Gianni came to me when my daughter moved back home, devastated from the sudden death of her fiance.  When she recovered sufficiently to move back out, Gianni jumped up on my lap and made it clear he would prefer to stay.  In spite of the almost constant pain of being separated from him these past 2 years I have never regretted even for a moment his staying with me.

Gianni taught me what unconditional love really means.  My constant companion for 11 years, he decided to leave me at the tender age of 12.  It’s hard to write about someone who changed your life so dramatically.  Words fail me.  How to describe the single most important being in my life?  More important than my mother, or husband.  More important than my daughter.

Perhaps I should start with a description.  Perhaps not.  You’ll probably think me mad, that a pet should hold so dear a place in my heart.  But then again, perhaps you, too, had such a friend.  Perhaps you, too, knew the unconditional love of a furry friend.  My family, of a farmer mentality, saw animals more as property than friends, and I grew up keeping my love of animals more or less secret from them.  Now I know there are many like me who feel a kinship with all creatures, and I let people in to share thoughts and feelings on these special bonds.

He was a most social kitty and knew many people.  He always got to know the neighbors before me, doing his part to ease my shyness around strangers.  He would go for walks around the neighborhood by himself while I was at work, checking out the neighbors.  When one of them would see his sleek black exotic shorthair fur they would be overcome with the desire to feel it, to sink their fingers into it… oh, it was like petting a chinchilla, he was so soft.  He was gorgeous and he knew it.  He used it to his advantage, curling up in people’s laps and purring so loud you could hear him half a block away if the neighborhood was still.

Who could resist such a cool, laid-back cat?  Turns out, nobody could.  Even the neighbor who swore up and down that she hated cats became a fan of The Gianni.  He was a personality.  A Personality with a capital P, the star of the neighborhood.  Many were the neighbors I met while out walking with him.  People would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, *you’re* Gianni’s mother?  He is such a sweetie!  He visits me every day and keeps me company while I [insert chore here].’

Time and again he introduced me to the neighbors.  I probably wouldn’t have met any of them if it weren’t for him.  It’s so hard to talk to people I don’t know.

The cat-hating neighbor started having chicken sandwiches for lunch because Gianni preferred chicken over any other meat or fish.  She would sit on the stone ledge that separated our apartment buildings, and Gianni would curl up next to her.  He never begged for food, and only once was pushy about it (but that’s a different story).  She would eat her sandwich, pulling shreds of chicken off and dangling it in front of Gianni, who would politely sniff it and then take it very carefully from her fingers so as not to nip her.  If the bit of chicken was too short, he would lick it rather than risk biting the hand that fed him.  Who could resist such charm?

The only time Gianni ever was forceful about food was his first experience with Altoids.  If you’ve never had them, they are mints, basically sugar and peppermint or spearmint oil, depending on the flavor.  I loved the spearmint Altoids too much to keep them on hand all the time.  I’d buy a tim once every month or two, usually end up eating the entire tin in one day.  I had just gotten a tin and was slouched on the sofa enjoying one.  Gianni must have smelled the mint.  He came trotting into the living room, walked up my crossed legs and torso until his nose was touching mine and with deftness that left me startled he proceeded to fish the Altoid out of my mouth with his rough little tongue.

The time between the first touch of paw on leg to my losing my mint lasted a second at best. He caught me by surprise.  He so intent on finding the cause of the irresistible scent that I just had to laugh.  It was the last time he ever tried anything like that, possibly because the mints were too strong for him.  He dropped it like a hot potato and then spent a few minutes impersonating a dog eating peanut butter.

The child who owned Gianni’s mother named him Johnny Bravo, after the cartoon character.  We called him Johnny, but it always seemed like everyone pronounced it Gee-AHH-nee.  Once my sister made the comment that he was ‘a very cosmopolitan kitty’ (he was *so* suave) and it dawned on me that while we were pronouncing it right we were spelling it wrong.  He responded better when we pronounced his name in three syllables.

There are so many stories about this marvelous cat that I want to share with the world.  He never met anyone that he didn’t like, although he tended to avoid young children.  On the rare occasion one got hold of him, he was patient with them and never hurt them (even when they would have deserved a scratch or nip).

In spite of being a fierce hunter, he was the most gentle cat I’d ever met.  I watched him one day, stalking a wren.  The bird was a few yards away from him pecking on the ground, as birds are wont to do.  He sat there for several minutes just watching the bird hop about.  He didn’t twitch, didn’t do the jaw chatter that cats do when they want something terribly badly, just lay there watching.  The bird either caught his scent or heard a noise, because suddenly it took flight… and so did Gianni.  He leapt close to 4 yards and caught the bird in mid-air, 5 feet off the ground.  It sounds impossible, but he did.  The really amazing thing is that he brought the bird over to the house where he had been lying and put it down and laid on it… and when the bird finally got the courage to come out from under him, I could see that it was completely unhurt.  Gianni put his paw on the bird gently and pulled it back to him, keeping it near him for about five minutes before he got tired of it trying to get away.  It was almost as if he just wanted to cuddle.  He let the bird hop away and it took off and flew to the fence, where it sat for a while before flying into the neighbor’s yard to forage.

My baby boy also tended to bring me baby bunnies in the spring.  He did that twice, also unhurt.  I guess he figured I didn’t want them since I kept letting them go.

I can’t write any more, need to take a cry-break.  I’ll write more soon.  Or later.


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