Happy Christmas, Little Friend

Posted December 8th, 2009 by Candice

We lost Xenia yesterday. People often say "lost" is a euphanism for "dead," and they are right. But we did lose her, or, to be more accurate, we are lost. Here is Xenia’s story.

Just after Christmas in 1993, our first cat-child, Alaric, was put to sleep. My husband and I were lost, just as Alaric was. In March of 1994, I couldn’t stand being cat-less another second and went to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter (the "pound") where we had gotten Alaric. I looked around but couldn’t see any cats! The shelter volunteer told me a kitten had just come in and pointed out the cage. There were food and water dishes and one of those two-inch-high disposal litter pans, but no kitten. He opened the cage, reached behind the litter pan, and pulled out a black and white female kitten. After having had a boisterous black male cat for 14 years, she wasn’t what I had in mind, but I held her anyway. Her little heart pounded and she tried to crawl under my armpit. She was so shy (the reason she’d been returned to the pound). A woman came in and saw the kitten I was holding. She had designs on her. "She’s mine," I said and the little black and white female went home with me.

I named her Xenia, not after "Xena the Warrier Princess," as people have long thought, or after the town in Ohio. She was named after Anastasia Romanov’s cousin, Xenia. When war broke out in 1914, Xenia and her mother were sent to England. Xenia left Russia with her clothes and a teddy bear her father had brought her back from Germany–a red mohair Steiff bear. Xenia named the bear Alphonse and her nurse made a little outfit for it. Xenia never saw her father again. He was executed during the Revolution. Xenia married an American and lived here the rest of her life. The original Alphonse was put up for auction back in the 1980s. Ian Pout bought it and Steiff created a limited edition of the bear. Years later, Steiff created a limited edition of a companion bear, Xenia, a beautiful soft white bear. Just like Xenia the cat was, soft, white, and pretty. (Yes, I have both bears.)

Xenia was the shyest animal. In all the 16 years she was with us, some people never laid eyes on her. We learned she liked to be under boxes and covers and sofas. She was a good hider. The vet who checked her over said she was not three months as the shelter claimed, but four. She was a petite cat with little springy whiskers. She got in bed with us in the mornings, crouched like a toad, and if Edward G. Robinson meowed, he’d sound like Xenia. "Maow. You dirty rat." To hear this growly voice coming from such a little thing cracked us up.

I often wondered if she had been raised by a broody hen. Whenever I bent down to get a pan or whatever, Xenia would scoot underneath me. She found the belt of my bathrobe and walked all over the house with it, stepping on it and tripping herself, and "maowing" through her teeth. I think this is related to a mother-cat-moving-her-kittens behavior. She wasn’t smart like Alaric, who kept us hopping for 14 years. It took a few years for her to learn her name. But she had smart moments, like the time she typed "xxxxxxxxnnnnnnn" on my computer. I know she was typing her name. After Alaric, Xenia was a relief. She was sweet and undemanding.

When we moved once, we drove 8 hours with Xenia in her carrier on the seat between us. She stood the whole way, joggling and teetering. We smuggled her into a motel overnight. She tried to dive under the bed but the motel beds rested on wooden platforms. The next day we had to leave early and Xenia had not done her business in over a day. I plunked her in the 8 by 8 disposable cake pan that was her traveling litter box, said, "Xenia, we’re leaving, so go." And she did.

In Fredericksburg, stray cats noticed our gate was marked (like the signals hoboes left during the Depression) and we soon added Mulan, Winchester, and Persnickety to the household. Xenia, I discovered, was also xenophobic. She did not like foreign cats. Mulan didn’t give a fig about any of the other boarders here and Xenia and Winchester gave her a wide berth. But Xenia would not, could not tolerate Winchester. Not in seven long years. It was necessary to keep them separated. This meant Xenia stayed in my office most of the time. As she grew older, her hatred of Winchester became worse. It was like living with a bitter old great-aunt in the attic.

But she still loved me and enjoyed sitting on my lap when I typed. When I scrapbooked, she often lay between my feet while I worked. She was definitely my cat. She liked my singing and loved it when I picked her up to dance and sing to the radio (the other cats ran). Whenever I pulled into the driveway, I’d look up and see Xenia sitting in the big window of my office, looking down at me. She knew my car and would "maow" in greeting.

As the years rolled on, Xenia had one stroke, then two, then she developed hyperthyroidism and chronic renal failure. I have known for a month or so that her time was getting close. Close, but not yet. Not yet. Despite numerous illness, Xenia’s spirit burned bright.

This weekend I was caught in the snowstorm and away from home for two nights. When I got home Sunday afternoon, I was itching to start decorating. All afternoon I dragged boxes in from the garage and decorated the dining room and den. I played one of my favorite CDs, a cheap Target CD that has Rosemary Clooney singing, "Happy Christmas, Little Friend," an odd, sweet little song, like my cat. At one point, I checked on Xenia. She lay right up against the small heater while my office radio played Christmas carols. Xenia had been quiet and a bit lethargic for a few weeks, but I knew something was wrong.

Yesterday morning, we made our final trip to the vet’s. It was time.

When I pull into the driveway, I still look up at my window, but she’s not there. I hope she’s looking down at me now.

Happy Christmas, my little friend.