Gus died last night. I am unfettered by the responsibility to find someone to take care of him when I want to travel. I no longer have to cut my evenings short in order to be home in time for his evening walk. No longer do I have to get up early and take him for his morning walk, even before I’ve had a chance to wash my face or take my own crap.
Actually, I murdered him. I wish I had waited. Just a few more days of staring into his manipulative eyes. Watching him “work” those eyebrows, the ones no one could resist. Just a few more days of fondling his soft floppy ears and massaging his crippled hips and legs. I could have hand fed him. I would have let him shit and piss and vomit on the rug. I wouldn’t have minded cleaning him up.
I could have let him die when the universe decided it was time. Instead, it was I who decided it was time. Was it?
I had made a sling for him. To put under his belly so when we walked I could take some of the weight off his hindquarters. I could have at least experimented with some kind of device with wheels, but I knew he would never stand for that. It would freak him out… or so I thought. But I could have experimented; I could have exhausted all possibilities. I didn’t.
Sometimes when Tim and I would walk him I would follow a few steps behind and watch his legs trip over themselves, and when he tried to pee or shit, I’d cringe at the effort it took him not to fall over, though sometimes he did. I would watch from behind and I would cry even then to see him struggle, though he never complained or whined.
His heart and lungs and other internal organs were healthy. His face was always expressive. His tail still wagged with delight and forgetting his lameness, he would still prance around upon returning home from a walk in anticipation of his treat… though the prancing usually ended with him crumbling to the floor.
I would say “Do you want to go for a walk, Gus? Do you want to sit in the front yard?” And he would try to get up, his back legs askew, trying his best to stand, until I finally lifted his back end until he was upright and then steady him enough to take a few faltering steps toward the door.
Everyone told me Gus would let me know when it was time for him to go. When he started whimpering and crying all night and all day, I could have said it was only his usual manipulative self, trying to get me to give him another treat. But I didn’t say that to myself this time. I said it was Gus trying to let me know he was in pain and it was time.
Did I do it for him? Or did I do it for me? To be unfettered? To be free?
Gus, like all dogs, was a creature of habit and routine. I didn’t realize he had also turned me into a creature of habit and routine. I didn’t realize how much my life revolved around him. My habits and routines are now broken. I’m not sure what to do with myself; I’m so used to letting Gus decide what I should be doing. For over 15 years, he decided when I came and went and what I did.
Even after it was over and his sweet body lay in his bed in the living room and Tim forced me to eat a bit of sandwich… when I couldn’t finish it, my immediate reaction was to put the left over scraps in his bowl. He looked so alive and cuddly. I morbidly wanted to put his body on my bed so I could sleep next to him just one last time.
I went to the bakery this morning because I didn’t have the inclination to make myself a decent breakfast. I almost instinctively grabbed for the leash and a baggie. Although I always considered Gus my dog, there were others who loved him as much as I. David, Brent, and Tim. David and Brent died much too young and it was Gus who grieved with me. Gratefully, I still have Tim. And though I only want to believe it but not sure I do, I hope David and Brent are there to await Gus’ arrival… to love him and play with him and that Gus will give Brent and David the joy he gave them when they were alive.
Gus, do you want your ashes to be spread where David’s are? Where Brent’s are? Should I put some in each place? Is it OK if I keep them for a while? Were you really ready to go? Did I rush to judgment? Couldn’t I have stalled just a little while longer?
I murdered him. I am unfettered. I am free.
And I don’t want to be. I want to be fettered again. I don’t want to be free of the responsibility of caring for him. I want him back. I will miss him so much. He was my constant companion. My best friend. My consolation when I was sad. And how he would whine when there was an argument and voices were raised or the vibes in the room weren’t peaceful, or if the music were too loud. He was always a reflection of my emotions.
Did I do it for him? Or did I do it for me? Will I ever know? Will it always haunt me? Will Gus forgive me if my decision was premature? If there is a heaven, will he wait for me? Will he roll on his back, side to side on the heavenly lawn, tearing up clumps of grass with each turn?
He had that typical sad hound dog face, but when he was happy you could see the smile. Now he lies in his bed in the garage waiting for me to take him to the crematorium. I don’t want to part with his body even though it’s still and lifeless. I can’t bear it. He was such a wonderful dog. Saint Gus we called him. A better friend I will never have.
He looks like he’s just sleeping peacefully. I tell him to wake up. I say it louder. I bend over and pet him and kiss him between the eyes where I always kissed him… my favorite place. He doesn’t wake up. I murdered him. Wouldn’t he have rather lived in pain a bit longer in exchange for the love and kisses he got from us all the time… or even just one more charcoal biscuit? Wasn’t that enough to put up with the pain, if indeed there ever was any… or was it my imagination?
Please forgive me, Gus. I never showed you the ocean like I promised. You deserved more steak and liver than you got instead of that regular dog food. I could have wheeled you around in a wagon in the fresh air when you could no longer walk at all. I could have done that much, couldn’t I? But I couldn’t bear to see you fall and trip all the time, even though the rest of you was healthy.
I gathered your favorite balls, especially the faded little soccer ball you’ve had since you were a pup. Amazing, the ball is as old as you are… and your collar with the little plastic bone ID… with your name and the address and phone number of your home. In case you ever got lost. Oh, if you had ever been lost not to be found. Is there any more anguish than not knowing if someone you loved were hurt, lost and afraid, stolen or abused? Just not knowing? The hollowness that eats away at the innards, that sickens to the core? But I have the luxury of knowing you are not lost. I know where you are. You haven’t had to wear your ID tag for a long time now… because you never left my side.
I murdered you. Did I do it for you? Or did I do it for me? I am unfettered and free. I pray that you are too. I am unfettered and free… but never from the memory of you, and never from the doubt. And I wonder if I feel such strong emotions over a dog, how will I fare should Tim go before I do?
Stifling tears, I watch the news. I am in a hundred places where children, men, women, soldiers, and insurgents die unnecessarily. I am sick of war. I am sick of famine and curable diseases that go uncured. I am sick of hearing parents wail because their children are dead or unaccounted for. I am sick that so many think the earth is something apart from them. I am sick of corporate shenanigans. I am sick of politics and politicians. Did none of them ever love a pet with every fiber of their being or experience the unconditional love of a pet for them? If they did, are none of them capable of transferring those feelings to humankind? Why is true empathy such a rare quality? Today,I only find solace in shared sadness, though I long for the solace of shared joy.