Category Archives: Xerxes

Remembering Xerxes

Xerxes in 2009

On September 27, 2006, Zachary and I walked up Rocky Butte, which is right behind our house. It was a pretty typical walk, except that at the top we spotted a small white animal crouched at the base of the stone wall around the park. “Oh, look,” I said. “A bunny.”

It wasn’t a bunny, although for the rest of his life we often called this little mostly-white cat “the bunny,” or “the bun.” It was a cat who was clearly sick, but with pristine paws and fur. He didn’t look like he’d been living outside for long at all. No tag or collar. He came to us eagerly, and I wasn’t prepared to leave him up there on the butte as evening fell; there are plenty of coyotes and great horned owls around, not to mention reckless drivers. And the cat seemed a bit out of it. We wound up carrying him home, where we happened to have a litter box and some cat food because we sometimes hosted friends’ cats when they went out of town. Our thinking was that we’d locate this cat’s owner the next day, and if we couldn’t find the owner, we’d take him to the shelter.

The upshot: several weeks and a thousand dollars worth of medical tests and treatments later, we had a free pet! He’d been very ill with infectious bronchitis in both lungs; the vet said he probably wouldn’t have lasted long without treatment, even if the predators didn’t get him. The vet also mentioned that that park is a known “dumping ground” for unwanted pets. Grrr. Anyway, with an age estimated at four, this neutered and exceedingly friendly and loving male cat entered our lives. He was never perfectly healthy: he suffered from asthma, and he had that incurable virus that causes dribbly eyes. But we gave him the best of care, and he had a great life, with lots of leash-walking around our wooded lot, basking on the terrace in warm weather, occupying whichever lap was available, and sleeping with us every night. The best part of every trip was coming home to be greeted by Xerxes, who would lie on his side, wrap his paws around the petting hand, and purr.

All good things must end, sadly, and the end came for our beloved blue-eyed boy on April 6, 2022. He had been diagnosed a year and a half earlier with the beginnings of kidney and intestinal disease. Steroids had kept the symptoms at bay . . . until they couldn’t, and it was time to let him go. He is buried behind the house in a spot he liked to bask in. I have loved all my cats–and some that weren’t mine–but Xerxes was special to me. I will miss him every day of my life.

Still shaking

I’ve just had a terrible experience. I’ll eliminate all suspense up front by saying that everyone survived. But it could have gone otherwise.

I was sitting outside on our back deck, with my laptop on a little table in front of me and Xerxes on his 12-foot leash attached to my chair. He had just returned from a prowl in the ground cover and was about 8 feet from me when Eva, the wretched German shepherd from next door, burst like an artillery round through the yew hedge between our properties.

This dog barks dementedly when released into her fenced backyard several times a day. A couple of weeks ago when I was walking Xx in our front garden, Eva erupted through that hedge, terrifying Xx and causing him to climb me like a tree. The dog belongs to our neighbor Linda, and at the time of the front-garden incident was nominally under the control of Linda’s girlfriend Flora, who apologized. I pointed out that we had tolerated Eva’s occasional breakouts into our yard when all she did was tear up our plants, but that now I worry about the cat. The whole point of this dog is that she is supposed to be under restraint when outside her own house because she has attacked other animals before. So there were renewed promises not to let it happen again.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? Just┬álast night we were sitting on the deck–Zach, me, and Xx–and Eva ran over. Nothing much happened, I scooped up Xerxes, and Eva ran back to her own house without even barking. This afternoon things went rather differently.

I didn’t see the dog coming until she was right on top of us. She leaped down the bank and grabbed Xerxes. I started screaming–I must have been pretty loud, too, because neighbors came running from up to three houses away! but I’m not embarrassed–and tried to wrestle the dog off Xerxes. Eva dropped Xx but snapped at me, which was scary–she’s a big dog. I’ve never been scared of her, but she seemed maddened by blood lust. She broke away from me and went after Xx again, knocking over the table and running across my laptop. (It seems okay but still has a dusty dog-print on the screen; this just happened and I haven’t even cleaned it.) Xx was snarling and bristling and trying to get away, hampered by his leash, and Eva kept snapping her horrid jaws and leaping on him. I was screaming bloody murder.

