“Xerxes was also very social. This meant that he had varying levels of mews, none of which actually sounded like a cat’s meow. He was very loud and, when he was a kitten, he would start mewing when I got home and continue all night until he became hoarse. None of my friends believed me about his howling, so I put him on my outgoing message, which had a three-minute limit. Xerxes had no problem mewing his way through that. Everyone begged me to change the message.”—F. Theresa Gillard
Status: Quo Minus
By F. Theresa Gillard
BOSTON Massachusetts—(Weekly Hubris)—February 2020—I have had many pet friends over the years. My greatest childhood frustration stemmed from not being able to help them when they became ill. So, my grand plan was to become a veterinarian. This remained my plan until I got to college and realized that pre-vet meant biology, chemistry and math. I was young and extremely frivolous, meaning that there was no way I was going to actually study.
Much to the chagrin of my family, I changed my major to Journalism. Lord knows that I’d been running around, since I was five years old, telling anyone that would listen to a child that I was going to be a vet. Everyone believed me. There was no reason not to and my many pets over the years helped to seal the promise.
I grew up in Anderson, South Carolina. No matter where we lived, there was always plenty of room for all of my pets. At one point, I had a record twelve German Shepherds and a few cats. After that, my mother started limiting the number of pets I was allowed to have at one time.
I would even drag home road-kill’s young. Once I found a recently road-killed opossum, except we called them possums or pole cats. All of her little possum pups (are they called pups?) were still attached. So, I took them home and tried to feed them. It never dawned on me to take them to Animal Rescue, although I somewhat doubt any such existence of an Animal Rescue in those days.
My little adopted possum pups lived for a few weeks. I had no idea what I was doing, but I tried really hard and cried bitterly with every little pup’s demise.
From junior high school through high school, I had several pets. There was Fuga. Fuga was Chow-mix and she was a firecracker. There was Snowy and Benji. Snowy was an Eskimo-Spitz and Benji was a Bull Dog and Chihuahua mix. Snowy and Benji were both still around when I moved to Boston the first time.
Every time I called home, my first question to the phone answerer was, “How are Benji and Snowy?” I got the same answer every time, “They’re both doing great!”
This went on for months, until finally I called and one of my little brothers answered. Of course, I asked about my dogs. I was shocked by the answer I got and commenced to crying.
It turns out that my mother had sworn everyone to secrecy. My beloved Snowy had died months ago, and Benji just disappeared after that (or so I was told). My mother tried to console me and explain why she hadn’t told me. My heart was broken.
My heart was broken again recently with the passing of my Xerxes. I lost him to kidney failure. Xerxes, a Balinese cat, was a gift. I got him when he was around eight weeks old. He looked like a scrawny stick of a cat with a pointy, rat-like snout. He was gorgeous to me.
He was so distinctive and exquisite that I could not immediately name him. It took a few months before I finally settled on his name: Xerxes, who was a Persian King around 500 BC.
The funniest thing is that I didn’t know how to pronounce it. So, for a few months, I just called him Come-on.
At home, I realized that Xerxes was not a cat at all. He was more like a dog. He actually trained me. He kept bringing me pieces of plastic, paper or his toys, and dropping them at my feet. He’d look at me like, “Come on Lady! Think.” I finally got it. He wanted me to throw the items so that he could bring them back. He loved fetching, and occupying paper bags and cardboard boxes.
Xerxes was also very social. This meant that he had varying levels of mews, none of which actually sounded like a cat’s meow. He was very loud and, when he was a kitten, he would start mewing when I got home and continue all night until he became hoarse.
None of my friends believed me about his howling, so I put him on my outgoing message, which had a three-minute limit. Xerxes had no problem mewing his way through that. Everyone begged me to change the message.
Since Xerxes was having such great success training me, I decided to try some training too. I’m allergic to cats, but built up a pretty good immunity to Xerxes. However, he could not be on my bed or the furniture. So, I trained him to stay off the furniture and only jump onto the foot my bed, where I placed a small comforter just for him.
I also took him on daily walks using a dog leash, which he thoroughly enjoyed, as did my neighbors. I taught him to stay. So, I could leave him on the patio and he would not leave the area or I could leave the door open and tell him stay and he would just sit there looking at me until allowed him to come out.
He was very loyal and followed me around everywhere. I learned early on that, while bathing, he could not be allowed in the bathroom, because he would jump right in the tub with me.
