Fifteen years is a long time. A lot can happen.
As I get older, I begin to wonder. Is living a form of dying? From that first intake of air are we one breath closer to death? A shift in seasons, a changing of the tides, the end of the circle and beginning of the next become a gradual, minute step by step into the grave. And, is this way of looking at life pessimistic or realistic? Like one long drawn out goodbye that makes the final one a eensy, teensy, tiny bit less harsh and painful.
Fifteen years ago, Thor and I were young and in love. We were wildly immature and reckless. We were grounded at the core and good kids with good intentions. That carried us through a lot of our silliness.
Fifteen years ago, we opened our hearts wide to the bestest friend. T came in to our lives in a sad state of affairs. A true pound puppy. Raggedy coat, itch inducing dandruff and scrawny chicken legs. Through it all, his personality shined through. His ears perked up and his eyes were bright. He was mellow and calm. A relaxed pooch with a fun zip in his step. We fell head over heels in love.
The adoption fee and veterinary commitments were a big deal to our meager twenty-something’s budget. We worked the numbers and put this sweet pup at the top of our priority list.
Days were a crazy juggling game of work schedules that never overlapped and college classes that were full and intense. Our evenings were filled with obedience classes, long walks in our favorite neighborhood and puppy playdates. T was grabbing one heart after another and gaining one more lifelong fan after another.
Fifteen years ago we gained the best welcome home gift anyone could ask for. A reception worthy of royalty. And, a greeting of reckless abandon. The front windows of our craftsman rental were the perfect height for his chin. His eyes would follow the happenings of the neighborhood. The ears would raise, the hips would wiggle and the body would shimmy when he tracked our arrival home.
He was special. He radiated a light that others were drawn to.
Then one day things changed. Just another doggy wrestling session but a pup who was paralyzed on his bed. Whimpering, whining and unable to bear any weight. What had happened? What had changed? A late night visit to the emergency vet and a hefty invoice, brought the anticlimatic diagnosis of “severe hip displaysia”. A humane society mutt of unknown breed and we were dealing with the issues of purebreds.
Fifteen years ago we began the walk that would end here. An old, frail body that had been sore for too long.
Preventative measures were taken and we committed to natural supplements, high quality dog food and gentle exercise to keep the joints loose.
Fifteen years ago, T became a blood donor and gave part of his body to save others. He gave life to others’ best friends. He was gentle in spirit and calm in nature and the best donor the vet could ask for. When he was honorably retired at age 9, he was given a red heart that said “Inside this dog beats the heart of hero.”
He was adventure. He was wild tracking of smells and excitable panting when he could feel the car shift towards our next destination. His zest for life and insatiable curiosity led to at least one stinky surprise from the unpredictable black and white *cat*. He would climb the rocky shores of the river with no hint of a sore hip. His recovery time from adventures got longer with each year, but his readiness never wavered.
In fifteen years, he kayaked the cool, clear waters of Eastern Washington rivers with me. He scared countless spawning salmon from their watery depths. He sniffed every bush he crossed and marked every stump that needed a fresh tag. He sat atop his hill, raised his nose to the breeze and savored the smells from afar. He tempered his uncontainable joy at walking to promptly sit at crosswalks, glance both ways and patiently wait for the signal to “go”.
Fifteen years ago I gained a second shadow. One that molded his body to mine in the allotted space of our too-small-for-three queen size bed. A constant presence with paws padding down the hardwood floor hallway and moving out into the yard. Always a fan of shade, he would situate himself as close to my garden as possible without becoming overheated by the sun. If Thor wasn’t home, he would extend his distance and position his proximity so that he had the best overlook of his territory.
Each season brought us something that brought happiness to T.
In the spring, when I first opened my beehives from a long winter’s hibernation, his long body would come in close for a look and stay near amidst the flurry of activity and throbbing buzz. Baseball nights when the house would grow quiet gave me the constant companionship of my shadow. Warm weekend days would be spent at the ballpark and T tracking the ball, eagerly, but very politely, ready to sub and field grounders if needed.
Summer was for swimming. An accidental dip in salt water was the key to boosting T’s confidence in the bouyancy and refreshing relief of swimming. Camping season meant one adventure after another. In true support of my Independence Day birthday, T was a fan of fireworks. With interest and calm, he would turn his face to the sky and watch the loud mortars explode in colorful bursts. And, every good dog knows that the best way to cool off on a hot day is a spraying stream of water from the garden hose that you can lap up as fast as possible.
The dampness of Washington began to settle in fall. The well-rehearsed routine of stopping on the doormat to wipe all four paws was a fifteen year old practice. Halloweens wouldn’t be complete without a four-legged friend’s costume. Long before I had babies, I was embarrassing my dog with complete cowboy ensembles and spooky skeleton outfits.
Winter meant snow. A white blanket that would settle on the yard and hang low on the evergreen trees. There was always an eager invitation to wrestle when T would elbow drop in the snow. Maniacal races around the tree would jubilently continue as Thor shook each tree and the snow rained down on T’s open mouth. If the snow didn’t come to us, we could go find it. Whether we were sledding on the mountain or walking through the village of Whistler, T was there.
And, so he aged. Year by year. When he was eleven, I began to say good-bye. A teary realization every so often that he was nearing the end. 85-pound dogs don’t live long lives. Thor told me to sit tight and stem the flow of sadness, because he was going to be around for longer. Years.
These we wise words.
The aging compounded. The light burned bright but the body grew weak.
The stiff hips that had once bounded up to the pillowy softness of the duvet cover struggled with one small step up after another. The bed on the floor that had been a fixture in our room and kept my feet warm as I opened each dresser drawer moved to the living room. And, then to the garage when his bowel movements became predictable at night as his lower body could relax enough to rest. The feet no longer padded down the hallway.
The carpet offered the traction necessary to heave his wilting frame up from the ground and the soft embrace to hug his old frame. The hips could no longer stop for a sit and once they began to fold were committed to the trip all the way down for laying. It became a crash landing that thudded with heft to the floor.
The shadow began to grow more distance as my movements made it impossible to keep up with. His eyes never left me, but his body could no longer match mine.
The greetings calmed and subsided. There was always a perking of the ears, a relief that we had returned and an enthusiastic tail wag. There are few things so pleasing to the soul as the greeting of a faithful four-legged friend.
But, then the time came. It was as clear as the muddy waters of a life-ending can be. The radiance was dimming and the body shaking under the compounding weight of fifteen years.
We said good-bye. We gave one last hug, one last pet and one last deep breath of his scent.
We finished the circle by donating his stuff to the humane society and giving back to the place that gave us him. One of the greatest gifts we ever received.
He is gone. His sounds are gone. His energy is fading. But his presence hangs thick. A shadow I can sense with one quick glance over my shoulder. A reassuring reminder that he will forever be in our hearts and our home. A poignant ache that something tangible and real is missing.
Fifteen years was not nearly long enough. Until we meet again on the Rainbow Bridge.