Bullmarket Roch the Boat
My Sailor Girl – Anchored in the harbor of rest.
25 Feb 1999 – 06 April 2012
All of My Beautiful Dogs Are Dying
– Vicki Hearne
. . . Without the beautiful dogs
No one dares to attend to desire;
The sky retreats, will intend nothing,
It is a ceiling to rebuke the gaze,
Mock the poetry of knowledge.
My death is my last acquiescence;
Theirs is the sky’s renunciation,
Proof that the world is a scattered shame
Littering the heavens. The new dogs
Start to arise, but the sky must go
Deeply dark before the stars appear.
Tessa in her favorite patio chair
Many years ago, I had an office in the Yorkville area of Toronto, which was one of the very first Toronto neighbourhoods to get a Starbucks Coffee. I had a daily ritual of going to Starbucks for a coffee at the start of my work day, and would of course bring Tessa with me when I went. Initially, I brought her inside, but a manager one day told me that Public Health would no longer allow dogs inside the coffee shop, and that Tessa would have to wait outside.
Tessa was already used to sitting on the patio at Starbucks, where she would sit at her own chair. She loved to people watch, surveying the sidewalk and making friends with the other patrons, many of whom, at that time, had never seen a French Bulldog before.
Within a month or so, Tessa was on a first name basis with half of the regular patrons, who grew used to seeing her sitting outside on her own, in her chair, while she waited for me to come outside. Occasionally, someone would offer her a piece of biscotti, or part of their scone, and one day, she sat on the lap of James Woods, who admired her ears and her beautiful eyes.
What is the expiry date on grief? When do we suddenly decide our hearts are no longer broken?
Is it the day you wake up, and realize you no longer expect to see your dog on the end of the bed? Or is it the day when you realize that you have not heard her bark, not once, not even thought you’d heard it.
Perhaps it is the day when you start to remember her as she was, when she was young.
Have I said it before, how fast she was? No one told me that French Bulldogs could move so quickly. Before her, I’d been used to a more sedentary kind of dog, a slower moving one. When we were at the park, when she was young, there was nothing sedentary about my girl. Her best friend, a whippet, could beat her for endurance, but for the short stretch, the ‘chase me around the tree’ stretch, she could keep up and then some. And, if she couldn’t keep up? Well, she was still a bulldog – she’d smash into him with her head, knock him flying, then turn to me and laugh. She was so funny, my little girl.
Is grief gone when you can think about her eyes, her liquid, beautiful, soulful brown eyes, and not find your own filling with tears? No matter where I went, those eyes kept track of me. She maybe didn’t have to get up and follow me, not when she was young, but she liked to keep track. “People are wayward”, you could see her thinking. “It’s best if I know where mommy is, in case she gets lost or wanders off. Better safe than sorry”.
I don’t know what the expiry date is on grief. The experts say, at least so I’ve read, that six months is enough for a dog. I guess the experts never had a dog like mine.
Today, tomorrow and always, I will grieve for her, and I will remember. I will remember my shame that her death was not a good death. That is what breaks my heart, and leaves me unable to celebrate the best parts of my sweet girl’s life. I can’t blame anyone for that but myself. I knew she was afraid of the vet, and I could have done more to find someone who would come to us, instead of taking her to them. She should have never felt fear, but she did, and I let her. She reacted, badly, to the sedative that they gave her before that final needle, and I could do nothing to help her. I let her down, and I know that I could have done more to make her final minutes a release from pain, instead of a terror.
The joy and the wonder of our dogs, the thing that lets me continue to breathe, even on today, is their unending capacity for forgiveness. I know that, even while I can’t forgive myself for how my girl died, she herself would have forgiven me. I don’t know if that makes it better, or worse.
I miss you, Tessa. I miss you every single day. There is no expiry date on grief.
Every once in a while, I have woken up convinced I felt the weight of Tessa’s head resting on my ankle. For fifteen years, that’s where she slept – at the end of the bed, under the covers, her head resting on my foot or on my ankle. Later in life, she grew restless, tossing and turning and frequently waking me up in the process. I would wake up, and I would rub her head with my foot, and she’s sigh and settle down and go back to sleep.
Every once in a while, I wake up stroking a phantom with the side of my foot, and for those first few seconds, before I’m fully awake, I am sure I have felt her there, rubbing against me for confirmation that everything is OK, and that she can sleep.
I have always loved Jimmy Stewart. I am old enough to remember seeing him on the Johnny Carson show (which means I am old enough to remember Johnny Carson), and I can recall seeing him recite some of his poetry. I don’t remember seeing him recite this one, however.
I wish I did.