Linda and FLora came running over to try to get Eva, and just then Xx squirmed out of his leash and was off like a shot around the corner of the house with Eva in pursuit. Linda nabbed Eva and took her away, but by that time I had lost sight of Xx. I was terrified that he would bolt out into the street in a panic and get hit, or that he would run away. Fortunately the crowd of neighbors aroused by my shrieks had seen a whitish streak running through another neighbor’s yard and into the woods. Soon Zach spotted Xx up in a tree not too far into the woods. The tree was thickly surrounded by a dense, nasty patch of blackberry, so when I charged in in shower thongs, my feet got a bit scratched. By the time I had worked my way to the base of the tree Zach was already on a mission to bring me a stepladder. Xx was on a branch about 3 feet higher than I could reach. He showed no inclination to go higher and in fact reached toward me with a paw, but was clearly unsure of how to get down. Zach manhandled the ladder up through the blackberry. The ground was very uneven and full of holes, but I managed to balance on it long enough to grab Xx. Then we both fell down. So did the ladder. But I didn’t lose my grip, Xx didn’t freak out (much), and the blackberry bushes cushioned our fall (sort of).

Xx was shaking with what I assume was fear, but he seems okay now except for some blood between the toes of his hind feet. I think he just tore up his little indoor pads tearing through that brush at top speed. If his paws seem sore later or I can’t wash away the blood after he calms down, I’ll take him to the vet. The only other sign of the ordeal was dog saliva on his back where the wretched beast grabbed him. I feel sick when I think about how much worse it could’ve been.

I talked to Linda, who felt terrible about it–she has a cat, too. She was relieved to know that Xerxes is okay. And I’m glad we had a calm and even friendly conversation. But I did tell her that Zach and I have been very forebearing about Eva, and that if there is another attack on Xerxes (who never leaves our yard and is NEVER outside except when I have him on a leash) or another snap at either of us, we are going to call Animal Control and the police. We can’t be afraid to sit on our own deck, with our own pet on a leash, because we might be attacked!

Linda swore that Eva will be on a leash every second she is outside from now on, except when she’s in her back yard (which she can’t escape from). I hope so. We shall see. The sad thing is that it’s not the dog’s fault. She’s friendly to people she knows, and to Flora’s little dog, and to Linda’s own cat. But the dog regards anything outside her own house as prey, and Linda has done nothing to discipline her.

Now Xx is curled up on the sofa, with Z sitting next to him petting him, and he appears to be okay. Time to clean my computer screen and my own scratches. Zach said something kind of sweet–might not be meaningful to anyone who doesn’t know that I am terrified of arachnids and go to great lengths to avoid any possible contact with them or their webs. He said, “I wish Xerxes could know that when you saw him up in that tree you ran through not just a huge blackberry thicket but also several huge spiderwebs.” Never even saw them. Not quite the same, perhaps, as a mother lifting a car off her trapped toddler, but still.

A New Year

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.

Here are some things, in no particular order, that have been going on in my life and keeping me busy:

Xerxes: He had a minor operation on his left eyelid in November, to correct an entropion (a condition where a few of his eyelashes constantly poked into his eye, causing perpetual irritation–like having an eyelash in your eye, forever). The operation was a complete success. The worst part, for X, was having to wear a plastic cone around his neck for six days to prevent him from scratching at the three little stitches in his eyelid. He coped with it well and uncomplainingly, but the day the cone came off was a happy, happy day. Now he has stopped squinting and looks at the world with wide-open blue eyes.

