|I Lost My Dog
I lost my dog.
It seems like a small thing, but it feels important to me that you understand how large it has become. I lost my dad, too. But that was a really long time ago. I almost never cry about it anymore. My dog, on the other hand…It was a small, incidental, accidental, everyday-type of event. High-strung mutt jumps fence and runs into traffic to be slammed to the end of her short little life. I never said good-bye. She was my first dog, the only dog that ever answered the question: “Where’s my dog?” The sound of my voice, the wail I made when I saw her, when her body did not give under my touch, rings in my ears, even now. Even now, I can feel the cool weight of her stiff form wrapped in the blanket pressed against my body as I carried her home. Tears run. But such a small thing.
Then Thanksgiving day came.
It was a cold, bright, day. A dog stood quietly in the yard between ours and our neighbor’s. Dogs barked. The lone dog lifted his weight off of a sore hind leg, leaving a paw print in blood upon the concrete where it had been. His taut loins stretched concave, from his wounded leg to the corrugated fan of his ribcage. His body was a patchwork of marks, none properly healed, some fresher. He had fought for his life, and it showed. His head hung low.
He did not respond to words, harsh nor kind, but clenched his jaw resolutely. Those passing by were afraid of him, more afraid of him than they were of the penned dogs, of course, as he was free. He was free, but this freedom had offered him only pain and struggle.
When I approached, he neither reached toward me, nor shied away. He allowed a gentle touch to move him only stiffly. But, when a collar was offered, when the jangle of a leash was heard, he moved. He stepped eagerly into the loop of a harness, followed the line of a leash with only small resistance and awkward steps.
This dog is my teacher. His name is Grant, and how and why he found us I just don’t know. We invited him in, and he humbly joined our pack. He had suffered but he was strong, humble, and lovely, in reminding us daily of the magnitude of our blessings.
December came, and one day he started to grow weak. He stopped chasing the other dogs that live with us. He stopped eating. His ribs, which were just softening, pressed again against his skin. He stopped drinking and would not get up without coaxing. I struggled to understand this lesson, as he received a transfusion, and a load of medicine. I fed him fists full of pills, which he took without challenge. I prayed. His eyes cried out. I watched him. I allowed him to sleep on my bed. I cried as I listened, as he tried to sleep. His breath came only in short, shallow gasps. He was suffocating. It was time to return to the vet for another transfusion, and an even more “guarded prognosis”.
Christmas was coming. All around me energy and cheer were rising. I cried. I prayed. I tried to understand this lesson. All I wanted for Christmas was to see him walk, breathe, play, to feel his head warm and heavy in my lap. I was frustrated by my tears. I had known this dog for less than a full month, yet my heart…oh, how my heart seethed at the thought of losing him.
The sensations brought on by the sound of that word in my ears and the shape of it on my lips are difficult to describe, and unfamiliar. I never said it to my father. I was too young when he died. Later, when I was old enough, I chose not to say it to him. I chose, instead, to become him, in as much as I could, to avoid saying it. My dog, my first dog, never heard it either. I came home to find her gone. Her ashes sit by me as I write, in a cedar box. There are words for these sensations: bitter-sweet, painful, hopeful. There is lurking beyond them, the anticipation of something, possibly good: a want filled, and hope for relief that makes me feel like an unrequiting lover. I do not want it. I do not trust it. “Good-bye.” I cannot want to say it. I do not.
And now there is Grant. What was I granted? An opportunity to say good-bye, to see this loved-one on to the next place? I want with an irrational desperation for this to be about more than a dog. I want, also, for a dog to be a big enough reason to cry. But I have been so stoic. Two loved-ones in the past six months stood on the verge of suicide. I did not cry. I was the strong one who stood by them. I did not cry, much. Perhaps the tears, stayed while I held in with such conviction, have been perched, waiting, eager for their opportunity to spring. I want it to make some sense. The sensations are too complex and strong to accept without explanation. I want to have been granted more than a moment with a dog to love again.
In this rare moment that I am alone with the dogs, I silently weep. They lay about the room flat and relaxed as rugs. I weep for Razmataz, my first dog, for myself, missing her still so much. I weep remembering her run. I weep for my father, and for the pain of those others that I was afraid I might lose, too. As tears turn the words to a grey haze, I drop my chin. Eyelids force the stream down my face, and I begin to shake softly. Fingertips slide from my key board and land, unexpectedly on the smooth roundness of his head. Grant has silently sidled up beside me. I open my eyes to his, chocolate covered almonds that they are, concerned and sweet. He has my full attention, as I stroke and weep, kiss the center of his forehead, pressing lips there as I shudder. Slowly, slowly, I smile. He only relaxes beneath my chair when my breathing is smooth and long again. He is a blanket for my feet, squeezed under my desk in apparent comfort and abandon.
I am thankful. And my smile is tear-tired, and softened. I feel Grant’s warm, pliant self on my feet. There is something of “my dog”-ness in that. There is something of my father in me, and something of success in failures at suicide. Just a faint hope shines, in the roundness of things. “Good-bye” is not so welcome a word as “hello” perhaps, but every good story must have an end. Maybe between now and Grant’s next episode (he is chonically ill), I will make some peace with the word. There are a few unspoken “good-byes” I have to catch up on, it seems. It wasn’t a lesson, after all
: just practice.