Roxy, a small life

Our cat Roxy passed away three weeks ago, early on Sunday, April 14. She had been ill for a while, but it was still a shock. Three of us were in Tokyo while our daughter Viltis was at Bard College, studying. We had put Roxy in the care of a wonderful veterinary nurse who works at the clinic where Roxy had been hospitalized twice since Christmas. She had some trouble during the week, but it seemed surmountable and she was at the hospital recovering on our last day in Japan. We were on the train back to Narita to fly home when a vet at the hospital called to say that she was dying. I authorized a transfusion so we could say goodbye.

Driven by friends from school, Viltis arrived less than 12 hours after the phone call while we arrived straight from the airport, hours later. I contacted two friends when I was on the plane and they kindly brought one of our cars to the hospital so we could all go home. We spent the evening with Roxy and she passed in her sleep overnight, nestled in bed between Viltis and myself. It was sad, but it was much better than having to ask our vet to kill her (I find “put to sleep” such an unpleasant euphemism). Roxy was a cat, she only lived 15 years, nine months, and three days. Compared to ours, it was a small life, but also an outsize one. Not every animal plays such a big role in people’s lives, but Roxy did. We are gutted and grieving. I started writing this soon after, but it’s been hard. I’ve done a lot of gardening since being in a catless home isn’t easy. I keep hearing noises, then realize it isn’t her. But I want to write something to memorialize her. Blogs are supposed to be personal. As a public intellectual, I often avoid the personal since it quickly becomes self-indulgence. But there are lessons in Roxy’s life and that’s what this post is about: her story and what she taught us.

Roxy in my office, keeping me company while I work.

First, the unknown. Roxy was born on 7/11/2007. The only thing of note I can find that day is that Lady Bird Johnson, champion of the beautification of the American landscape as well as the founder of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, died that day. Roxy did love the outdoors and had quite the spirit, so maybe there is some connection. Who knows. Still, her birthdate seems quite lucky, from a numerological point of view. But was she a lucky cat? We know nothing about her first seven years, but she must have been treated well as she was a lover of people, always outgoing and never afraid. By the end of July 2014, poor “Racy Roxy” was in the Bergen County Animal Shelter. Why anybody would give up such a loving cat is beyond me. People do give up their animals for no good reason, but I can’t see why anybody would have willingly given Roxy up. She was too great a cat. While she was with us—until her last illness—she would make a strange howl, a sort of mantra, something like meow-ow meow-ow-ow-ow meow-ow ow. Another friend of ours who is a veterinary nurse said normally that is a sound only animals in great pain make. Roxy wasn’t in great pain at the time and she usually made it in another room without people around. Another friend, who cat-sat when we were away, said she thought it was a lament for someone, perhaps someone who died. That makes sense to me. Roxy didn’t have much to do in the shelter and by March 2015, she had gained quite a bit of weight, enough that the shelter was concerned and had her undergo exploratory surgery. It turned out she just had a huge fat pad. Roxy stayed at Bergen County Animal Shelter until November of 2016—over two years after she arrived in the shelter—when the Montclair Animal Shelter took her and ten other cats. That November, a local family with small children tried to adopt Roxy but the husband had bad cat allergies and she had to go back. I imagine there was a lot of sadness for them and for her. So close, but no home.

Roxy at the Montclair Township Animal Shelter

I had been wanting a cat for a while, ever since our Daisy died. She had been born in 1995 and accompanied us from Los Angeles to New Jersey in 2006 but passed away on December 1, 2008. Our youngest was allergic to cats, but he wanted a cat as much as the rest of us and had been getting monthly shots at the allergist. January 2017 was a difficult time. It was the first month of the Drumpfenjahre (or Trumpenjahre if you want) and the pro-Russian creep who once kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside had installed himself in the White House. Teaching had become deeply unpleasant thanks to apathetic students both in the US and Ireland and because of the bureaucratic hell implemented by McKinseyite administrators in both countries. I had a recent brush with aging thanks to cataract surgery. I was in a bad mood. So I said, let’s go to the Montclair Animal Shelter today and look at the cats. The shelter had just closed, but they accommodated us. I thought we should get a kitten, but they were asleep in their cages. We saw two cats outside their cages, Alpha Alpha, a ginger tabby who could jump five feet into the air, and Roxy, an older cat who they had brought from Bergen County Animal Shelter along with ten other cats. Roxy just lay there but seemed friendly. Viltis wanted Roxy.

I said, to her, “That’s an old cat, don’t you want a kitten?” She said, “That’s the cat I want, she likes me.” “Ok,” I said, unimpressed by the sleeping kittens, but not much more impressed by Roxy, “we’ll take Roxy.” I love my kids and if that’s what they wanted, fine. Given her age, Roxy was a “Senior Special” for $50. Well, ok. With my cataract surgery, I thought I was rapidly becoming a senior myself, even though I wasn’t 50 yet. I wasn’t ready for thinking of myself as a senior and Roxy wasn’t either. Our love story began with Roxy screaming all the way to the car and most of the way home. Roxy screamed a lot in general. The shelter staff said, “let this cat out in one room and give her a week to adapt before letting her explore the house.”