Every night around 11 p.m., Xerxes would go to the front door, stand on his hind legs and attempt to open the door with his front paws. I always asked him where he thought he was going.
In 1996, right after I got Xerxes, I had this wonderful idea. Why not just drive home with Xerxes? I really don’t know why I thought this was a good idea. The drive from north of Boston to Anderson, South Carolina is 16 hours.
Along about Virginia, Xerxes decided that he was getting the hell up out of my Ford Ranger Splash. I had a super-cab with the little pop-out, side, back windows. Now, I never thought he could fit through those little window slits, but fit he did.
There I was on I-95, at a point where it had at least six lanes (of course I was in the fast lane), leaning back to my right trying to grab Xerxes, as he was attempting to vacate the truck. Somehow, I’ll never know quite how, I caught hold of him and pulled him back in without leaving my lane at approximately 70-plus miles per hour (that’s what I love about driving through VA—the optimal speed limits).
Needless to say, I was already wondering how I was going get Xerxes back to Massachusetts without any other episodes. So, I took him to a vet in Anderson, Dr. Gibson. Dr. Gibson gave me a sedative pill that I would need to administer about an hour before departure, which I did.
I’m saying my good-byes to mom, my sister and one of my brothers. I asked my brother, Rinard, to go and get Xerxes. The next thing we know, Rinard comes flying past us right out of the front door. We were like, what? Then, we heard a moaning, that sounded like a horror movie zombie.
We all went outside to ask Rinard what had happened. He said that he was trying to pick Xerxes up, when he started moaning. It sounded so other-worldly, though, that Rinard decided that the best thing to do was to run. And, run he did.
We called Dr. Gibson and he said Xerxes would be fine and it was still OK for me to travel with him. Yeah, right. No way was I driving 16 hours with a seemingly possessed cat. Xerxes stayed in South Carolina for a few months, until I could come back and fly him home.
Xerxes made an impression on all that crossed his path. He was very loving and welcomed being patted on his side—like you’d pat a dog. If you tried to stroke him like you’d normally pet a cat, he’d shrink away. He’d finally submit to stroking, if you just didn’t get that he didn’t really like it. He came when called. He would go to his room when told to.
Many times, Xerxes would hide my necklaces or anything he could cart away. After a few weeks, I’d come home to find the objects returned at the top of the stairs. I recognized this was some form of punishment, which always followed his being scolded.
Xerxes made such an impression on my friend, David, who had proclaimed many times that he didn’t like cats, that he wanted to get a Balinese. He contacted Xerxes’s breeder, but she was no longer breeding Balinese cats. So, David settled on an Oriental Short Hair, which has very similar traits to the Balinese.
Seeing as I’ve moved up and down the East Coast more times than I care to admit, Xerxes often could not immediately follow. My brother, J.C., Jr., reminded me that, over the years, my cat has stayed with four of my five brothers, my sister, my mom and my nephew, Kameron. He loved everyone equally.
My Xerxes was just over 13 years old at his passing. I miss him terribly. He was very much like my child. I guess I just never thought of him as not being here. I really don’t know how to be without him.
When you accept a pet into your heart, you are opening yourself up for a world of hurt because, more than likely, you will outlive your pet. I can certainly attest to the immense sadness and the feeling that a part of your heart has been ripped out never to heal.
Even with all this that I know, I wouldn’t give up having had Xerxes in my life, and I’d like to think that Xerxes, also known as Come-on and Cat-Ass, feels the same about his time spent with me. I miss you, Buddy. Rest well.
Postscript: It has been five months since Xerxes passed, yet I can still be found crying when I pass his room, most nights, upon arriving home, or waking, or just out of the blue.
My cousin, Carissa, offered that maybe I was just a crazy pet lover—the kind that will save their pet before saving a family member. I told her that that was not the case.
Actually, the conclusion I’ve reached is that when you truly love a living being, you cannot tell your heart that there are different kinds of love and limit the level of that love. You simply love—recklessly and wholeheartedly, without pausing to comprehend the magnitude of loss that may befall you should that loved one be lost.
That being said, my tears will be flowing for quite some time to come. And, please, if you’re thinking that what I really need is another cat, think again. I choose not to travel this road again. Just think of me as pet-widowed, permanently.
Photograph No. 2, above: “Xerxes,” by F. Theresa Gillard.