Leksi is dead. There, I said it.
I didn’t mean to write about it, beyond the official death notice e-mailed to 20 or so of our closest remaining friends. The Internet is so awash in cat videos, cat memorials, cat this, cat that, that you’d think that’s why it was invented. Surely I didn’t need to add to the pile. (And just think how this is going to look on my LinkedIn profile.)
Anyway, to paraphrase Erich Segal, what can you say about a 15-and-a-half-year-old cat who died? That he was beautiful, brilliant and affectionate? That he was beloved by houseguests the world over, especially Australians? That he was the embodiment of good?
But I’ve reached the stage of life where death is becoming an all too familiar occurrence. Each death is a boundary in our lives, and cats mark the passages in mine. So attention must be paid.
I grew up with cats, though most of their lives were short. We lived in the country, they were outdoor cats, and they couldn’t resist crossing the road. Our longevity record was Buffy, who lived to 9. Buffy was smart enough to notice what happened to his brothers, Puffy and Fluffy, so he simply didn’t cross the road. When his health failed, my father took his police revolver and shot him in the field behind our house. Euthanasia, country-style.
After college, I learned that cats could live indoors, quite healthily, thanks to my roommate, Teresa. To our apartment in Roanoke, Va., she brought a longhaired calico named Carmen, and I was delighted that Carmen came to like me as much as I liked her. When she would jump on my bed and purr me to sleep, I was hooked.
Carmen, Teresa and I parted company after a year, when a new job and a boyfriend beckoned me north to Rochester, N.Y. In the last 35 years, I have had just three cats. I’ve upped the record to 15, twice.
Cora, gray and white, was 10 weeks old when she moved in with me in Rochester; I was 23. She was the cat of my 20s and 30s, the one who moved with me from Rochester to Boston to New York, who watched me agonize over my career ladder, who saw me grow from extremely callow youth to middle-aged resignation. She died at 15, to be succeeded after a mere week of mourning by Cassandra, a black Siamese. The cat of the transition into my 40s, Cass lasted just five years, lost to cancer, but there was never a more affectionate and trusting cat — except maybe Leksi, who looked just like Cora but with longer fur. He spanned my early 40s into my late 50s, seeing me change from a solid citizen with full-time employment into an aging bohemian who, quite frankly, doesn’t much give a damn about anyone’s expectations anymore. If my next cat lasts 15 years, she will see me through my 60s and into my 70s. She could end up burying me.
Leksi started to fail a couple of weeks ago. He rallied briefly after a trip to the vet but then, gradually, faded again. I thought his finale might coincide with those of two TV series we had been watching, “Smash” and “The Big C,” but he outlasted both. The last episode of “Smash” was as unmemorable as most of its two seasons, but “The Big C” had resonance.
“The Big C,” on Showtime, is a moving, funny four-season show tracing the seasons in the life of Cathy Jamison, a teacher, wife and mother in her 40s whose melanoma recasts her life. The storyline took her from summer, when her diagnosis seems unreal and all she wants is a pool in her backyard, through treatment, remission, recurrence and hospice. Throughout, Laura Linney plays Cathy — who is no saint — with spark, humor and grace.
In the finale, Cathy does die, at home, half an hour before her husband arrives. Leksi did much the same. He collapsed on the kitchen floor while I was working the Sunday matinee at the Beaumont a few hours before the Tony Awards, when I hoped he’d be on my lap. I sobbed when I found him — not for my loss, as I did when Cora died, but because I hadn’t been there to hold him and ease his transition. I must be maturing.
In the penultimate episode of “The Big C,” when Cathy is in hospice, she sees the souls of dead patients miraculously restored to their prime rising from their corpses, smiling and waving goodbye. No, I didn’t not see Leksi rise to leave me with one last meow, but so far as I know, I’m not dying.
After petting his lifeless fur a few times, I slid him into a pillowcase and put him in his carrier — no resistance, for once. Maybe this was the day I truly became a New Yorker: I took my dead cat to the vet for cremation by subway.
Where does the survivor find solace? As usual, I looked to musical theater. To drown out the sound of what I call “the happy idiots” (whose turn will come) on the ride home, I turned on my iPod and found William Finn’s “Elegies.” This song cycle, a series of tributes to people who have died or otherwise left the singers’ lives, is ideal for someone in the throes of loss. Whether the subject is a prickly teacher, an actor and songwriter who wouldn’t take his insulin, a 9/11 victim or a dying mother on her last ride around the town where she lived her life, the songs rip up the heart, then make it whole again. The only one banished from my iPod is “My Dog,” whether because it’s about the opposite species or because it just goes on too long.
Back home I let myself wallow in the most embarrassing way possible, with an LP I hadn’t played in years, maybe decades: “Cats.” We now know “Cats” was among the worst excesses of the 1980s, but the truth is, I’d been hearing its lyrics in my head ever since Leksi became ill: “He isn’t the cat that he was in his prime” and ‘Who would ever suppose that that/Was Grizabella the glamour cat?” and finally the rousing “Up, up, up to the Heaviside Layer,” which I quoted in Leksi’s death notice. So what if the music is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s? The words are T.S. Eliot’s, so surely “Cats” is partly respectable.
The grand finale, my ritual whenever I lose a cat, was last night’s screening of “The Three Lives of Thomasina,” a Disney film I first saw when I was 9. Back then Karen Dotrice, as the little Scottish girl whose cat seemingly dies but is resurrected through love, looked like a big girl to me; the next time I saw it, in my late 30s, her father, Patrick McGoohan, looked young, but when a cat of mine dies, I am that little girl. While the film’s message does jerk the tears, my favorite part, and the one that makes it must-see bereavement viewing, is Thomasina’s near-death experience, when she climbs a staircase lined with cat statues, the air sparkling with gold, to come face to face with Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess. I could just see Leksi climbing those stairs ever so elegantly, and afterwards meeting Cora and Cass at last.
Rest in peace, Leksi, and regards to Bast. We’ll meet again — after another cat or two.