We brought her home and I broke the rules right away. I had this thought that with all her wailing she was a pretty confident creature and I put a fuzzy liner from an old jacket out on the living room floor. “Let’s see what you think of this place,” I said as I let her out of the cat carrier. She didn’t lie on the jacket. Instead, she walked around the whole house calmly and looked at everything. Only then did she come back, lay down on the liner and let us know she was home.

Roxy had a great life. That was her gift. She didn’t gloat, she just enjoyed life. She loved to lie in the sun, inside when it was cold, outside when it was hot. She would often lie on her back, and she didn’t mind belly rubs. She would lie on the radiant floor in the bathroom. When I walked in, she would make a little chirping noise to let me know I shouldn’t step on her. Roxy loved to watch TV with the family. She didn’t really watch the television, well not most of the time, but she loved to be with us while we did. She might be in the bathroom or somewhere, but when the TV went on, she would dependably come out and choose a family member on whose lap she would sit. Roxy liked to be held. She’d often cry until my wife picked her up. It was a thing. She wanted affection. I think she also liked to be fairly high up for the view.

Roxy was not shy. When visitors came, she would greet them and stay with us. She quickly realized she was a member of the family and acted that way. Sometimes people said they didn’t like cats. Roxy made a mission to win them over. One friend had never understood cats, but after she stayed with us for some days, she dearly loved Roxy. She was an easy cat to get. There were never any surprises. Even when we went too far, Roxy would never hurt us. She’d give us a gentle little nip as a warning. But Roxy also sometimes seemed annoyed, emitting plaintiff cries. Still, it didn’t seem she was annoyed with us.

Rather, like the cat in the rather famous screaming cat meme, she was screaming at the world. That helped make her relatable. She was loving, but she knew the world could be a difficult place. We all wanted to scream in the Drumpfenjahre, which once again threaten to return, thanks to lunatics on both left and right who are falling victim to psyops. If it happens again, we will face another four years of hell without her to cheer us. I’m not sure what the answer to that will be.

Roxy and Viltis during lockdown, April 2020.

2020 was the worst of the Drumpfenjahre, due to the terror of a deadly global pandemic, total lockdown, and a bleach-injecting lunatic at the helm. Roxy, of course, didn’t have any idea what was going on and comforted us daily.

With the Drumpfenjahre and the nightmare of COVID-19 behind us, Roxy continued to bring us joy and was a model for living well. She met Diana Nausėdienė, the First Lady of Lithuania in September 2023, had her photograph taken by the presidential photographer and, unlike most cats, wound up appearing in most Lithuanian news outlets. Our routine was usually the same. In the morning, I would make a coffee and lie down on the couch to read and she would climb on top of me and sleep until I had to remove her to empty my bladder. With Viltis at Bard, Roxy would often come to my office and keep me company. Or she’d lie on the radiant floor in the bathroom, in the light of the sun, or near some other heat source. Roxy was aging and she had some degree of arthritis, so the heat helped.
She was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in October, but it seemed manageable, close to high normal. Unfortunately over the winter holiday, she entered stopped eating and went into a uremic crisis. We rushed her to the animal clinic where they took care of her over New Year’s. She recovered somewhat, but from then on, nausea would chase her, and she would have a tough time eating. In March we had an esophageal feeding tube implanted. I wish we had tried that much earlier as it made giving her medicines much easier and she could have the recommended amount of food daily. She enjoyed her feedings, which I’d administer as a sort of milkshake through a syringe, either sleeping through them or purring as her stomach filled. We discovered Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide to Feline Chronic Disease as well as the support group associated with it. These helped us wade through the confusing world of test results and myriad medicines. Roxy wanted to live. She was a fighter. Our last cat knew when she her time had come. Roxy said no, she wanted to be with us, to enjoy every minute she could. Unfortunately, for reasons that will never be known, Roxy suffered two seizures after her tube was implanted. Perhaps it was the tube, another medicine she was taking, or something else entirely. She wound up on anti-seizure medication which seemed to help. We thought long and hard about whether we should go to Tokyo but our friend was able to take care of her and we thought she had months or even years left. Unfortunately, she had another seizure toward the end of our stay and did not recover well, even with treatment at the hospital, which brings us back to the opening of this piece and her death. Three weeks later and none of us are over it yet.

Goodnight, sweet Roxy.

As readers of the academic and artistic side of this blog know, I have been researching AIs over the last two years. AIs have made it clear to me that reasoning and creativity can be generated by computers. But AI models aren’t conscious. They have no drive, desire, or ability to love. Or at least that’s the state of these systems now. Roxy was very much the opposite. She had drive, desire, and the ability to love. She couldn’t reason much, but she did know who to cuddle with, who to ask for hugs, who to ask for food, and who to nag for no reason. In that sense, she was pure consciousness. The cherry blossoms happened to be in bloom while we were in Japan and the phrase Mono no aware is associated with that time, a concept that refers to the beauty of transience, to the need to understand that the blossoms remind us of the impermanence of all things. So, too, Roxy’s short presence on this Earth reminds us that our own time is brief and we should make the most out of it, we should enjoy every minute, even if that does include periodically screaming at the world.