Sweet Dreams, Always, Dog Of My Soul

 

 

You were born thirteen years and seven months ago, in the middle of a January night so cold the defroster in my old pickup truck wouldn’t work on the drive to the emergency clinic. You were the last pup born, the runt of the litter, and I watched in exhausted wonder as you were delivered and held aloft like one more beautiful wish that had been granted, a dream made flesh, at a time when so many beautiful wishes were being granted and dreams being made flesh that I thought my life was charmed beyond measure.

It was. And in a way that no one who has not shared their life with a dog can ever understand you were inextricably tangled up with every one of my dreams and blessings. You spent your first days in a box in my little attic apartment on Pleasant Avenue. You were the first of the litter to figure out how to scale the sides of the box and make your way to my bed, and that was when I knew you were mine.

Throughout our life together, you went everywhere I went. You traveled, swam, ran, hiked, and rambled with me all over the country and up into Canada. You were always nothing but at home, whether in the backseat of a car or at a five-star hotel.

You spent a lot of time in the backseat of cars.

When you weren’t in the backseat of a car, you were right by my side, or moving with your calm curiosity somewhere in front of me, connected either by the tether of your leash or simply by your unflagging connection to me, and to us.

You were our guide dog. You took us places we otherwise would never have gone, compelled us to pull aside in out-of-the-way towns to investigate and allow you to nose around. You forced us to seek lodging in places interesting enough to welcome you as a guest. You were our ambassador, our introduction to all manner of oddballs and genuinely wonderful people.

At home you would settle into your green chair while I sat on the floor beneath you, rummaging through books and listening to music and trying to tell stories. We kept that vigil together, night after night, too often into the early hours of the morning, and eventually you, too, learned to live on Hong Kong time. You learned to sit patiently through some of the thorniest, most bracing music ever committed to tape, and in time I honestly believe you grew to enjoy Roscoe Mitchell and Albert Ayler and Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor. They, and countless others like them, were the soundtrack to our long nights together in that room crowded with records and books.

You had a lot of names: Willis. The Cheetah. Cheetah Boy. Buddy Klunk. Buddha. The Boy. Good Boy.

 

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You had seven original Sweet Dreamers who slept by your side: Hairy Man, Snowman, Bumble, Pork Chop, Monkey, Alf, and Creature. Dozens more piled up next to your bed over the years, and each one was assigned a name. You remembered each of those names and could keep them straight, which was one of your many peculiar gifts.

You had many peculiar gifts. You had many gifts, period.

You could run like no dog I’d ever seen, and had an extra gear which could be exhausting. But you knew when gentle was called for, and would instinctively attach yourself to the most vulnerable person in a room.

Time after time you demonstrated conclusively that you were a dog who was most at home in the country, where you could ramble freely, but you never raised a fuss. You never strayed. You couldn’t stand a mess, and couldn’t bring yourself to destroy even things that were made for dogs to destroy. Or eat. You would carry a rawhide pretzel around, but you would never get around to untangling it.

You were patient. You were calm. You laughed and sang. You would sprawl with your head in my lap for hours at a time, and the smell behind your ears became one of my favorite smells in the world. You gave me birthday cards and Christmas presents, and every day during the month of December you would go and sit beneath the advent calendar in the kitchen to see what wonders waited behind that day’s window.

Honest to God, you did. I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it every year.

We had a secret place –Dog World: like all the best places not quite imaginary, not quite real– that we explored together.

I routinely wrote things on my hand that I wanted to tell you, places that I wanted to take you. One such note is written there now.

I often told you that I was together as long as you breathed.

I often told you that evolution could mean nothing to me when I looked into your blue eyes.

There were times –many, many, many times– when you were my only lamp in the darkness. At the bottom of every day we prayed together to the God of the Seven Sweet Dreamers, and every time at the conclusion of our prayer you gave me two kisses. Always two kisses. Even tonight, as I held you in my arms in the wet grass and you prepared, with your characteristic patience and dignity, to die.

Even tonight, when I had finished with my prayer to the God of the Seven Sweet Dreamers, you raised your head one last time and gave me my two kisses.

And then you left another hole in my world.

I know how weak and hungry you were at the end, so I put food and water out for you when I got home tonight, just in case.

And now I’m not sure I know how to go about the world without a dog at the end of my arm.

I wish you peace, my boy. I wish you nothing but sweet dreams. I desperately want to believe that you will live forever.

I don’t much care if there’s an afterlife for humans, but this morning, just as every other morning, I will throw my head back, show my teeth to the God of All Sweet Dreamers, and pray that there’s a heaven for dogs, and that you are running there now, and remembering us.

 

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