Rest In Power, Caesar

Striking a pose, 2012

Caesar Hu-Stiles, born July 2004 in South Carolina, died this morning in his sleep in Southern California. He was gentle giant with the loudest purr.

Caesar was my very first cat — I only had dogs growing up. He came to me as a soft, black kitten with soft medium-length hair and a long poof of a tail. My friend Myra had originally bought the kitten from a breeder and suspected he was weaned from his cat mom too early, so Myra fed him from a tiny bottle until he was old enough to join me. She named him Caesar because he behaved so imperiously — always quietly surveying the situation and benevolently lording over us like a wise old man, even though he was just a kitten back then.

My last photo with Caesar, a couple months ago.

I remember him playing inside cabinets when he was small, and taking languorous naps slumping his body over the corner of the beds, like a sloth.

He is the only cat I’ve ever known who always came when we called, like a dog does. He could be outside with his brother cats, as far away as down the block, but when I called him from the porch and he’d instantly come trotting home.

He spoke often with his distinctive meows, seeming to be in dialogue with us, and he could call us at a high volume when he needed attention.

He loved basking in the sunshine, lazy afternoons, and napping with other creatures, including the human babies that appeared over the years. When we held him, he liked us to drape his body over a shoulder — that brought on the loudest purrs. He never scratched, he never made messes, he never tried to run away despite having outdoor-indoor privileges. He was so accommodating and easy as a pet that I once forgot to trim his nails for so long that they wound up growing into his nail beds. It’s illustrative of our relationship, about which I feel so heart-broken today. I took Caesar, and that he’s always been at my side, for granted.

He was my constant companion. He lived 17 years, in two different countries, three US states and the District of Columbia, and on both American coasts.

Cat nap with Baby Isa, 2015

He put up with chaotic children and a series of my other cats, the beagle dog Saidee and a few other creatures we’d pet-sit, each who would compete for food and attention and love.

He loved me fiercely. One time he showed it by bringing me home a bird he killed while I was at work. When I came home he was splayed out on the living room floor behind the bird, like Kate Winslet ready for Leo to draw her. Stunned and recoiling, I had to have a friend rush over to remove the dead bird, but I understood the significance of the gesture.

With Saidee the Beagle, 2011

It guts me to have an animal by side for so long — through my entire adult life — and to lose him. There were three pets that had been with me from young adulthood into middle age — Saidee the beagle (died 2015), Cheese the cat (died 2017) and Caesar, who died this morning. Now there is no four-legged connection to those halcyon days of my youth. That trail has ended.

He died sometime overnight, at home and at peace. Yani, our indefatigable nanny and helper, slept on the couch to be near him and make sure he was comfortable since he had stopped eating and used all his strength to meow loudly to each of us on Tuesday, which I knew in my gut was a goodbye.

The girls examined his body before I drove his body to the vet for cremation.

“Look at his eyes,” I overheard daughter Eva, saying to her sister. “He was looking up at the sun one last time.” Eva has called on us to eat Caesar salad, Little Caesar’s Pizza and give a loud family meow together for dinner tomorrow, in his honor.

Rest in power, Emperor. Your quiet presence made every house we shared a home. Thank you for tolerating me. I miss you so much already.

When baby Eva came home, 2012.
At home in Korea, 2015. Photo by Haeryun Kang.

Please, Cheese

Cheese in 2009, at home in Austin.

Cheese is sick. His eyes and nose are snotty, he stopped eating a few days ago — a big deal since he jumps up on the table after dinner every night to try and find a stray piece of salmon, and is known to squeeze in to share beverages with whipped cream. Today he’s barely moved from a single position. The vet (who happens to be the great-nephew of Sam Moon of those Dallas discount stores), says it’s probably pneumonia but he can’t rule out organ failure because Cheese is 15 years old.

Cheese is not my most unusual cat (that would be Fitz), or my most affectionate cat (that would be Caesar). Cheese is my husband’s cat, and he has tolerated — without fully accepting — me living with him for the better part of his life.

I am Cheese’s stepmom. Despite Matt Stiles’ preference for grey tabbies, his ex-girlfriend picked him out from the Dallas SPCA in 2003 because she liked Cheese’s black-and-white tuxedo look. His asshole tendencies showed even when he was a kitten, but Matty and Cheese became best buds. When I met Cheese a year later, he instantly gave me side-eye that has lasted for FOURTEEN YEARS.

