I turn on the drier. Close the door to the bathroom, so the sound of the failing bearing won’t bother you. It’s morning and I hear you stirring, head up on the bed, time for a walk. I open the back door, and I am careful to not throw the bottle to the recycling too loudly and to keep the door closed enough to not encourage you to run out. I take a bath, put my hand over the side of the tub to touch your face. You lick water off my hand. I close the curtains to the bedroom at night, no rabbits will distract you in the moonlight.
I fill the sink with hot water, I turn to watch you turn a couple circles and make your body a perfect round shape on the floor beside the kitchen island like you were arranging tall grasses around you. I wake in the night, your breathing is the calming sound. I am out somewhere, and while I turn to my friends, I think of your face, I wonder if you’re hungry or lonely and I head home to satisfy your heart. I drive down the road, I glance in my rearview for your reflection. When we drive down the canyon I open the rear window and you take big gulps of air with a smile. I throw away compost, and make sure you don’t dart out. I put on my slippers and look around for you, to reassure you I’m not leaving. I walk through the house and never turn suddenly because in all likelihood, you are following me like a shadow. I come home at night, we greet each other—you with a wagging tail, me with my voice. I have so many words of love for you. I leave you reluctantly in the morning, tell you to be good. You look at me longingly. This is our dance. A dance of a thousand movements, of a million breaths. I put food in your dish, every morning and every evening for 10 years. I learn how to train you…sort of. Really, we move more like two sides of something. I give you treats and you take them gingerly and delicately, not like the others. I walk with you, nearly every single morning through any possible weather conditions because I have committed to this, to you, to your well-being and mine. There are so many mornings when it is just us two, alone in the world of seasons. We’ve seen the blizzards and ice of New England, we’ve seen the perfect silence of changing autumn maples, we’ve seen downpours in northern California, we’ve seen the mountains of Colorado and played in the rivers of New Mexico. We’ve seen the dust storms and hard frosts of the desert. We’ve felt them on our skin together. You frolick across parks, through sagebrush, down city streets with the same joy. With no resistance at all. You taught me joy.
I plan a trip, I immediately run through in my mind, who will care for you in my absence, who I can trust because I know to you, one human is not like another and you will suffer if it is the wrong one. I learned this the hard way and I could still weep over it. I sit in the sunny corner in the morning and wait for you to come nudge me with your nose, to get as close to me as you can. I drive the country alone, and I am not afraid. I go backpacking by myself, but it’s never really by myself with you and I am not as terrified of bears because you are there. I become the woman I am, with you beside me. I choose landlords based on how they treat you. I test out new men based on how they treat you. You can tell if someone likes you that way and when they are faking that they like dogs just to impress you. You smile regardless; you are always kind. You win them over every time, even if I do not. I wake in the dark of the night, at the end of this road and know I am safe because, though you are kind, your deep growl would scare away someone at the door, alert me to it. There was a man who came into my life once, by rescuing you and I knew I’d love him forever for it. My friends ask about you like a family member. My bed is dirty with your hair. I hate it, and sigh about it daily. I clean up your clouds of fur from floor and couch and gauge when it is time to clean my house based on the amount accumulated. I tell myself I’d have a cleaner life without you but know it wouldn’t be as happy.
In the last days, we sleep together like best friends. I make room for you; you curl your back up against me and your breathing is no longer easy. But still, there is only love. And duty. Sometimes love is duty. You taught me that too. And what pleasure comes from taking care of another being.
This is practice, as best I understand it–what all those spiritual traditions are talking about. Turn your attention constantly to something, right? What other thing in my life have I constantly turned my attention to, in a literally hundreds of moments each day, in every space I move into, or out of, in my thoughts always returning to your needs, your position, your place, my place with you? You were the only one I’ve been able to truly be with each day, as my best and deepest self. Ours was the relationship that taught me how to practice and do my life of duty willingly and joyfully, my highest aspiration. You showed me that it’s not that far out of reach, that Buddha nature is inherent and ever present.
You have been a part of each beginning and ending for all the important years of my adult life. My companion across the uneven edges and dances of my journey. I am beyond grateful. I am still surprised you are gone. And, even more, I am surprised at the realization of just how physical love is, how embodied and simple it can be. I’m learning how much it is about our two bodies together. How every way that I move through my space is somehow connected to your body, your breathing, your presence. Is love always surprising like this? Do we always know it best when it changes or disintegrates?
My heart has been filled and emptied and filled again. The house is so quiet now, and vacant in some way. This is a new kind of silence. I find myself doing this: listening for your breath in the night and waiting for you when I open the door coming home, turning to you a hundred times a day. I find myself in the simplicity of missing you and loving you forever.