The following is a love letter I wrote to my beloved Vinny when he died a little over a year ago. In these COVID-19 days, I find myself missing his fluffy admiration more than ever. He would have been overjoyed to have me and his best friend (my wife, Kim) home all the time (especially his best friend). He would have been climbing all over our laps and walking all over our keyboards and delighting over daily doses of half and half. He would have felt our fear and grief and anger and snuggled us through it as only he knew how. I wrote this love letter to Vinny about a year ago, and I’ve been writing it every day since.
Let me start by saying this isn’t going to be my best blog post. It’s probably not even going to be a good blog post. If you’re looking for a good blog post, with optimism and life affirmation and inspirational quotes and a happy or even moderately satisfying ending, this is not that blog post. This blog post is at a loss, literally. This blog post is all over the fucking place, zig-zagging through non-narrative confusion, hysterical crying jags, and moments of this-is-life clarity besieged by sorrow on all sides. This blog post’s sorrow is the shape of a cat. The sorrow is the shape of Vinny, whose full name was Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Reed after Joe Pesci’s character in My Cousin VInny but whom we most often referred to as “Piggy” because he was an incorrigible little chomper who just fucking loved to eat. The sorrow is the hole in the shape of my cat, Vinny, where Vinny, my cat, used to be. The sorrow is Vinny’s bed on the corner of the couch, his food and water dishes on the kitchen floor, his uneaten can of food in the fridge, his freshly changed litter box in the hallway, his catnip-filled chicken or turkey or whatever-the-fuck that thing is under my desk, his favorite spot—his best friend’s lap—empty.
Late last Wednesday night, we had to make the excruciating decision to put our little piggy to sleep. It was very sudden—he was fine Monday night, running and eating and hugging his best friend, my wife, Kim, and then Tuesday morning, he wasn’t. When I came out of the bedroom, I expected him to be waiting impatiently for breakfast as he did every morning for more than 17 years. Instead, I heard a yowl and found him immobile and covered in vomit. We took him to the vet, and after his blood work was mostly normal and his physical exam was normal and there were no abnormalities on his x-rays, they sent him home with a recommendation for a follow up echocardiogram but no diagnosis. We took him back the next day, when he was still immobile, and the vet—a different one, whom Vinny had seen for years and never liked but always did a thorough exam—sent us to an internist upstate.
I got Vinny on October 7, 2001, the day the US began airstrikes on Afghanistan. I know because my ex- and I were listening to NPR as we drove around Buffalo from pet store adoption fair to pet store adoption fair only to be rejected because we lived in a house with too many cats already (the house was a share, and none of the preexisting cats were mine, but that didn’t matter). At the last store, there was a photocopied sign on a bulletin board for a litter of kittens that was going to be surrendered to a shelter if homes couldn’t be found for them. We tore off the phone number, called to say we were coming, and headed to bumfuck West Seneca. Vinny was pigeon-toed and slightly cross-eyed, and when he crawled into my lap, I was smitten.
Here are some of my favorite memories of Vinny, in no particular order:
- The Christmas Eve at Kim’s mom’s house (Grandma Carmody’s) when he grabbed a meatball off the kitchen table—it was too big for his head so we couldn’t miss it when he went running down the hallway with his jaw practically unhinged, quietly growling all the way (unfortunately, to make it into his hiding place under the desk in the spare bedroom, he had to surrender the meatball)
- The time Kim found a graveyard of dried-out dry-food puke under our bed and cried out, “Ewwwwww! He better not have puked in my slippers…..OH MY GOD, he puked in my slippers!”
- The way he nuzzled and slept on my neck when he was a wee baby, even though I was allergic to him and it made me wheeze
- The way he’d carry his beloved fish-on-a-stick toy in his mouth, drag it across the floor, and drop it at our feet to play; even better, the way he’d drag fish-on-a-stick into the bedroom and launch himself into bed with it
- The time he was pissed at me—literally—after an extended vacation and our shoes were lined up in an alternating pattern by the front door—my shoes, Kim’s shoes, my shoes, Kim’s shoes, my shoes—and he managed to piss only in my shoes (I’m somewhat ashamed to say one of the pairs of shoes was those fucking ridiculous five-finger things; really, Vinny did us all a favor)
- His love of eating all things rubber, including the rubber band off Grandma Carmody’s collection of business cards and two separate pairs of swim goggle straps (one of those times culminated in me having to pull the strap out of his ass when he couldn’t fully pass it himself)
- The time Kim explained to the vet tech that she was not Vinny’s mom—his mom (me) was at work in the City—she was Vinny’s best friend
The internist ran his blood, and his kidney numbers, which had been totally normal 24 hours earlier, were more than three times normal now. We checked Vinny into the hospital, where, they told us, he’d have to stay for at least a couple of days and where I had to sign CPR paperwork. They’d do a full workup including the echo and an ultrasound of his belly. We came home and haunted the apartment while we waited for the results. At about 9:30 that night, when I couldn’t wait any longer, I called the doctor. They had all the information now, and it wasn’t good. Right heart failure, blood clots in his aorta, a blood clot in his ureter, a mass in one of his kidneys. There was nothing to be done and supposedly nothing we could have done to prevent it and he was suffering and unlikely to make it through the night. We drove up to be with him.