Xerxes Redux: Everyone who has ever looked after Xerxes when Zach and I are away says he seems miserable alone. We thought he might like a companion cat. Our neighbors had a wonderful small neutered male cat with polite, quiet manners–very like Xerxes–for which they were trying to find a home. We took this extremely lovable, black-and-white sweetheart in and gave him the name Alexander. There was no open fighting, and the two guys shared a litter box without conflict, so we thought it was going to work. But as time went on Xerxes grew increasingly jealous and insecure and unhappy, no matter how much we tried to reassure him. When Xerxes, always famed for his bunnylike mildness of temper, turned aggressive, we decided that it wasn’t working and sadly returned Alexander to his owners (but I have a second-string plan: my mom might decide to take him, and if so I will ferry him to her in Florida).

Florida: Zach and I went to my mother’s place in Florida for a week over Christmas. Horrible place, Florida (though her house is very nice). We did, however, manage to take a long walk almost every day in the nature preserve near her home, and once we saw a river otter and a coyote. Overall the visit was more tiring than most, and we returned home just before New Year’s feeling that we needed a vacation.

New Year’s: We didn’t do anything special for New Year’s Eve, which has never loomed very large on either of our horizons. We watched some TV, drank a bottle of decent pinot noir, and went to bed around 11. But on New Year’s Day we went to a large and delightfully boisterous open house at the home of some friends, and then on to a dinner party as guests of some other friends. Zach and I reflected on how lucky we are in our friends.

Writing: I’m almost caught up on the 2007 books. I should have the mss. of the last three of them off to my publisher by the end of this month. I’m ready to start on my Human Evolution series, which is the first of the new work projects for 2008. On the fiction front, I have finally started seriously making notes for BS, getting ready to rewite that novel. But just recently I got hijacked by a scene that is totally unconnected with my time-travel series. I can’t quite reconstruct what sparked it, but it blossomed into a “what next?” question. Setting and premise and, above all, main character have all taken shape in my imagination. The thing is becoming a story, or rather a short novel. I’ve written the first paragraph but swear I won’t write another word, no matter how much fun it would be to play with the scenes I have clearly in mind, until I have an outline. I should review my Taos notes to keep me on track with that.

Travel: Two days ago my best friend Fred and I decided to make a short trip to Berlin this winter to go to the opera. (Fred’s been to Berlin three times and loves the city; I’ve never been there.) Never one to waste time, Fred leaped into action and got us tix on the nonstop from Portland to Frankfurt. For my part, I got us tix for The Magic Flute at the Staatsoper, the old East German state opera, and for Meistersinger at the Deutsche Oper. We fly to Berlin on January 30 (arriving on the morning of Jan 31) and return February 4. Are we nuts to schedule a midwinter getaway to a city that will be colder–possibly a lot colder–and darker than Portland? Hell yeah, but I think it will be fun. I must, however, buy a hat of some sort before we go. I don’t feel like freezing my ears off, and I don’t much feel like wearing a ski cap around downtown Berlin. What do people wear on their heads, anyway? I am so not a hat person. But a departure date is good motivation to finish that overdue work.

Halloween Xerxes

Xerxes has become something of a pet among the nurses and technicians at our vet clinic, due to his all-too-frequent visits and his tractable, good-natured behavior. The other day he had his teeth cleaned. I dropped him off in the morning, and when I came to pick him up in the afternoon he was sporting gleaming teeth and also this dapper neckerchief, with which the nurses had decorated him:

This isn’t a very lively picture–he was still dozy from the anesthetic and just napped on the floor all evening–but it’s the only one I’ve got of him in the scarf where he isn’t moving. He doesn’t seem to mind the neckwear, which we’ve put it on him for an hour or so several times since then. He is, of course, wearing it today. Maybe he just likes the fact that we keep telling him how adorable he is, and playing with him, but by now he knows he doesn’t need a scarf for that. He has got us utterly whipped.

Happy Halloween to all four-legged, two-legged, and no-legged friends.