My name is Xen. That would be pronounced “Zen” but spelled, “X-E-N.” Why? Because some wretched little 5-year-old (with whom someone is unfortunate enough to call a relative) gave me the name.
Now before you start in with,“How amazing that a 5-year-old would come up with such a sophisticated moniker, despite the spelling error,” let me tell you this: The little skidmark thought he was naming me “Ten.” You see someone told this future Rhodes Scholar that cats had nine lives, and he proclaimed, “Not this one; this one will have 10!” He then proceeded to sketch my likeness with a baby-shit-green crayon. When he finished, he labeled the masterpiece “XEN”—clearly failing to master the subtle art of capturing the complexity of the letter “T.” Surprisingly enough, in all the time I spent living here, no one thought to give me a name, so after that it just kind of stuck. Not that it matters what anyone calls me; it’s not like I ever respond.
I have a pretty good life here at Greendale Pines. Being a cat is not always the easiest thing in the world, finding a place to live and all. I always have preferred the comfort of nursing homes for various reasons, but the staff of such places can be hit-or-miss. Some find us to be comforting and therapeutic, whereas others see us as vile beasts that have no place within four walls. I’ve had my fair share of both. And I’ve noticed an odd pattern present itself in the homes that are less-than-inviting.
I get a bit of forewarning when all of the employees have the same nickname for the head nurse. For the life of me, I’ve never understood why they would be compared to a tightening tool. When I hear the name, I always turn tail and look for other accommodations. It’s nice to have a system that saves me time and hassle.
When I was first scouting Greendale Pines, I made several passes around the offices to search for welcoming signs. The mother load happened to belong to the head nurse. Dozens of framed photos of a cat perched on her desk. His name? Mr. Bigglesby (Xen doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?). Having found an easy mark, I slipped in like I owned the place and was not the least bit surprised by my welcome reception. I’ve been a resident since.
Life hasn’t always been easy sailing here at the Pines. I had a couple close calls that may very well have had me out on my furry ass. I spent many years living the sweet life, coming and going as I pleased, when a changing of the guard brought with it new terms and conditions. It seemed the new screw had no opposition to having a cat in the home, but if I was going to be a fixture, I was going to be a clean one. Thus a litterbox appeared in the southwest corner of the recreation room. Let me tell you this: I have opinions about urinating in a plastic box—and none of them are good. How could they honestly expect me to degrade myself by going in a box, especially when over half the people here were content pissing themselves on a regular basis? It wasn’t as if I was contributing to the smell: pee is pee is pee. If I were the cuddling type, I may have had some leeway on the whole piss-box situation, but the idea of physical contact, quite frankly, makes me sick. My presence was tolerated because I genuinely seemed to bring joy to several of the occupants, even from afar. But I would have needed to provide buckets of joy to get away with not using the sand box. That wasn’t going to happen with my aversion to friendliness.
In the end, it turned out I had nothing to worry about. I had sucked up my pride and trudged over to the plastic monstrosity only to find it filled with someone else’s leavings. I was greeted with a “good kitty,” and I stood by and watched as the orderly scooped out some stranger’s sandy clumps. I never found out who used the litter box that day (and to my eternal relief continued to), but I often had a pleasant vision of one of the more demented of residents popping a squat over the gray gravel and thereby saving me the same indignity.
Another time I was holed up in the storage closet to enjoy a little snack. I rarely ate indoors, but it had been freezing on that particular day. Right in the middle of my meal, two nurses stumbled into the room and caught me with the desiccated corpse of a chipmunk hanging from my mouth. Screams ensued and I was heavily reprimanded. Curiously enough, no one ever asked the two nurses what they were doing together alone in the storage closet in the first place. Lucky for the both of them, I wasn’t at liberty to say.
Aside from a couple of hiccups, life was pretty easy. Or it was until last week. A week ago everything changed when M. came into my life. “M.”: That’s her name. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t stand for anything.
Oh, dear, that was not a wheelchair joke!
It’s just M.
I haven’t found out much about her, but that’s probably because I have spent all my effort avoiding her at all costs. But the more I find myself trying to stay away, the more I stand just outside her door.
Maybe M. stands for Magnet.
I’ve been down her wing more times in the past week than I have in the entire time I’ve lived at Greendale Pines. I find it hard to think or even eat—two of my favorite things to do.
Maybe M. stands for Misery.
A week ago the two people who I took to be her parents admitted her and walked away. What kind of parents would relinquish custody of such a beautiful creature? They must have money if they can afford this place. It killed me that she must feel unloved, unwanted. Then today it happened. She had lasted a week, I’ll give her that, but during lunch time, as I was watching her, I noticed the first tear stream down her face. There seemed to be no catalyst; the situation itself just finally came crashing down on her frail shoulders.
I’m sitting here, thinking about how it made me feel to watch her suffer. Her pain is my pain. I feel helpless; it’s not a feeling I like and certainly not one I intend to get used to. There is a slim chance I can help her. I’m not really sure if it will work, but I would kill to help her.
And that’s just what I’m planning to do.
Anthony David Lawson is the author of “Novel,” as well as a local playwright, director and actor. He will write a piece of prose presented in parts every other week in encore throughout 2015, entitled “The Nine Lives of Xen.”