Some more favorite Vinny memories:
- The time he swatted a piece of cheese right out of my hand and ate it before I even understood what had happened
- The time when we were hosting Rosh Hashanah dinner and he tore open the challah when we weren’t looking
- The time, just a few months ago, when he ate nearly a full package of probiotic cat treats that I accidentally left on the kitchen counter (it turns out overeating probiotics causes an equal and opposite reaction to eating probiotics in moderation, which is how I found myself cleaning up an absolute poopocalypse the next day)
- The way he outsmarted every automatic pet feeder, even the one we custom rigged to keep him out of it
- The way he comforted me through the breakup with my ex- in my early 30s; the way I screamed at her that she wasn’t getting the fucking cat because she wasn’t; the way he rejected her even when it seemed like we might reconcile; the way he spread himself across my lap while I wept and wept
- The way, during my single days, we would spoon when it was time to go to bed, and then he would wake me in the middle of the night by walking back and forth across my answering machine (beeeeep… meeeeeow… beeeeep… meeeeeow… beeeeep… meeeeeow…), continually re-recording my outgoing message
- Kim and Vinny and Vinny and Kim, all the time—the way he yelled at her and only her (in a good way, in a way that was just between them), the way he hugged her and only her, the way she built him forts in the living room, the way he looked at her with complete adoration, the way she loved him with her whole heart
- All the nicknames: Piggy, Pigbert, Vin-Vin, Vincenzo, Smooshy, Smooshy Face, Little Squish, Squishy, Mr. Pants, Pigglepants, Piglet, Spliget, Pliget, Piggle, Pigglesworth, Mr. Mooshbert, Eyeballs, Eyeballs McGee, Piggy McPiggy, Fatty McFat, Chubbers, Vinny Boobatz, Vincent, Stinkypants, Squish Face, Chupa Chubs, Smooshbert, Booger, Buddy, Bubs
- All the sniffy kisses and starfish paws and headbutts and sea lion splats and how he would hold my hand
Vinny was my companion for more than 17 years, since I was 24 and he was just six weeks. He brought me unparalleled joy and snuggled and snuffled with me through some of my absolute lowest moments. He couldn’t have found a truer best friend than Kim, whom he loved above all else (rightly so) and who held him in her arms through the end while I sat beside them stroking his head and holding his paw and telling him how much I loved him. I thought we had at least a couple of more years together, but no amount of time would have been enough.
I keep asking my friends how they coped with the loss of their beloveds like Vinny. Apparently, they didn’t; they don’t; we don’t. We cry. We keep waking up. We tell our beloveds’ stories. We look at their pictures. We cry. We listen for their footsteps. We see them out of the corners of our eyes. We remember how lucky we were to have them, “to know such magic,” as one friend put it. We cry. And our broken hearts slowly suture themselves back together but never heal.
Yours in Sorrow,
Jessica the Westchesbian
In honor of Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Reed, Aug 26ish, 2001-March 28, 2019
Jessica lives with her shiksa wife and geriatric cat in picturesque Tarrytown on the Hudson. Although a proud Westchesbian these days, Jessica grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, back when the opening of the Olive Garden and the 24-hour Walmart were big news. During business hours, Jessica’s a communications professional who translates highly technical concepts into clear, concise, colloquial language that media buyers and sellers can understand. Outside of business hours, she’s a poet, cat mom, wife, avid reader, and lover of questionable crime, sci-fi, and supernatural TV shows (preferably all in one), not necessarily in that order. Her poetry has appeared in Tin House, The Paris Review, LIT, and The Huffington Post, among others.