I called my Mom to wish her a happy birthday and she told me the dog died.
She had to put him down because he couldn’t even walk.
I was standing in the living room wearing nothing but my underwear and a red North Face t-shirt I accidentally stole from my friend Jeff several years ago.
The cliched thing wold be to say that I had to steady myself on the couch, that I cried, that I felt like I was punched in the stomach, that I coughed, that I bit my lip, that I did moaned in agony or beat my chest like an ancient Greek..
I went into the kitchen and put a pod in my Keureg. Neither of us said anything. I watched the coffee drip into my mug with a giant letter C on it that a friend had bought me because it meant a lot to her.
There was a time, she said, when she was so poor that she could barely afford to eat. One day she came across one of these mugs the first letter of her first name on it and she bought it on a whim. She must have suffered for her minor splurge, but the mug was all the more valuable for it.
Years later, she bought one for all of us, all of her friends, and hoped that it would be as special as it was to her.
There was silence on the line. Neither of us wanted to talk because we were afraid to say anything.
So I changed the subject. This and that, birthday plans and I hung up.
The crisis of adulthood is trying not to think about death. It haunts you in the news, on the internet, at the other end of the text message from a relative that simply says “call me.”
Just don’t think about it, you say. It’s why TV exists.
My Dad texted me later that day, distraught that I hadn’t been able to see the dog before he went. I was coming home in a month.
I couldn’t think of what to say, so I smashed some words together and said “he loved and he was loved and I think that, in the end, he knew that he was always loved, and that’s really what matters.”
My dad said “you’re right” and we didn’t talk anymore.
I went to work and didn’t bring up the dog.
I feel like I need to preform when I’m with a group of people. Not always, only most of the time. It probably comes from my theater background, or maybe not. Laughter and applause are easy ways to know you are doing well.
I used to struggle when I wasn’t the center of attention. It would baffle me why certain people, people I considered boring, would be invited to things I wasn’t invited to. They didn’t do anything.
They were just there.
And so dogs.
What do dogs do?
Dogs do nothing.
When dog people talk about dogs it often times sounds like they are talking about mini-deities. They extol the canine virtues, those little beings of transcendent love and obedience, unconditional caring and good-natured heroism rolled up into a ball of fuzz and fluff with a tail and a tongue and a smile.
I don’t know about that, but I do know that dogs have an uncanny sense to know when to be there. There for you. There for me. Just there.
See here, the boy crying on the white-tiled floor because he can’t remember what was there before he was born. It’s just dark. Just nothing.
His door is only mostly shut, and a snout nuzzles it open and in walks a golden retriever, his loping, side-to-side gait indicative of the hip problems associated with the breed.
The boy cries. He’s afraid and the scariest part of his fear is that he doesn’t know what he’s afraid of.
The dog doesn’t try to cheer him up. Doesn’t ask questions. Doesn’t pry. Doesn’t want to fix things. People want to fix things but dogs don’t want to fix things.
He lays down in a huff next to the boy and puts his head in his lap.
Dogs are just there.
I know a lot of dogs that are good at things. They run through things and jump over things. They bark at things and catch things. They attack things and protect things. They chase things. They follow things.
My dog Cosmo didn’t do any of this. He wasn’t faster or smarter or funnier or better than other dogs, but I think he knew something that some other dogs don’t. That some other people don’t.
He knew the secret. The key to the pinnacle of life.
It isn’t to be well trained or be obedient. Certainly not that.
It isn’t to be the best, or to be the worst, or to be the middle, or to have the things, or to not have the things or to run or to fly or to joke or to think or to puzzle or to write or to dance or to eat or to sing or to play or to anything or to nothing.
It’s none of that.
It’s to love and be loved.
It’s to jump on the couch even though you’re not supposed to and lay your head on someone’s lap just because you know they won’t mind. It’s to bark at strangers when they’re far away but wag your tail and kiss them when they draw close. It’s to lick people for no reason. To cry. To smile. To frown. To whatever.
It’s to know that there is no other virtue required of you in anyone’s company other than your presence. That’s it.
That’s all it ever was.
You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to be dumb. You don’t have to be quiet, don’t have to be loud, don’t have to be happy, be sad, be funny, be stoic, be angry or passive or active or monotone or baritone or any tone or no tone or anyone, no one, this one, that one, me, you, him, her, he, she, it, them, they all of us and none of us or everywhere or nowhere or this or that or whatever.
You just have to be here. Be yourself. You can wag your tail if you want, but it’s not required.
Just be here.
We’ll fill in the rest.
Like a good boy.
Just a good boy.