He was a gift from Alonso, my boyfriend at the time whose sister happened to work at a cattery in Bryn Mawr. ‘Baby’, he said in his delightful Costa Rican accent, ‘I want to get you a cat’. I was hesitant, having just started out on my own at 22, recently laid off from my printing job at Philadelphia Photographics, having decided to pursue my business full-time without the safety net of my part time job, life seemed a bit scary. I was hesitant, but agreed. I was really a dog person, but cats were OK in my book.
A week or so later, Vincent arrived, about 11 months old, matted but fresh smelling, sounding like Darth Vader with his pushed in nose, his hopelessly runny eyes looking to me more like an irritated shade of red than the ‘copper’ listed on his birth certificate. My heart sank a little. I certainly didn’t need a good-looking cat, but how would I love such an sad, angry-looking creature?
A few days passed and I quickly learned how charming, quirky and un-cat-like he really was. Large scary barking dogs did not faze him and he always had to be in the center of the action. His favorite sound was the doorbell intercom, when visitors were buzzed in the front door. He would personally greet and then settle down next to each and every young couple or mother-of-the-bride as they sat sizing me up, deciding whether I was worthy of the task of capturing their wedding memories on film. He always looked a little sad when these visitors left. He’d stare at the door as it closed behind them and then look up at me as if to ask, ‘where have they gone?’
Those early years in the Lorenzon Building were very lonely for Vincent at times. His desire to be around people and action were strong so I would let him out into the hallways to explore. He’d sit for hours waiting to greet the neighbors and passersby’s. He quickly learned which doors to ‘knock on’ and many of the neighbors would invite him into their homes for long visits.
I knew that he’d been to the Blichas’ when he came home smelling like Vics Vapor Rub. He’d return from Danielle’s (very relaxed and meditative) smelling like pot and incense. I knew he was safe at Greg’s upstairs when Lanie would call down, ‘Annie, Vinnie’s here watching TV with us, just so you know’.
Vin went where I went. Every other weekend I’d pack him up and we’d drive together out to Lancaster to visit my family. I would often leave him at my mother’s for days at a time as I knew he loved these adventures with his whole feline heart. He lived for these weekends; those days in Adamstown were an entirely separate chapter of his long life. We would set him free in my mother’s giant shady fenced-in back yard with her two golden retrievers Oliver and Fletcher, and Quipper, the white duck. Vinnie was in heaven.
When I arrived to collect him and head back to Philadelphia he would see me with the cat carrier and bolt in the opposite direction.
Vincent the Matchmaker
A year or so later, I learned that the apartment across the hall was vacant and had a giant walk-in closet that would be perfect for a darkroom. After the move, Vinnie was a little confused. He still thought #23 was our home so he’d scratch at that door, meowing, his sweet melodic voice in question marks. That’s when the new tenant, John, opened the door.
They would spend hours together. I knew that Vinnie loved the sound of John’s voice, loud and full of color and inflection. John would leave his door cracked and I would leave my door cracked so that Vinnie could travel freely between our two places. Oftentimes, however, 9 or 9:30 would roll around and I’d have to walk over to fetch Vinnie and John would wish us both a good night.
Five years, later, Vinnie would strut out onto the dining room floor to join us as John and I shared our first dance as husband and wife, both of us crying happy tears at the perfection of it all.
The next ten years were a blur of memories, many happy and some sad. We bid a tearful farewell to Orangey and then welcomed love-bug Luey into our lives. Vinnie loved his new home with me and his new family, his best friend John a now-permanent installment in his life.
There were lots of stairs to climb, nooks to explore and a fenced in backyard where he’d spend entire afternoons in the grass watching the birds and napping under the gas grill.
He blew happily and fearlessly through many (if not most) of his nine lives with various accidents and close calls. But God spared us the grief of losing him before his time and he’d always land on his feet and back in our arms.
We had so many daily rituals, Vinnie and I.
After the morning routine of feeding, fluffing, face & ear cleaning , he’d carefully watch my feet to see if I was making my way to the living room ‘happy spot’ where I’d comb his long impossibly tangled fur. On good days he would dart like a bat out of hell towards The Spot turning around abruptly upon arrival to see if I was far behind.
In the daytime he’d follow me up the two flights of stairs to our sunny third floor where I’d spend the day editing and making phone calls. He would demand (he was extremely demanding!) that I play with him for a bit and then he’d settle onto a sunny spot of the sisal carpet or the guest bed for a six hour nap.
He’d love when I’d play the piano – and would magically ‘appear’ out of nowhere once I sat down on the creaky bench to play a few songs. He’d settle into Buddha pose, close his eyes and just listen.
He was so incredibly affectionate to everyone in his family and would clean and groom John and the other cats for as long as they would tolerate it. He would flick my cheek with his scratchy tongue whenever I brought my face to his head to ask for a kiss.
We had to pull up a chair for him every night at dinner time.
But nighttime was my favorite ritual by far. As we began turning out lights on the first floor, that was Vin’s queue to position himself at the bottom of the stairs, just so. The moment John or I took a step towards the stairs he would shoot off like a cannon up the stairs and towards the bedroom and up on the bed, making the 3 foot jump effortlessly with his short muscular legs. There, on my side of the bed, he would wait for me to join him until he would sprawl out, his head on my pillow, carefully aligning his spine against my spine, the vibration of his purring against my back, warming my soul in a way that is impossible to describe.
The Later Years
In his later years he became less independent and needier of me. There were lengthy and tedious medical routines that we scaled together every morning and evening on the laundry room floor. He’d fuss and growl in protest but forget all about it moments later and come right back to me for pets and praise, purring like a machine and licking my face as if to say, ‘I accept your apology’, which was a sweet tasting anecdote to the guilt that I felt for poking and prodding him in his old age.
It’s hard to say when he stopped being himself; when we really lost him. But for sure we noticed that he would no longer join us at bedtime, would disappear during parties and was generally more reclusive and lethargic. We were slowly losing our Vin.
On a Personal Note
There were countless moments, over the years, where I’d gaze at him sleeping in the sun, my heart welling up and overflowing with love for him, this little golden particle of Divinity, a little piece of God Himself.
For whatever reason, God chose not to give me children. My own relationship with Vincent was more parent/child than buddy/friend. I looked into his huge expressive eyes and contemplated what he might need, multiple dozens of times a day. This gave me immeasurable pleasure.
I knew when he was hungry, bored, lonely or pissed off.
I learned that like me, he grew sad and lethargic when kept for too long in darkened quiet indoor spaces.
I knew that food or treats were not his vice, but the companionship of others and the sound of the human voice.
Perhaps knowing these things gave me purpose. Perhaps I saw Vincent as a symbol of God’s love for me. Perhaps I just loved this creature beyond all possible reason.
Though my tears have yet to dry, the acute and crushing pain of last week has been replaced by an overwhelming stillness and a humbling sense of gratitude. That I was chosen to be the lottery winner, over the billions of other people in the world, to get to share my life with this bright and brilliant star has me in a state of awe.
I think about my hilarious husband, truly amazing family and friends, my beautiful sisters, loving parents, hit-the-jackpot-in-laws, beautiful god-children and precious nieces and nephews and am left…speechless with gratitude.
Who knows how many days I have left on this earth to love with my whole heart. Though the door has closed on the last 15 years, marking the end of an era, I vow to fill the next chapter of my life with as much love, joy and awareness as I can rally. May I strive to approach each new day for what it is: a gift to be savored and an opportunity to make each day just a tiny bit better for those around me.
Goodbye, Vincent my love. Thank you for all of it.