Cheese with Miguel, a kitten we fostered for a few weeks.

Note: For a couple of weeks in the summer of 2004 I tried to win Cheese over because I was at Matty’s apartment a lot when he was at work. This resulted in Cheese taking approximately two (2) naps on my legs which amounts to our peak affection level. After that, I moved to South Carolina, got Caesar and Fitz, and only saw Cheese every few weeks during visits back to Texas.

Eventually Cheese reluctantly moved in with me in Austin. He and Caesar became brothers and united quickly. We lived together in Austin, then Washington, then Seoul. In Washington the boys would use Saidee‘s doggy door to sneak out at night, and one morning at dawn when I was sitting on the front porch waiting for my buddy Wes to show up for a run, I caught Cheese and Caesar stroll down the sidewalk together, jump the fence in our yard and then head back into the house. Who knows what those two were up to all night. I sincerely hope they led the underground rebellion in the otherwise staid DC cat world.

He’s always had a heart murmur. His tummy isn’t too tough. The vet reports his weight is down more than a pound. Today he’s letting me pick him up, which he almost never, ever lets anyone do. He probably still doesn’t consider me his mom and I mean, I get it. Think about it from his point of view: He was living large with his road dawg, Stiles, doing the single cat sidekick thing until some rebound girl showed up and stubbornly never left, adding extra cats, a beagle and eventually three (3) small humans to his world. It’s not cool!

He still merely tolerates me but I love him deeply and want so much for him to pull through this.

Cone of Shame and Other Blunders

Caesar’s in a cone of shame for a week. But I should be wearing it.

Caesar is in a cone because of my neglect. I am in charge of trimming the kitties fingernails and I have done so on the regular, for the past 13 years, in which our cat ownership has ranged from two to, at one point, five cats (one was a foster kitten, Miguel, for whom we found a “forever home.”) After Luna was born and I had to go back to work, I guess I just forgot about Caesar’s nails and yesterday when I tried to trim them, I discovered that several of them were ingrown, that is, they got so long that they GREW INTO his paw pads. Needless to say, I felt so horrible that I flipped out. The vet said we could come in right away, but I was cycling through crippling guilt so Matty had to be the one to take Caesar and receive the poor parenting lecture, which was then relayed to me. Caesar seems to be okay now and mainly relieved that someone finally remembered him.


Eddie Rodriguez, Memorable Running Buddy

Speaking of kittens, I’ve been really missing my old Austin running buddy, Eddie, lately. We used to have these rather insane experiences because we trained at five in the morning and you see some weird stuff at twilight. The scariest incident was catching a glimpse of a NUTRIA on Lavaca Street in downtown Austin and then watching it disappear down a sewer. That image still haunts me. Or there was the time we were speeding up the stairs of a bridge over Town Lake (I’m gonna keep calling it Town Lake, mmmkay?) and we were confronted with giant human feces on the steps. It was really, shockingly large. I suppose it could have come from a mastiff or something, but Eddie and I are convinced that dump was of the human variety.

Our most insane running adventure was the time we were on one of our final training runs before the San Antonio marathon and had to log 20 miles. Nothing memorable happened until we had only four miles to go and we heard the distinct sound of kittens crying from inside some bushes. We stopped to see what was going on, found kittens clearly in distress and no sign of a momma cat, so we somehow lured the kittens to us and withstood clawing to pick them up. We then held them against our bodies — he had two, I had one — and ran, bouncing up and down, WITH CLAWING KITTENS IN OUR ARMS for three miles. I took them home, we called Austin Pets Alive and got them fostered until they were adopted. That was dramatic, man.

I haven’t been to Austin since those four hours I stopped there for Hannah’s baby shower, so when I get back there again, Eddie and I are going on a reunion run for the ages. I hope we do not see nutria.


No Alarms (and No Surprises) Please

OK Computer turned 20. I am really enjoying all the tributes. The New York Times breakdown is the most thorough, but I also liked that NPR dug into its archives for the interview with Radiohead when it came out. During my quarterly existential dread, I play ‘No Surprises‘ in a loop and that’s how spouse Stiles knows that it’s time for my quarterly existential dread. I THINK I’m a cheerful person, but then again, my favorite song is ‘No Surprises’ so maybe I’m actually catatonic. “This is my final fit…”

Today Isabel broke our Obama bobblehead, which I feel like is a really sad metaphor. She ran around the house yelling, “BROKEN, BROKEN!” at the top of her lungs.