. I still have bad days, but I no longer have bad months.

I know my cat has saved me a couple of times already, and she’s only seven months old. I also know that, beyond rolling gentle purrs, she’ll never fully understand how she has the ability to pull me from the waves. And that’s okay.

People whom I love, and who love me, pick me up on a daily basis. But sometimes you hit a slump that needs to be dealt with personally. You don’t want to face anyone else because the water is constantly crashing against the sea-wall, and you can’t see for the foam.

A cat is just enough of a person, without actually being a person, for you to allow them to save you. A cat can get you from a zero to a two. And being at a two is enough for you to pull yourself to a five, and then as a five you can be around wonderful people again, who bring you to a nine.

Today is Saturday May 26th. Please, go and hug your pet.

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