The day started with a letter to Buster.
Dear Buster,As I walked along the river, on its edge, I was twice startled by partridges. The first thrummed and took off so close to my right ear that I flinched and almost fell over. I didn’t see either bird, but only a chickadee on the far bank, flitting from branch to branch, like a Disney movie flickering in someone else’s home. The river is covered by snow except for a few grey, slushy areas, and it’s there that the tracks converge, where thirsty travelers pause for a drink.
You made me laugh. You found the joy in my heart and lifted it right out, gave it wings, gave it light. Your love for so many things—chick peas, coyote poop, running, rearranging pillows, barking at inanimate objects, flinging toys across the room, digging in the sand, to name just a few—delighted me, every day.
I am afraid today nothing will delight me. Without you, I must learn to smile and laugh on my own, and that may take a while. And without me, you are lost. When you were six or maybe eight weeks old you were lost, or maybe just abandoned, or maybe just put out the door by someone who hoped that someone like me would come along and take you away. You had a great deal of confidence, even then, but when you were scared or tired or cold or hungry, I was the one you found. And these past several months, as you became more and more lost in your own home and in your own skin, it was in my arms you were found.
I do not know if I did the right thing. You always trusted me from A to Z, and I always did right by you. For years you felt pain from the arthritis in your neck, some days so bad you just couldn’t eat and walked around the house all akimbo, but we figured it out, and then for years the pain was minimal or even non-existent, and it never stopped you from running and jumping as the vet had told us it would, when you were six years old, so long ago.Why does it surprise me that there is crap on the river? Piles of deer pellets and piles of coyote poop—oh, would Buster love this! And splotches of urine. I think of that first summer when I bathed in the river and feel a bit yucky. But then I remember a news report I heard this week about people dining on dirt in Japan and think maybe a deer poop toilette in Michigan isn’t so bad.
Your anal sacs were such a problem—always having to get them “expressed”—but then we discovered your love for chick peas and chick peas seemed to help. All the foods you loved were good for you—the carrots kept your teeth clean, the yam with honey and apple cider vinegar helped your joints (or so we thought), the chick peas and the oatmeal were good fiber, and, toward the end, the rice held it all together.
So I think I did right by you. But yesterday, when I ended it, was that right? You were sleeping in the sun and then this man came and I picked you up and held you and you woke up and he shaved a little spot on your leg and since I was holding you it must be okay, right?, but then your leg hurt, something pricked it so bad, and then—what? Are you lost again? Are you found? I held you, and the man left. I held you still, I do not know how long, but then, you know what? Everything I told you wasn’t true. Everything I told you about you always being in my arms wasn’t true because what happened then is I put you in a box, as gently as I could, and you were wrapped in your blanket and I put your favorite toy, Mr. Carrot, in the box with you, even though you haven’t played with him in years, but I figured you’d want him with you. But even though I did all that, it does not matter, because I put you in that box and you are no longer in my arms and I can feel the weight. I can feel the weight of you not being there.
The river bank is fairly steep and climbing it in snowshoes, well, let’s just say that going up is no more elegant than going down. I haul myself up in part by grabbing on to a series of small, sturdy trees. And even though the hardness of loss seems impenetrable, I think of the kind words that people have shared with me, the understanding, and the hardness softens a bit. I pass by the mound of snow under which Buster is buried, for the time being, until the ground thaws in spring, and I pause, and I thank him.