“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” Chapter 30 “Goodbye Old Friend”
By Bruce Williams
Tragedy struck our house on New Year’s Eve. Our dog, Ruby—an overweight and mischievous beagle of 8.5 years—got out of a hole in the fence into our neighbor’s yard and subsequently out of their back fence onto a busy roadway below and was struck by a car and killed. She had escaped out of a different spot the day before—at 3:15 in the morning no less—and I’d tracked her down almost a mile up the road. She was just “headin’ out”—I’m not sure really where exactly she thought she was going, but I gathered her up and brought her home in that instance. The next time I would find her would be through the glare of headlights—my wife shaking me awake to go look for her in the early hours of the last day of 2020. I would trace the same path I’d taken the night before, this time on foot instead of in the truck, and be directed to her by a young fellow that’d witnessed her dodging cars on the busily commuted Kersey Way. As I saw her lifeless body across the roadway I broke into a shuffle, hearing myself plainting, “Oh no, oh no, oh no…” as I got to her and seeing the violent finality of our beloved pet, bloodied and disemboweled on the pavement. I picked her up and held her desperately one last time on the road’s shoulder, muttering pitifully to the kind young man that was witnessing our heartbreak firsthand, “What am I going to tell the kids…?”
He got me a box—one of those sturdy Costco apple crates—and I delicately set her body inside it, pausing a moment to text Michelle to “Come out front of the house.” As I carried the box home in shock, our eyes met about a block away. She was in her bathrobe still holding her phone, and my barely perceptible head shake and the presence of the box caused her to cover her mouth and buckle in half with grief. It wasn’t until after I’d placed the box in the bed of my truck, dumped the shoes Michelle had pointed out to me as being soaked with blood and my North Face coat that looked like it had been covered with jam into the trash before the kids saw it, that I sat on the stairs, covered my face with my filthy hands and broke down—Michelle enveloping me from above in our shared sorrow.
We told the kids immediately when they woke up…Jack characteristically asking several logical questions to get the facts as he processed the news, and Lou, sweet little Lou, crying uncontrollably—furthering our pain with the helplessness of a child’s irremediable sadness. We soaked in our blueness all together there on Lou’s bed, remembering what a good dog we had enjoyed over those almost nine years, and what a funny being we’d been blessed with—even if our time with her had come to such a horrific ending (I covered her poor little body before the kids saw her—Jack, of course, independently wanting to see the real truth, viewed her without her covering).
I retold the story of the time I’d given her a bath and was sitting outside with her as she dried in the sun. I looked up from my book to see her trotting over with something in her mouth as she dropped it next to my lawn chair, made eye contact with me, then proceeded to roll in it—“it” being a cat turd some interloping feline had deposited on our hillside. Picking her up at arms length and disgustedly returning her to her second bath of the afternoon (this one a little more impatient and vigorous). Or the stories of all the different garbage cans we’d purchased to keep her out of—automated locking lids, circular, crescent-shaped, square—-all for naught, as she would often help herself if we’d forgotten to slide the can into the powder room before we’d left on errands. Several times I’d even caught her in the act, up on two legs tangoing with the cylinder (two steps left, two steps right) like she was on her wedding night and the garbage had become her groom. Then there was the time she’d managed to get a gallon Ziploc bag full of giant chocolate chip cookies off of the counter, messily eaten them all in different spots around the house, then proceeded to vomit and have diarrhea in several other locations on the carpet…all in about an hour and a half of our absence. After hitting everything with hot soapy water and purifying steam, I looked at her sheepishly half-napping and gave her the only name that came to me…”Rotten”.
She’d have a dozen or so nicknames besides Rotten over the years—Doobie, the Dooba Doo (“whatcha Dooba Doin’?”), Rubes, Juju (“oh, there Ju is”), and finally Old Friend when she began to get a little silver around her face. Michelle would let her lick her chin and tell her that she “…can’t taaaake it”—so deep was her love and acceptance of this dog even with her eye-watering hot tuna breath. Jack, forever sparing with his “I love yous” would shower our furball with them, much as Lou would come downstairs just to wrap her in our best blankets because “…she might be cold.” My mother-in-law had taken to cooking her some chicken and rice concoction when her stomach had become sensitive in the last year—culminating in her not eating much at all that last week before she became so determined to “hit the road.” And I walked her—nearly daily. Long, snout-sniffing, squirrel-chasing sojourns into our surrounding countryside as she would indicate rabbits, deer—even a baby coyote once—with her hound nose and tug-of-war lurchings. In anticipation of these strolls she would follow me throughout the house, setting herself up in each room that I would occupy as I would exchange a gentle, one-sided repartee with her in our nonsensically mutually understood language. I’m still doing it a week later, now alone and quieter so no one thinks I’ve gone nuts…finding some healing in our last few unshared conversations. A chance to tell her one last time how much she’d meant to me.
So we’ve put our intentions of adding a second dog on hold. It doesn’t seem quite right now for some reason. The house is quieter—there’s no click-clacking of her toenails on the hardwood, no two-legged “prancing pony” as she anticipates cleaning the kids’ leftover plates left on the counter, no whimpering outside the bathroom door because she hadn’t been included. The clumps of hair are disappearing, her food donated, her beds tossed. We’ll receive her cremated remains in a few days (complete with paw prints) and put it on the mantle next to her “necklace”. Her medications and new dog tags showed up in the mail on consecutive days this week, and I quietly spirited them away to save the family from any more unneeded sadness. As the days pass, our remembrances are becoming more lighthearted as we recall how funny and ridiculous she could be, and relish those thoughts as we move forward. Goodbye to you, Old Friend, and thank you for everything—the love, the loyalty, and even the loss—a reminder that life is short and unforgiving, but there is beauty in every smile, hug, laugh and sloppy lick. You will be incredibly missed.